Helping New People Perform

Written by: Alan Rodway

One of the most important decisions any organisation make is the appointment of its next person. It’s one thing to skillfully select new people but it’s another helping them to perform once they are on board. This article gives a range of actions to help new people perform.

  1. Make sure the new person has a clear picture of the organisation prior to starting .. the good and the less good. High performers deal well with honesty and what they know so don’t hold back with the description. If problems exist in an organisation that a new person is not made aware of it can be quite off-putting to then find them upon commencement. Every organisation has its problems, and good people appreciate openness and honesty. They are also more likely to deal well with the organisation’s challenges if they are made aware prior.
  2. Objectively determine what internal and external barriers could hamper the performance of the new person and eradicate them where possible. Good people will cut through barriers to high performance but will naturally be slowed down if too many exist. They might even downgrade the organisation in their own minds or, worse, the person could leave for someplace better if too many barriers are allowed to exist. Make the new person aware of any barriers that may take some time to overcome and be upfront about any that may not be solvable. These barriers could be things like (short term) resource shortages or imperfections, systems that need to be improved or initiated, information deficiencies and may even some problems that need the new person’s help to solve.
  3. Prior to the start date, determine who within your organisation may be a negative influence on the new person’s performance … delivering poor training, loading them with baggage, not supportive, bad habits, resentful of their presence, etc. This is actually not a difficult point to advise on but the advice may be difficult for an organisation to accept. Two things must happen. First, strong and positive counsel to the potential negative influencers to make very clear the expected behaviours, prior to the start of the new person. Second, be upfront with the new person that the organisation doesn’t yet have its ideal team in place (without naming anyone, of course). Honesty works, on both fronts. (This point does beg the question why such a person or people would be kept within any organisation but, to be fair, the organisation itself may be going through a process that’s yet to be completed).
  4. Make sure that the new person knows that their ideas and reactions will be welcomed (and then, of course, make sure that’s actually the case). Certainly, discourage the ‘Where I was before …’ type language (that can be very annoying to others) but welcome what the new person can bring to the table.
  5. Setting up of a ‘buddy’ or mentor within the organisation can really help a new person perform and settle in quickly, but the pairing is critical to the success of this so it needs to be carefully set up and skillfully monitored, changing it up if it’s not working effectively. It’s actually not a bad approach to change the pairing after the first, say three months, anyway, to provide different perspectives. It must be set in place that the pair meets up at least weekly in the early months and not just via corridor walk-byes.
  6. Inducting new people is critical to their early performance but inductions carried out by many businesses are too narrow. They deal with job descriptions, the organisational chart, administration issues and where resources are. The ‘real’ induction should convey the spirit of the organisation, the ‘why we are here’, the heart and soul of the place. That’s what creates success. We all acknowledge the significance of culture in creating success so induction to the organisation’s culture is extremely important .. the history of the organisation, what it’s overcome, who we are today, what we value, what we live, etc. This part of the induction should come from a wide variety of people within the organisation, who are proud to share it all. And invite the new person to help improve the culture even further, through their own behaviours and leadership. Honestly, no new person has ever failed or succeeded because they know where to park their car or where the files are, but they ARE impacted by the culture .. so put it upfront early and get them involved. Place a high level of importance on cultural induction for the newbies.
  7. The old Mission, Vision, Values … important? Of course, they are, providing they are lived. So, put them up front to new people and invite their contribution to their achievement. (If you are inside an organisation that is unclear on these or poor at living them out on a daily basis, you need to remedy that pronto).
  8. As well as the training program to be provided to the new person, ensure they understand and buy into the level of empowerment that’s expected. If your organisation has high levels of empowerment then explain what that means and what is required behaviourally. If you are on a pathway to increasing empowerment then share that with them to encourage their contribution to its growth. One of the worst situations to have a new person in is wondering what they are ‘allowed’ or ‘expected’ to do or not do. What levels of initiative, resourcefulness, leadership, risk taking, decision making are to be the case for this person? Difficult to define but necessary to discuss.
