OWNER'S MANUAL

7 Ways to Screw Up a New Employee

Want that new hire to get off to a great start? Forget about following these nuggets of conventional wisdom.
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Check out most advice about welcoming new employees to a company and you'll learn giving them plenty of time to "get comfortable" and "settle in" helps ensure they get off to a great start.

That, and long lunches with team members and plenty of water cooler small talk so they "get to know other employees as people."

Please.

The first few days of employment are critical. New employees are a lot like cruise ships: Once their course is set—especially if that course is the wrong course—it takes significant time and energy to change their direction.

Here are seven ways, in those first few days, that you can set the wrong course and screw up a new employee:

Play welcome wagon.

Strong interpersonal relationships, positive working relationships, lasting friendships... all those come later, if ever. You hire employees to work, not build personal relationships.

Absolutely be polite, courteous, and friendly, but also stay focused on the fact the employee was hired to perform a job--and jobs involve work. Let new employees earn the respect and friendship of others through hard work and achievement.

It's impossible to make good friends in a few days, but it is possible to hit the ground running.

Train comprehensively.

Many training guides say providing a broad context for every task is critical for new employees.

Wrong: Initially, a new employee doesn't need to know how they fit into the overall operation. They need to know how to perform the tasks you hired them to perform. Leave the comprehensive overview approach for later, when they are better able to put their role into context.

Besides, people best learn to master complex tasks when those tasks are broken down into smaller, more manageable chunks. Teach specific processes and let new employees demonstrate mastery of those processes.

Then start to introduce a more comprehensive view of job functions and how those functions tie into other operations and efforts.

Think of it this way: How can you understand how your role fits into the broader organization when you don't even know your role?

Be slow to give feedback.

New employees are tentative, nervous, and tend to make mistakes; it comes with the territory. So it may seem harsh or unfair to correct or critique, but if you don't, you lose the opportunity to set the right tone.

Unless the job involves creativity, every task should have a right way or best way to be performed. Expect new employees to do things your way at first; bad habits are easily formed and very difficult to correct.

Fail to set immediate, concrete goals.

Successful companies execute. A new employee should complete at least one specific job-related task on their first day.

When they do, not only do you establish that output is all-important, new employees go home feeling a sense of personal achievement. Whole days spent in orientation are boring and unfulfilling, and they make the eventual transition to "work" harder.

Make each day a blend of orientation and real work.

Make them wait.

It's hard to coordinate new employee orientation and training. Supervisors, trainers, and mentors get delayed or called away. (After all, they have other jobs too.)

But when that happens what message have you sent? New employees who sit waiting—we've all been in that position and hated it—decide you don't value continuous performance.

My first day at one new job I was pulled out of orientation and sent to shipping to help load trailers. All hands were on deck, including the CEO, and I learned right away that job descriptions are important but the mission is everything.

Let them immediately modify processes.

Of course there is a better way to perform just about any task. Hopefully new employees will find better, faster, cheaper ways to perform their jobs.

In the first few weeks, though, a new employee should not be allowed to reinvent your wheel until they fully understand how your current wheel works.

Be polite, but ask them to hold their ideas for now.

Talk about empowerment.

Empowerment is a privilege. Empowerment is not a right. A new employee should earn the right to make broader decisions, to take on additional authority, or to be given latitude and discretion. Earned empowerment is the only valid empowerment culture.

Give new employees the tools they need to succeed. Then let them earn greater authority and privilege. Accountability and responsibility should always precede privilege.

Don't worry: Great employees will be eager to show they deserve your respect and trust.

Last updated: Apr 9, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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