Sink or Swim?
Last week was the first “Family Vacation” since my sister and I became adults. There were eight of us, including my Mom and Dad, my Sister, her two children and husband and me and my son. We rented a houseboat on Raystown Lake in western Pennsylvania. While a large vessel, it was still tight quarters for five adults and three kids…and it was SEVEN days on the water. Early in the week we worked out who was to sleep where, how meals divvied up, a night time routine and all the simple things that aren’t so simple in a confined space. By the third day the “ship” was running smoothly and we were having a great time. (Of course we were all on our best behavior in order to make the closeness work.) By the fifth night, things started to get tense. My husband joined us making the total in our group nine people. With his arrival came suggestions, new space issues and a new group dynamic. Don’t get me wrong. He’s a great guy and didn’t do anything wrong. Just the addition of a “newbie” to our crew caused some tension over the changes. “It’s been working all week…why change it?” Admittedly, I was the worst offender. I didn’t even think about his suggestions before dismissing them as unnecessary and any change was not welcome as far as I was concerned. (You’re right…I wasn’t playing fair or nice).
Driving home I got to thinking about the last few days of our adventure. Our trip was similar to a team trying to find their places and make things happen at the workplace. It can take time to build cohesion among a work group. Sometimes years. In other words, it’s the building of a culture. When someone new joins the group, it can be difficult for everyone.
So how do you reduce the tension and frustration when someone new joins the team?
Create a Training Plan
Some managers think that launching someone into uncharted water is a great way for them to learn quickly. While sometimes necessary to speed up the process, the sink or swim approach isn’t the best way to acclimate a new team member. When we have a new sales consultant join us at WOLF, I arrange with his / her manager to allot at least a full day of training solely on branding, marketing tools, culture, who to call for what and other important processes that relate to Marketing Support. There’s a lot to review and I require the newbie to bring a laptop and we walk through it all online including the e-Toolbox, forms and more. I also provide a binder of information including a number of “cheat sheets” and check lists. After all, the brain can only absorb so much at a time and it’s important that our new rep have a source to refer to rather than floundering silently.
Another great practice is to team your new staffer with a seasoned one. Someone other than “the boss” that he or she can go to with questions. Remember how nervous you were starting a brand new job? You wanted to do your best and not ask TOO many questions for fear it would make you look incompetent. By encouraging interaction among same level team mates, your new hire can learn the ropes while feeling a little less self-conscious. Plus you can purposely tie the newbie with a staffer who exemplifies your culture, brand and goals. Not to mention it can free you up a little to focus on other team needs.
Lead by Example
One of the great benefits of bringing someone new into the group is a source of fresh ideas. This is the tricky part. But it’s all in YOUR attitude. Show your team that new ideas are welcome by specifically asking for feedback during meetings and training sessions. Of course, just because an idea is new doesn’t make it a good one. And just because it’s different than what you’re already doing doesn’t make it a bad one. So after you consider (and better yet, TRY) the idea, be prepared to show appreciation for the idea but move on without discouraging future input. At WOLF we utilize ISO to help us develop procedures, processes and work instructions. One of the best tools we use is the Corrective Action / Preventive Action. This allows a team or individual to look at a process and correct it or suggest an improvement. The key is being truly open-minded and that starts with you.
Whether formal or over coffee, it’s a good idea to check in with your new member more often than not. The “no news is good news” approach, quick frankly, stinks. We all want to be sure we’re meeting our supervisor’s expectations….especially when it’s a new job or new role. Get feedback from co-workers so you can work with real examples. Ask for input on the good, the bad and the ugly. And don’t be offended.
It all comes down to communication. Open communication is the key to successfully integrating new folks into your team. And remember to communicate with your experienced staff too. This is a transition for everyone.
Most importantly, you need to start your green guy off on the right foot! Have a plan, get feedback and talk.
About Kim Downs
Kim has been focused on building WOLF’s brand and shaping product messages for 17 years. Her integrated approach to program development includes interdepartmental communication as well as common sense strategy resulting in programs that work. She has a steadfast belief that building a marketing plan doesn’t require an unrealistic budget. Kim contends that even small, meaningful steps can do wonders in building a brand.