Seems that there's always time to do things over--because we often have no choice. Too many managers keep forgetting that it's a whole lot smarter and much cheaper in the long run to take a little more time at the outset to get things right the first time. As the tailors all say: measure twice, cut once.
In the case of your new hires-- the inbound talent that will ultimately make or break your business-- if you get the messaging and the training wrong at the beginning, these are generally unrecoverable errors. Things will only get worse over time. And keep in mind that "newbies" come in all sizes and ages. Gray hair is a sign of age, not necessarily wisdom, experience, or knowledge that is specific and relevant to your business.
If you mess things up at the start, you'll soon enough get to that awful and uncomfortable conversation where someone will ask you about one of the new hires and you'll say "I don't know" or "the jury's still out." It isn't. When you say, "I don't know," the fact is that you do know. And now you have to make a much harder and costlier decision.
Churn kills a lot of young companies because it keeps them from building the core team that will take them to the next level. And, getting a reputation as a place with a revolving door and constant turnover will make it harder and harder to attract the best talent, never mind the cream of the crop. Keeping people around who aren't cutting it is the worst thing you can ever do. Because it poisons your culture and will eventually drive your best people away. It's not the people you fire that make your life miserable; it's the ones you don't. Good managers will always tell you that they never fired someone too soon; the best managers avoid these situations entirely. (See Three Employees You Need to Fire Now.)
Investing more time and training in your people in their early days doesn't always work out, even when you have the best of intentions. Yet, as I look at so many of our startups, they're not even making a reasonable effort to address some very critical concerns that are fundamental to the foundation and future of their companies. You've got to make a commitment early on to giving your newest employees the background, the context, the tools and the training they will need to succeed. And it helps to build in a few prescriptive guardrails just to make some basic things abundantly clear.
Everyone I ask about onboarding processes gives me all the usual excuses-- "we're just too busy to take the time," "we all went through the same process and we survived," "it's a sink or swim world," etc. Here's a flash: welcoming and training key new hires isn't some hazing process and "surviving" these days isn't the same as thriving. In fact, it's a formula for failure. Ultimately, the only long-term sustainable competitive advantage that your business will have is your people-- concerned, committed and dedicated to making a difference. Don't expect them to thrive if they get off to a shaky and wrong-footed start. And this stuff doesn't take place by some process of osmosis or by itself. If you want it to work and to matter to your people, you've got to make it happen. Clear, consistent and constant communication and regular reinforcement is the key. It's just like bathing; if you forget about it for a few days, things start to stink.
The most important elements of the process don't have anything to do with how the coffee machine works or where to sign up for the spin class; they have everything to do with the company's culture, which is the hardest thing for a new person to absorb and the hardest thing for any business to put into words. I'm not talking about mission statements; this is where the rubber meets the road and the real work gets done.
And remember that these folks are under a lot of stress from the organization as well as pressure of their own making. As the Eagles said about the New Kid in Town: "Great expectations, everybody's watching you. People you meet, they all seem to know you... Everybody loves you, so don't let them down." Also, in case things in a new position weren't confusing enough, these days the basic behavioral ground rules keep shifting as well. A rose may still be a rose, but a hug today is a whole 'nother thing. Every place today has its own rules of the road and norms are a thing of the past.
So how can you help? Here are a few suggestions.
For the Management:
Define the Job/Position and the Time Commitment
Explain Your Expectations in Terms of Behavior and Results
Establish and Share the Job Evaluation Criteria
Make Sure Everyone's on the Same Page
Give Each Newbie a Buddy and a Mentor
For the New Employee:
Hold off on the Hugs.
Hold off on the Humor.
Bag the Beers for a Bit.
Stay Away from Social Media Sharing. (TMI is Trouble)
Be the First to Listen and the Last to Speak.