Set New Employees Up for Success

Your new hire is complete and an excited employee is about to begin a new endeavor that involves significant risk and reward for both your company and your employee.  Knowing that a significant percentage of new hires fail to deliver anticipated performance, what can you do to help ensure success?

Effective onboarding begins well before the start date. Even during the selection stage, it is vital that interviewers provide honest information about the company, its culture and its work environment so the prospective employee knows what to expect and can self-select out of the role if it is not a good fit.  There should be no surprises on the first day of work.

Organisational onboarding procedures vary widely from a brief presentation of payroll and benefits by a Human Resources representative, to a formal program with scheduled activities and objectives planned for the first 30, 90, 120 and 360 days.  By structuring a well-thought-out orientation and providing support and feedback over the first critical period, leaders can decrease the newcomer’s learning curve, speed up the rate of productivity and improve the rate of successful assimilation and retention of the employee.

What matters most for newcomer success

The most important elements a new hire must achieve are: 1) task mastery — learning the responsibilities of the new job, 2) cultural fluency — learning “how things work,” expected behaviors and social mores, and 3) relationships — building trust and collaboration with co-workers, supervisors and other colleagues.

By far, the most critical factor in successful onboarding is the relationship with the direct supervisor or manager. Generally speaking, the more support the manager offers and the longer that support is maintained, the more rapidly and fully the employee will achieve the socialisation necessary for long-term success. This can be longer than you think – research shows that it takes up to two years for a new hire to be fully confident and competent in a position.  A longitudinal study published in 2009 found that from 6 to 21 months into the new job, manager support decreased and the rate of decrease directly correlated with a reduction in employee role clarity, job satisfaction and ultimately was associated with diminished job success and retention risk.

Recommended onboarding tasks for managers

Human Resource representatives can assist managers of newly hired employees to design and implement a development program that includes the following steps:

  • Provide information about the company’s organisational structure, values, priorities, challenges and goals.
  • Identify key stakeholders within the company whose collaboration and good will are needed for success – team members, customers, those who work up and down the process stream. Schedule orientation meetings with each, suggesting what information they might share with your new employee.
  • Identify a willing “buddy” or mentor who will take the new employee to lunch, show her around, and be a resource for learning the unwritten rules and customs of the work group and organisation.
  • Set clear expectations of job responsibilities, goals, deadlines and standards of work.  Put as much of this in writing as appropriate, but do not neglect verbal discussions.  Check to make sure your employee fully understands the requirements.
  • Together, set developmental and productivity goals for the short, mid and long-term.
  • Determine if any training is needed and, if so, schedule it. Set clear expectations for learning outcomes and follow up afterward to determine how the employee applies the new knowledge.
  • Provide assistance in obtaining resources and removing barriers as needed.
  • Regularly observe your employee’s work and provide specific and objective positive and constructive feedback. Recognize milestones and progress along the learning curve.
  • Schedule regular meetings to discuss progress, answer questions and help the newcomer reflect on what he has learned.
  • Maintain ongoing high-touch support until it is clear the newcomer has successfully and fully integrated into the new job – up to two years, if possible.
  • If conflicting priorities prevent you from providing a high level of support after the initial orientation period, it can be advantageous to enlist a co-worker to provide some informal coaching. This should not replace regular one-on-one meetings with you.
  • Celebrate success with the employee and identify new objectives and opportunities as his confidence and competence increases.

Human Resource partners should also check back individually with the new hire and the manager at intervals throughout the process, to gauge progress and provide input and encouragement.

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