  9. Ensure there are mechanisms in place to accurately pick up how the new person is feeling and coping. Early detection of negative situations is critical here and being slow to pick them up could not only result in lower performance but self-exit. The buddy/mentor system is important, as is open and honest communication itself, but so too is observation and perception … so watch and listen. Genuine care is the key here.
  10. Should new people be treated differently in their early days depending on their generation, culture, upbringing, socio-economic circumstance or education? I would answer it this way … we are all different and to get the best from anyone requires we understand that. In my experience, the best answer is this … care about the person, listen to them, communicate openly and honestly with them, be on their side … and the rest takes care of itself. Of course, there are situations where it’s not that simple nor easy, but it’s the best approach to take. And be careful not to have preconceived expectations of anyone depending on any of these factors … not everyone in a particular generation, for example, will exhibit the behavioural traits regarded as the norm.
  11. Demonstrate some pride in your organisation to the new person. Highlight the outstanding aspects, in respectful and humble ways. New people need to be excited about what they are joining and the future they can help carve out. We can only expect new people to take pride in our organisation if we do the same.
  12. Everyone in the organisation needs to buy into the success of a new person. It’s a very costly exercise (time, money, effort, emotion) and one we need to make successful, obviously. People within need to understand that the selection, appointment, induction and early performance help to a new person is everyone’s responsibility, for the good of all. That’s not idealistic; it’s reality. Take deliberate steps to ensure that existing people are committed to the success of new people. Raising this in discussion with the relevant teams is the starting point.
  13. New people will have a natural enthusiasm for the role and the organisation for a period of time, but some of that will naturally wear off in time. It’s when this happens that the organisation’s fundamental behaviours should take over the role of driving enthusiasm to be part of the future. So, adherence to what we should all do and not do is still the single most important cause of future success, including its effect on the performance of new people.
  14. Agreed expectations between the organisation and the new person are critical and must be established before the new person starts. For a business, it’s not enough to rely on a job description nor kpi’s to achieve this … expectations between employer and employee go way beyond formal documentation. The intangibles related to the role, the unwritten rules of the organisation, empowerment, to name a few. What does the organisation expect and what does the new person expect? Have real communication around these with the new person, to reach a broad and specific agreement, before their start date. To not do this is poor communication and will more than likely lead to problems down the line.
  15. If the organisation has a behavioural credo (as I believe should be the case) it must be explained to the new person prior to commencement (and during selection is ideal). ‘No excuses’, for example, is a powerful credo and every new person has the right to know it exists and is lived out by all team members (which is hopefully the case). Second, it must be made clear that not only are all team members expected to live by the credo, but they are also expected to help others when they observe anything less. The second expectation is even more difficult than the first as it will sometimes require the new person to take up difficult matters with others in the team, including those more senior to them at times. But, to not cover off on this for every new person risks the very credo itself.
  16. Agree with the new person that, at the three-month point of being with the organisation, they will make a mini (but real) presentation to a group of key people, outlining what they found effective, ineffective and indifferent about their commencement experience. This is not only a powerful way to improve the experience for future newbies but also a genuine way to demonstrate the organisation’s commitment to enabling a flying, positive start for all new people.
  17. Have the new person map out some intended key actions for their first three months, consistent with agreed objectives with the organisation, prior to starting. This requires the new person to think about how they will achieve rather than just do the job. Sure, it can be limited in some ways given the new person’s possible naivete of the organisation (or industry) but it also can bring some innovation through freshness. More senior appointments could entail significantly elevated detail within this approach.
  18. Ensure that the specific strengths of each new person are identified, both prior to starting as well as during the early period of time. This could be skill, knowledge, behaviour, experiential or attitudinal. C.V.’s don’t always disclose all of these so the organisation may miss out (for a time) before being able to tap into the best of the new person. And a new person will enjoy and benefit from this type of partnership with the organisation.
  19. Ensure that an effective and non-threatening process is in place for the new person to air any barriers to their performance and that this is properly communicated to the new person, early. This should be a genuine process that both parties are aware of and feel comfortable to utilise. That’s not negative; just the opposite. It represents maturity and initiative on the part of the organisation.
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