Don't Kill the New-Hire: A How to Guide
New team member? Things not working out? Rewrite the plot.
The new employee has arrived. Your team just got one bigger. This could be great; extra hands, extra brain, saved time, and a fresh perspective. Yay! You need this person, desperately. But, right on the heels of hope comes the trepidation, and sure enough, a few weeks later, you find yourself having some very ungenerous thoughts, like, “How could anyone be so stupid?,” and “Gaargh! What a joke. Who hired this clown?”
It’s okay; as long as you don’t say it out loud or show it on your face. It’s going to be okay. In fact, take a little walk to the bathroom and have a chat with yourself in the mirror.
“[insert your name here], you are not the boss. You are not HR. But, [enter explicative], [name of burdensome new co-worker here] is your problem. It’s going to be okay.”
And, it is.
“Who hired this clown?!”
Let’s say, for the sake of being fair, this new team member actually has experience, that the hiring process did not fail, and that this newbie is actually a good fit. So, what's wrong? Well, for one thing, regardless of resume bullet-points or how much they may have excelled in the last situation, this is a new situation. Some things are unique to every situation, like priorities, processes, decision making and social hierarchy. And, golly, what about resources? What are they and how are they accessed? It's possible that this “clown” has so much practical experience, that no one thought to actually train them. Unless the newbie is some kind of social genius or a mind reader, how are they supposed to know how you guys do work? Now, since this person is your teammate, try meeting some of their training needs.
“I’ve tried,” you wail inwardly! You’ve told them again, and again. You’ve shown them, brought it to them on a silver plate, and laid it at their feet like a supplicant before a king. And, still! It’s like talking to a brick wall. But, this is just you attempting to meet your productivity needs, not you attempting to meet their learning needs. It takes a shift in perspective. Ask them, “I’ve noticed [state situation tactfully]. How do you feel about that?” And then, listen.
Plus, people have different learning styles, and your style of intervention may be completely unconducive to your new team member being receptive and/or retaining anything. For instance, I am a strong visual learner and I simply can’t take in aural information as fast as it comes at me. The temporal factor throws me off. I need to stare at something for as long as it takes to sink in. Then there are those people who need to do everything, get their hands dirty, bumble and manipulate trial-and-error style. No amount of counsel or on-line resources will improve their performance. They need someone to sit down with them, side-by-side, in real time, and guide them as they do it all themselves. Some folks are so relational that only by face-to-face connection will anything stick. If you didn’t expressly say it, no matter how much access to resources they have, it isn’t in their head–period. Thus, to meet your new co-workers training needs, you'll want to find out not only what they require to be successful, but also how to give it to them. Ask “What do you need?,” and then “What would be the ideal way to get it?”
“I don’t like them. They don’t like me. This will only end in conflict.”
Maybe you are past the point where friendly intervention seems viable. A good friend of mine is a pastor and we talk often about conflict. Most people think about conflict in terms of either avoiding it or confronting it. What my buddy and I discuss, however, is engaging in conflict willingly, without the truly-unnecessary burdens of competition and hurt feelings. First step: start with a healthy respect for the undertaking. When you enter into conflict, you're about to participate in something powerful and important. Conflict, whether outright war or a silly domestic squabble, is channeling Shiva. It is an axiom of human endeavor that nothing new can be created until what stood in its place is gone. (Google some images of Shiva---he's no monster!) Plus, think of all the friends that began as enemies, starting with Gilgamesh and Enkidu all the way to Ash and Gary (aka. Satoshi and Shigeru).
Second step: Have respect for your partner in conflict. It helps to believe that your new team member has the best intentions. It doesn’t even have to be true, even though it is 99.999% of the time. Just by willfully and overtly accepting the other person’s position as legitimate, you get to bypass the stages of resistance and resentment on both sides. Things may still feel prickly for awhile, but with persistent acceptance and compassion, your partner in conflict will realize there are no sides. You're a team.
“Ok. I’m going to make this work.”
I hope you see that even though your new co-worker may be driving you crazy now, the future is not certain. There's still time to rewrite the plot. Support your new team member in their transition. Even if they're doing the exact same job as in their last position, differences in work process are inevitable, and your understanding and assistance can only help. Don’t be afraid to get in there and be engaged in your new team mate’s success. You can contribute a lot just by listening to their needs.
Lori Noice is a member of the Return Leverage team. With a background in physics and manufacturing, Lori has an analytical and process-oriented approach to life and work. She's designed inventory systems for Soma Kombucha, Tsuga Gardens and Design, and implemented mass inventory reform for Schoolhouse Electric Company. Now, at Return Leverage, she has an opportunity to tap her academic past and graduate teaching experience to create on-line training solutions for teams, organizations, and individuals.