Your business is growing. And you’ve spent the last few weeks recruiting, carefully vetting and choosing a few new individuals to join your agency team. Although hiring may be an enjoyable, even exciting part of your job (“we’re making money, we’re growing, and we need to add new talent and experience to our team!”), the process can be deceptively demanding.
Of course, there are many good people out there still searching for good jobs. But even when you bring in the best of the best, second thoughts, reconsideration and concerns begin to set in. Will she fit with the team? Will his skills and experience fit our needs? Will our clients love her? Is his creativity all that it seems to be? You’ll have to banish those thoughts and worries when your new people are on board, all in their places with bright shiny faces. Instead, focus on the real preparation that will keep those faces shining with energy and accomplishment right from the start.
That All-Important First Week
Start them off surrounded with lots and lots of positive energy. First impressions on the job are critical to relationship-building and employee retention. And first impressions are a two-way street. Obviously, you want your new hires to feel good about their choosing to work for your agency. So give your staff the opportunity to prepare a welcome. Let them know a few days in advance, and make sure they know the new person’s name, basic background, and what the new hire’s job responsibilities will be. Also, have an orientation plan for those first few days. Create a document and email it to everyone, or print it on bright paper to be posted on the employee notice board.
The orientation plan should detail (day by day, or even hour by hour) what the new hire will be doing, with whom, where and when. Ensure that they are included in any lunch and/or after-hours plans as well, by putting these into the official orientation plan. You do not want to set a new hire adrift, to potentially drift away. Here’s one “newbie horror story” related by a friend years ago:
“At 9:00, they sat me down in a quiet corner with an employee handbook, some forms to fill out, and how-to manuals to let me “get acclimated to our workplace.” Everyone sort of buzzed around me, glanced at me suspiciously once in a while, but they didn’t seem to know what to do with me or why I was even there. Finally, I began to ask people for work just to have something to do. Eventually, the other employees asked me what my title was, and what I would be doing, which helped to break the ice.”
Make sure that your new employee orientation allocates time for the new person to work with a number of different people in different areas of the agency. This allows the new hire to understand the responsibilities, and working styles of others on the agency team. It also allows new hires to see more depth and detail, and to see how their work and responsibilities will dovetail with the responsibilities of others. And, since first impressions work in both directions, this type of orientation benefits your agency socially, allowing everyone to get to know the new person.
Clarify the employee’s responsibilities before they join your staff. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? If you didn’t have things for a new person to do, why would you hire them in the first place? But unless you truly wish for them to create their own responsibilities and job, make sure you provide a clear, detailed job description (and the job descriptions of those in the surrounding work group, as well), an agency organization chart, and a list of additional responsibilities. Here’s another tale from a newbie left in the dark, literally and figuratively:
“I reported to HR my first morning on the job. After the normal filling-out-forms period of an hour or two, I was offered a cup of coffee, and ushered into a small, dark and windowless conference room on a mostly-empty floor. I was then informed that I would be temporarily working from said conference room until they were able to find me a desk and a workspace. No kidding. Then they asked me who I would like to report to. Of course, I said the President. The HR person “hmm’d” as though he would give this some serious consideration. It was like walking into the Twilight Zone. I spent a lot of time in that conference room searching for another job…”
Make sure new hires have a place to “call home,” and a set of people to be “at home,” and work directly, with as they begin to learn the ropes. New employees need a space (and hopefully a desk and chair) to call their own, preferably in close proximity to others in their work group. Don’t put their workspace in some lonely room-at-the-end-of-the-hall, or (worse) in the middle of a busy hallway with a partition or two for “privacy” (I’ve seen it happen).
It is also helpful for managers/supervisors to make time each day (at least for the first couple of weeks) to discuss the new employee’s questions, progress, projects, etc., until you’re sure the employee is taking hold and getting comfortable. In addition, there should be another 2 or 3 experienced “go to” people at hand for Q&A. Make sure these are friendly, nurturing types, not people who will grimace and growl when they are interrupted. For the less experienced employee (new grads, and young people new to the field), it may be helpful to create a number of “get started” tasks to build confidence and knowledge, and assign a mentor to guide the employee in procedures and processes.
Plan in a little social time. Assign a few different staffers to “lunch and learn” sessions with the new person. Or just gather a group of people together and go out to lunch a couple of times during that first week. This will help the new employee to bond and get to know people more quickly. Consider having an after-hours social (especially if you are a smaller group, or have little time to mingle during the day) to help everyone get to know the new employee(s).
Recognize the “grace period.” In our focus to get on with The Work, we often overlook the necessary “grace period” for new hires. There will be hitches, and there will be days of “fits and starts.” Instead of tossing the new hires right into the lion’s den, give them some time to learn the ropes, rules and rights-of-way, and orient them so they understand how the work is done in your agency. Whenever there is a change within a group, everyone (old hands and new hires alike) needs time to grow cohesively as a team. Then, when the pressure’s on, The Work can move forward smoothly, harmoniously... and even better than before.