7 Ways to Ruin a New Employee

Last Updated Mar 13, 2011 9:03 AM EDT

Recently I read an article about welcoming new employees so they get off to a great start. Tips included welcome baskets, long lunches with key members of the team, and plenty of small talk to make them feel comfortable.

This is not that type of article.

The first few days of employment are critical. New employees are a lot like aircraft carriers: Once the course is set, it takes a lot of time and energy to change direction.

Here are seven ways you can set the wrong course, and in the process ruin a new employee:

1. Welcome them to the family. Strong interpersonal relationships, positive working relationships, friendships... all those come later, if ever. You hire an employee to work, not build relationships. Be polite, courteous, and friendly, but stay focused on the fact the employee was hired to perform a job, and jobs involve work. Let new employees earn their way into the "family" through hard work and achievement.

2. Train holistically. Many training guides say providing context for tasks is critical for new employees. Wrong: Initially a new employee doesn't need to know how they fit into the overall operation. They need to know how to perform the tasks you hired them to perform. Leave the broader context and holistic approach for later. Besides, evidence shows people best learn to master complex tasks when those tasks are broken down into smaller, more manageable chunks. (Check out The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.) Teach specific processes and let new employees demonstrate mastery of those processes. Context will wait.

3. Hesitate to give immediate feedback. New employees are tentative, nervous, and mistake-prone. It feels harsh or unfair to correct or criticize, but if you don't, you lose an opportunity to set the right tone. Unless the job involves creativity, every task should have a right way or best way to be performed. Expect -- heck, demand -- that new employees do things your way. Bad habits are easily formed and nearly impossible to correct.

4. Fail to set immediate, tangible goals. Successful companies execute. Every new employee should complete at least one concrete, job-related task, even on their first day. Not only do you establish that output is all-important, new employees will go home feeling a sense of personal achievement. Days spent in "orientation" are not only unfulfilling, they make the eventual transition to "work" harder.

5. Leave gaps in the schedule. I know: It's hard to coordinate new employee orientation and training. Managers, trainers, and mentors get delayed or called away. When that happens, what message do you send? New employees who sit waiting decide you don't value continual performance. My first day at one new job I was pulled out of orientation and sent to shipping to help load 16 trailers. All hands were on deck, including the CEO, and I immediately learned that job description is important but mission is everything. Keep them busy.

6. Allow new employees to modify processes. Is there a better way to perform just about any task? Absolutely. But new employees should not be allowed to reinvent the wheel until after they fully understand how the present wheel works. Be polite, but ask them to hold their ideas for now.

7. Talk about empowerment. Empowerment is a privilege, not a right. Every employee should earn the right to make broader decisions, take on additional authority, or be given latitude and discretion. Earned empowerment is the only valid empowerment culture.

One final thought: Accountability and responsibility should always precede privilege. Give new employees the tools they need to succeed. Then make them earn greater authority and privilege. You -- and eventually they -- will be glad you did.

Read More: Photo courtesy flickr user Zach Klein, CC 2.0
  • Jeff Haden On Twitter»

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    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.

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