In a recent survey of new hires, only 39 percent reported that they believed they had a good understanding of what their job entailed after their first day, and three months later, only slightly more than half reported clarity about what was expected of them. Yikes.
Fred Steckler, chief administrative officer of the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office, told us: “On the first day of work everyone is engaged; the job of the manager is to not mess that up!”
Through our 850,000-person research study for The Best Team Wins, we identified a few ideas today’s best managers are using to get new people and new teams up to productivity faster. Just a few of these include:
1. Hire for culture fit.
First off, these leaders tell us, it’s vital to bring the right people into your team—those who fit your culture. Let us tell you about Frank. When we met him on a business trip we wanted to hire him right away. We flew Frank to headquarters to interview with our staff, more of a formality really. We were shocked when the team didn’t seem to want him. One team member, Scott, begged us not to hire the man. He had dug deeper into Frank’s qualifications during his interview and the professed skills got thinner and thinner.
What did Scott know? We had spent much more time with Frank. We hired him.
Frank was a disaster. The lesson we learned: To ensure the best fit for existing team members and those new people coming in, listen to your team. Your first interview with a candidate is just a step, and your first impression can be wrong. Great leaders send candidates to meet the team, their boss, and one or two people in the organization who don’t have a vested interest in the position. It’s important to listen carefully to others, they can help you dig deeper.
2. Begin orienting people before their start date.
Often, there is an awkward and shocking disconnect for new team members between the love fest of the hiring process and their first day on the job. Assume, before they walk through the door, that a new employee’s anxiety has begun to mount—What’s expected of me? How can I make a good impression? One way to assure new people of your commitment is to begin the process of inculcation before they start. This can be as simple as sending, in advance, an old-fashioned, handwritten welcome letter to their home, along with any background on the organization and any paperwork they need to sign—which usually burns up a good part of their first day anyway.
To inform your team of who’s coming onboard, send around an announcement about the person, clearly discuss why he or she was chosen over other candidates, and outline why the person’s skill set is going to help the team succeed.
The value of starting early is perhaps most impressively demonstrated by the Netflix Culture Deck, a 124-page slide deck that employees review before joining that firm. The slides go through the nine behaviors the company values and offers up lots of clear and logical examples of how to live them. Despite the deck’s length—seriously, it’s 124 pages—in reality, it’s a speedy read with only a few words per slide. The nine behaviors are uncomplicated concepts, like Selflessness and Honesty, and the examples are easy to apply, such as “Make time to help colleagues” and “Only say things about fellow employees you will say to their face.” The articulation of the company’s culture has been so effective in clarifying how employees are expected to behave that Netflix has done away with many policies. For instance, there is no vacation or dress code policy (other than “we don’t come to work naked”). The expense reimbursement process is five-words long: Act in Netflix’s Best Interest.
3. Spend quality time on Day One.
Today’s most effective managers understand that they need to spend a good amount of time with new people on their first day—personally greeting them, introducing them to their team, and showing them around. We’ve heard far too many stories of people who had little or no contact with their manager in their first week, let alone the first day.
Part of any first-day conversation includes explicitly stating that you are strongly committed to helping them succeed. We loved how KimArie Yowell, senior director of talent development at Quicken Loans, explained how her leaders convey this commitment to each new person: “Our team leaders take time with each new hire, whether the person dives right in and embraces the culture off the bat or seems like they’ll take a little time to warm up. Whether you’ve been with us ten years or ten minutes, we’re committed to your success. You made a commitment to come and work with us, you’ve likely given up a lot, and we take that very seriously. You are now part of our family.”
In addition to a formal Quicken Loans onboarding process, every team has developed its own new employee training program. Developing feelings of collaboration and connection are top of mind; which means, if at all possible, new teammates are actually seated in the middle of the team or right by the leader, so they not only have instant access to support, but are literally surrounded by it.
4. Facilitate guidance from fellow team members.
We’re sure everyone who’s started a job remembers vividly the discomfort of having to ask yet another question of a boss or colleague. Oh, my gosh, I’m going back for the twelfth time today! This takes a concerted effort from team leaders, stressing to everyone on the team that questions are to be encouraged and answered fully, patiently, and without eye-rolling.
One of the best ways to assure that new person really feel free to ask all the questions is to assign a member of the team to be their guide. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which employs 12,000 people in the Boston area, new hires are assigned a buddy who stops by the new employee’s work area on their first day and introduces himself and make plans to have lunch together during that first week. The buddy’s job is to show the employee around the larger MIT campus, make introductions into other departments, and be available to answer questions. Over the following months, they’ll meet for coffee or a soda numerous times and invite the person to business and social events on campus. The buddy isn’t expected to be a subject-matter expert, but a Jiminy Cricket who can offer experiential advice on succeeding in this fast-paced environment.
5. Articulate a team code of conduct.
One of the trickiest issues in joining any work group is picking up on the team culture. One of the practices we’ve seen is leaders’ setting forth an explicit set of operating rules. These should not be laundry lists covering every possible positive idea. Seriously, Moses had ten and most people can’t remember half. No, generally these are a simple set of three or four core concepts that include guidelines about how we interact with each other.
A terrific example was shared by Tanner Elton, head of entertainment advertising sales for online retailer Amazon. With diversity of roles and locations on his team, he and the managers who report to him spend extra time helping new hires understand what he calls the team’s Rule of Three guiding principles. Number one is No Excuses, number two is Fail Forward, and rule three is Do It. Each has special meaning to the team, which he explains on an employee’s first day.
Even if you don’t want to set forth explicit ground rules for your team, we do suggest discussing in some detail the culture of your team with new members—or defining these together if a new team has just been formed. Every team has distinctive ways of operating and interacting that new people need to know to feel secure. And there may be important ways that you would like new members to contribute to furthering the team culture.