“Walk a mile in my moccasins” is a proverb you have probably heard numerous times. I was recently reminded that it is good advice to follow with newcomers at work. The reminder occurred when a young lady told me of her feelings of frustration, loneliness and confusion in a new job. She revealed a sense of being hired and then tossed in to sink or swim. Of course, there are some who can hit the water swimming and never miss a stroke. Many new employees, however, especially the young and inexperienced, need more help. You might recall when you were the new kid on the block.
Another employee, older but new to a job, told me that the person with the responsibility of training her was more like a drill sergeant than a corporate trainer. In so many words, the new employee was told, “do what I say the way I say it and don’t ask questions.” The employee wanted to understand the “why” behind the “what” in order to apply the gained knowledge to future situations. And, of course, in the process of doing anything, the more the employee could grasp the reasoning behind the process the better she could adapt to related issues. But the drill sergeant would hear none of this.
As a leader, you have a responsibility to do all you can to assist newcomers to be comfortable and feel like they are part of the team. Spending time with them during the first few days on the job – and doing it right – can pay big dividends later. They are usually enthusiastic when hired, but they are also usually nervous. If they are not encouraged properly and prepared thoroughly, the enthusiasm could quickly wane. The nervousness could turn to frustration, anger and poor performance. Capture the enthusiasm when it is fresh and build on it.
Legendary football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant said members of a winning team ask five things of a coach: (1) Tell me what you expect from me. (2) Give me an opportunity to perform. (3) Let me know how I am doing. (4) Give me guidance when I need it. (5) Reward me according to my contribution. This is good advice for any leader.
It takes most new employees a while to get up to speed. There are people to meet, layouts to learn and procedures to become familiar with. The more they are helped in the beginning, the faster they will move into being fully productive team members. You can shorten the break-in period and help ease nervousness by preparing other members before the newcomer arrives.
Inform current employees of when the person will arrive and what position he or she will have with the department or organization. Encourage your people to treat the newcomer as a cohort rather than as a stranger or intruder. When the person does arrive, you can introduce him or her to the group. In the normal flow of things, individuals can communicate with the newcomer more informally with personal introductions of their own.
Make sure the employees working with the newcomer understand what specific duties the person will have and to whom he or she will report. Ask them to be available if the new employee has work-related questions or needs clarifications. Your people should be pleased you want them to take the new person under their wings and they should be happy to accommodate, because it will help everyone when this person does his or her job effectively and efficiently as quickly as possible.
The newcomer’s workstation and equipment should be clean and in good repair. If you can, position the person’s area as centrally as possible to ensure natural exposure to others. If a newcomer is off in a corner somewhere, other employees may continue to relate to each other exclusively and not tune in to the newcomer. (Have you ever felt alone in a crowd?)
The new employee should be fully aware of the job description and how the job ties into goals of the department and the entire organization. Details that current employees take for granted should be thoroughly covered. This includes work hours, breaks, time clock procedures, benefits, pay schedules, whom to notify in case of tardiness or absences, policies, appraisal procedures, etc.
Prepare to be patient, and keep in mind that some newcomers take a little longer than others to adjust. Also keep in mind “Bear” Bryant’s advice to give guidance along the way and let people know how they are doing.
Carl Mays, author of over a dozen books and speaker at over 3,000 events, can be contacted at 865-436-7478 or firstname.lastname@example.org. His books, including A Strategy For Winning, People of Passion, Anatomy Of A Leader, Are We Communicating Yet? and Winning Thoughts, are available in stores, on www.carlmays.com and Amazon.com.