When welcoming a new member to your existing team

Bruce Tulgan

One new team member can really shift the dynamic of a team. The prospect of a new person (let’s call her “Newby”) joining the team will set off a cascade of powerful reactions. Less so perhaps than the prospect of a new manager. But still plenty. Your direct-reports will wonder: “Will Newby be a long-termer or just passing through?” “A star or a loser?” “Will she be a loner or find a best friend?” “Will she be on my side? Or someone else’s?” “What will it all mean for me?”

For you, as the manager, with any luck, some of these questions should already be answered, at least preliminarily. After all, you chose to hire Newby. So you are probably already a big fan. Beware of falling into the classic hiring manager’s error: Don’t fool yourself into thinking that the person you interviewed is going to line up exactly with the person who shows up at work and becomes part of your team. No matter how rigorous your hiring process may be, Newby was doing her absolute best to put her best foot forward every step of the way. She was telling you everything you wanted to hear in her very most persuasive delivery. Can you blame her? Not only that, but the more you started to like Newby in the hiring process, the more you may have put your hopes and dreams for this position onto Newby. You might well have started to see a lot of what you really wanted to see in Newby and overlooked any signs to the contrary. I’ve seen this happen so many times: It is only natural that you might have a honeymoon period. Just don’t be heartbroken when Newby turns out to be human. Don’t blame Newby when she turns out to NOT be the completely Self-Managing-Superhero-Answer-to-all-of-your-Problems (nobody is).

No matter how great Newby may be, I promise you, she will need to be managed, more closely at first than you would probably guess, and for longer. Be prepared to spend a lot of time at the outset working closely with Newby. You can’t wait for her to ask. She might not realize how much on-boarding support and up-to-speed coaching she needs. Even if she does realize, she likely won’t ask for it.

While some employers are better at this than others, most employers have only a minimal process for welcoming new employees and getting them on-board and up-to-speed. There’s usually even less support for an individual who is a current employee transferring internally to another department or team. At best, even in organizations with robust orientation and training programs, there is the inevitable hand-off to the hiring manager when the formal process is complete.

Unless you happen to work for the United States Armed Forces and your organization’s orientation program looks a lot like Boot Camp, then you should not count on the formal process. From the first day Newby joins your team, you need to take 100% responsibility for making sure she is welcomed properly and given the on-boarding support and up-to-speed coaching she will need to become a fully functioning member of the team.

That does not mean delegating the responsibility to one of your lieutenants. So often managers tell me, “Oh yea, I pay very close attention to getting new people on board and up to speed. George handles all of that for me.”

Clue: If someone/anyone “handles all that” for you, then you are not paying close enough attention to it. The on-boarding of any new employee who will report directly to you should be “handled” by you. You can start by explaining that your modus operandi for managing is to build a regular ongoing structured one-on-one dialogue with every person who reports to you. So you will start by scheduling a lot of one-on-ones at the outset: Maybe two per day initially, once at the beginning of the workday and again at the end of the day.

What will you talk about in your one-on-ones during the on-boarding process? You need to be prepared with a list of initial learning objectives:

  • The organization, big picture: Its vision, mission, values, and culture.
  • Where your team fits in the organization: The work of the team.
  • Broad performance standards, workplace expectations.
  • Company systems, practices, procedures.

Some of this material may have been covered in the formal orientation process, but it is all well worth repeating in detail repeatedly. You need to have these conversations with your new employee yourself so that you can add your voice and your interpretation and your points of emphasis. After all, Newby is going to be answering to You.

Once you’ve hammered away at these fundamentals, shift your one-on-ones to helping the new employee really dig in and start to understand the context of the work she will be doing. That’s why the next set of learning objectives should be very job specific. First discuss the current projects, tasks and responsibilities being handled on the team. Then explain which projects, tasks and responsibilities Newby will be working on. For each, offer:

  • Examples of past work product, and work in progress.
  • Background materials, standard operating procedures, instructions, manuals, checklists, or other job aids. And answers to frequently asked questions.
  • Key people inside and outside the team with whom the new employee will work.
  • Opportunities to practice, rehearse, shadow, dry-run, scrimmage, rough-draft, or what-have-you, as appropriate.
  • Key players inside and outside the team.

Though this is the kind of information that the new employee would gather eventually on-the-job, it is much more effective to learn it systematically according to a clear agenda, with learning resources provided along the way.

Take special note: If Newby is going to be responsible for managing others, then in your one-on-ones, you need to make it immediately clear that you expect her to manage her direct reports in a strong, highly-engaged manner. Explain what that means in detail.

Bruce Tulgan is a speaker and the author of numerous books including the best seller It’s Okay to Be the Boss (2007), and the classic Managing Generation X (1995), as well as It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss (2010), and The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014). His newest book, Bridging the Soft Skills Gap, is due for publication in September. This article is an excerpt from Tulgan’s book, The 27 Challenges Managers Face. Learn more at www.RainmakerThinking.com and follow Bruce on Twitter at @BruceTulgan.

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