Provide Clear Communication for Hew Hires

Excerpts from NJ BIZ, The Bottom Line, by Steve Adubato, September 5, 2005

Question:  What are some mistakes made by organizations in hiring?
Adubato:  Too often, critical communication mistakes are made and opportunities are missed early on.  Bad habits develop and unhealthy patterns are established.  If you wait too long, it becomes extremely difficult to fix the situation and those new employees become less than productive.

Question:  Are there any specific tips for bringing an employee on board and establishing a solid communication foundation?
Adubato:  I first want to emphasize that standard operating procedure and employment manuals are fine, but too often they are filled with useless information and reams of data that have little to do with the person’s job and what is expected of them.  I recommend, instead, developing a more streamlined written manual that has basic office policies, functions of equipment, important phone numbers, vacation policies, etc.  Be as specific as possible and include a section entitled, “Most commonly asked questions by employees.”
However, don’t let this manual take the place of valuable face-to-face interaction.  Set aside time in the first few days of the employee’s tenure.  If you hired the person directly, make sure you are available.  This doesn’t have to be in the office; it may be better to do it over a cup of coffee or lunch in a relaxed setting.  Your objective is to break down the barriers and establish communication where any question can be asked or any issue raised.

Question:  Is there a set list of items that should be covered in this first meeting?
Adubato:  Absolutely.  Don’t confuse such sit-downs with bull sessions.  You should go into them with a clear, written agenda.  It might include mistakes to avoid; areas of work to prioritize; and key people (internally and externally) to touch base with.

Question:  How can I be sure the new hire is aware of the subtleties of the office, such as how we share information?
Adubato:  Establish a preferred method of communicating.  Some organizations thrive on meetings to share valuable information and make key decisions.  If that’s the case, say so.  Make it clear how important meetings are and how the new employee should prepare for them.  However, in other places, email and/or phone communications are key methods.  If that’s the case, establish this within the first few days.
Further, speaking of subtleties and nuance, style matters.  For example, tell the employee how you want issues raised and how decisions will be made.  For example, don’t tell a new employee to “be assertive.”  Rather, tell him how to make recommendations to you and how he will know when to move on them.

Question:  How important is it that other employees meet with the new hire?
Adubato:  Having key people in the organization sit down with the new employee opens the door to future communication and collaboration.  Don’t leave it to chance.  If you know a particular manager can be especially helpful to the new employee, schedule a sit-down and make it clear to both parties why you are doing it.  The key is for the new hire to get the lay of the land from a variety of sources.
In this vein, if possible, assign a mentor or coach to the new hire.  In the process, establish specific goals regarding individual performance.  Monitor the coaching process without micromanaging it.  Then, at key intervals, say three and six months, sit down with the new employee and his or her mentor to review progress and make recommendations for improvement.

Bottom Line:  Orientation is critical to the success and overall longevity of new hires.