When our son was in high school, at least once a week he would say, “What is the point of school? I am never going to use [insert subject] again.” The counterargument was, “You may not use all of it. But good grades get you into college, and knowing how to work gets you into a happy life.” On days when I was desperate or just exasperated, I would huff, “Do it because I said to.” I would often lament to my husband, “Why doesn’t he have a vision for his future?” In trying to understand why teenagers procrastinate, psychologist Timothy Pychyl discovered that “until we have a vision of who we want to become, we can’t do much.” Once we have a vision, we get stuff done.
That’s what your new hires need. A vision. Understanding why their job is necessary and important will power them through difficult days, when the cost of the struggle toward competence seems steep. For the first three to six months on the job, they may struggle with discouragement. They may try your patience. You may even wonder why you hired them. And maybe it was a bad hire; it’s too soon to know. But you can increase their odds of moving up the learning curve by laying out a vision from the outset.
Start with the why of your organization—and your team. You may be reluctant to do so. There are too many things clamoring for your attention. You need your new hire to get right to work. (One benefit of hiring internally is that the new hire will already have an idea of what the company is about.)
Maybe you feel that you can’t offer a clear vision. After all, doesn’t the word “vision” imply the ability to see the path ahead and chart your course accordingly? You may not see exactly where you’re going. But even if you don’t know what lies ahead, chances are you know why you are moving in that direction. The purpose that drives what you are doing is foundational. It is worth the time to examine, understand, and share it with your team.
One company that articulates its vision from the get-go is Globalization Partners (GP) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which in 2017 was ranked number 33 on Inc. magazine’s prestigious Inc. 5000, an annual list of the fastest-growing private companies in the United States.2 Week one on the job, each employee goes through GP University. The first day they spend time with CEO Nicole Sahin, who explains her vision for the company: “Venture capital, private equity, and public companies only consider their shareholders, thus maximizing profit on a quarterly basis at a cost to the well-being of clients and employees.” Sahin defines success as “A triple bottom line: happy employees equals happy clients equals happy shareholders.” The employees then hear presentations from every director in the company. This sets the stage for cross-silo collaboration and respect, quashing entitlement from the start. Not surprisingly, people like to work there. In a survey done by CultureIQ, GP received a 92 out of 100 in its employee net promoter score, a barometer of employee loyalty. And job-search company Glassdoor, which amasses worker reviews, indicates that most current and past employees give GP solid reviews.
There are endless methods and tactics, but there are very few “whys.” When we have a vision and believe in it, instead of seeing drudgery, we see discovery. Instead of aimless wandering, we see ourselves on a defined path to proficiency, at the low end of our personal growth curve. Once there is a why, there is a way.
Understand Your New Hire’s Vision—Their “Why”
Just as your new employee needs to understand the company’s vision, you’ll want to understand theirs. Find out what they are trying to accomplish as a person and how this new role fits with their goals, as well as what they anticipate they will need from you to be successful. Ideally, in the first week of employment, you’ll hold a strategy session with your employee, just as you would with a customer. In fact, a new hire is a customer: a highly important, long-term customer.
There’s both risk and responsibility associated with asking these questions. Knowledge is power, and when someone shares their hopes and dreams with you, they hand you a lot of power. Kathleen Warner, former Executive VP of Economic Development for New York City shares, “In my experience of corporate America, personal information wasn’t valued or exalted but used as a sledgehammer or other object of destruction or discrimination.”
How you wield power will be your legacy: best boss ever, worst boss ever, or somewhere in between. If you aren’t being respectful of the people who work for you, something is wrong.
I had a coaching client who came to me as he was starting a new job in the construction industry. He was optimistic about his plan, as was his employer. That is until he was thrown into combat with no backup and no short-term milestones by which progress could be reckoned. The boss seemed to believe his new hire would be the magic bullet and change everything. When two months had passed—and he wasn’t and hadn’t—his boss broke the dreaded news: things weren’t working. After only a year on the job, he was let go.
For new hires, it is vital to set short-term goals. This de facto constraint gives your new employees something to bump up against to assess how well they are doing. Like a skateboarder who gets quick and useful feedback about their various tricks (in the form of falling on asphalt), they’ll know that doing X leads to success; not doing X means they’ll crash and burn. Tighten the constraint. Increase the pace of the feedback, and employees will learn faster.
Start with a checklist. Measure progress against the plan. For example, sketch out one or two clearly defined projects with precise deadlines and maximum budgets. Make them projects within projects, if necessary, to allow for rapid iteration and quick wins. This will keep them focused on learning and improving rather than being fearful of blowing it.
One of these projects should be building out their network. Provide a list of specific people to reach out to in the first week, then in the second week. Give them credit for having these conversations. Whom do you want them to look to for guidance? Whom do you want them to help? These networking tasks are especially important because they are concrete and easily achievable and because they weave your new hires into the fabric of your organization. The more people they know, the greater their ability to make things happen.
When you provide constraints in the form of clearly scoped projects, they (and you) can receive feedback that will help take account of their progress. Room-escape games are increasingly popular as a corporate team-building activity for that very reason. Locked in a room together, a group of people look for clues and solve puzzles to gain the key to escape. Such exercises expose strengths and weaknesses as individuals cope with constraints. Who communicates well or is calm under pressure? How is a deadline handled? Who are the analytical thinkers, and which team members are more imaginative? Cooperative? Confident? Under normal circumstances we leave a room by opening a door; thinking outside that box is unnecessary. Lock the door and withhold—in other words, embrace constraint—and concealed strengths may be revealed, along with a newfound appreciation for the strengths of their colleagues.
Listen to the New Hire’s “Outsider” Ideas
One important milestone during the first six months is to get your new hire’s perspective on your operation. It seems like an obvious thing to do, but getting information from someone less experienced can be annoying. They have all these ideas and they question everything: why you do what you do and why you do it the way you do it. So we fight it off.
We all love our comfortable ideas. We cling to the moorings of our established opinions as if for survival. But being able to hear the contrary ideas of others without affront allows us to move more quickly up the learning curve. We may even find ourselves agreeable to things we initially found disagreeable—if we dare to step back and give them a chance. Learn to solicit ideas and opinions from newcomers who aren’t yet blind through familiarity. Future performance and innovation may hinge on it.
We all marvel at the hugely successful mega-businesses that began in a basement, garage, or shed. They often share a familiar and seemingly unlikely path to success: Someone starts tinkering with an idea. Instead of doing the conventional thing, they are highly unconventional. Your new reports are not likely to be consigned to the company barn to do their work, but tinkering in a garage with an unconventional idea can yield striking results. When you aren’t yet entrenched in company culture and conventions, when you don’t know how to do what you’re trying to do, when you haven’t yet mastered your responsibilities through the performance of specific, repetitive tasks—this is when eyes and minds are most open to doing something new. Use it to your advantage.
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