Top 10 Hiring Mistakes, #8: Blowing the First 90 Days

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A successful hire doesn’t end with a job offer and a handshake. “Welcome aboard” is just the beginning.

Even overachievers need support, direction and encouragement in their first 90 days, and HR training sessions and employee manuals won’t cut it. It’s up to you to help your new team member feel comfortable with her role and colleagues, or you might lose her. And that’s a hiring mistake you don’t want to make.

When I hire someone, I start by making the new employee’s success an explicit personal goal. This might sound something like:

By the end of 90 days:

I want the team to wonder how they got along before Mary joined.
I want Mary to say, “I never thought I’d enjoy a job so much.”
I want to be excited about Mary’s contribution to the organization’s future.

The particulars of these goals can vary, of course. The point is to imagine what a “win” might be for Mary – and for you. Like any goal, you have to make it a reality by doing what it takes to get there, not just talking about it.

If you want to do “onboarding” right, I recommend the following approaches:

1) Everyone pitches in: Your team may need to be reminded to make an extra effort to be welcoming. Just as the human body can reject a transplanted organ, existing teams can be hostile to new members without the right groundwork. Getting your team involved in the hiring process is a good start; but don’t stop there. Ask the team for thoughts about how to make the new person feel welcome, perhaps something that helped them in their early days on the job. Just reminding the team about first-day anxiety will communicate a level of care that can pay dividends.

2) Cut ‘em some slack: A new hire can put herself under a tremendous amount of pressure to get results right away, the better to show the team what she’s made of. Ask her not to go all out right away. Her first few months should be spent listening, observing, getting to know her teammates, and building trust. Tell her you know she’ll do well – that’s why you hired her. But for now, “job one” is to build trust and to learn from her new colleagues.

3) Get the feedback going: Ask your newcomer for permission to provide frank, real-time feedback (which doesn’t mean you’ll be breathing down her neck – it means you’ll be there to offer help and suggestions.) Likewise, tell her that you’ll want to hear her unvarnished perspective on the way you work – so the feedback goes both ways. In order to make the process more effective, bear in mind that the best feedback happens in real time. If you can catch someone in the moment, while the teaching opportunity is still fresh, it’s better than calling her into your office for a performance summit days or weeks later. Just after a meeting, call or conversation, it should be no big deal to say, “I noticed a bit of tension when… I wonder if we might explore what you were thinking when… Or, tell me if I’m helping when I…”

4) Be clear: There should be no doubt about the new hire’s roles, her reporting relationships, and, once acclimated, what she’ll be expected to deliver. But remember that over the long haul, successful hires do far more than just “get work done”. They do their jobs in a way that empowers others, builds the organization, reduces conflict and creates harmony. Remember, people are hired for what they can do, but get fired for how they go about it. Remind your new hires that the “how” can be more important than the what – and give them the coaching they need to understand what that means.

5) Values – show, don’t tell: It’s easy to rattle off a list of virtues when you’re describing what your organization is all about. Companies love to talk about the importance of integrity, cooperation and social responsibility. But you’re fooling yourself if you think you can teach your employees virtues by reading them from the handbook. Your organization’s values come from where it spends its time, money, and energy. And perhaps more than that, how its people act, and the choices they make.