Steve Adubato, Ph.D.
New people come into organizations all the time. Too often, critical communication mistakes are made and opportunities are missed early on. Bad habits are developed 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.
With this in mind consider the following tips to bring a new employee on board and establish a communication foundation that you can build upon:
--Keep it simple. Standard operating procedure and employee manuals are fine, but too often they are filled with useless information and reams of data that has little to do with the person's job and what is expected of them. Instead, develop 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."
--Schedule Face time. Set aside some valuable face time in the first few days of the employee’s tenure. If you hired the person directly, make sure you make yourself available. This doesn't have to be in the office. In fact, sometimes it is better to do it over a cup of coffee or lunch in a relaxed and informal setting. Your objective is to break down the barriers and establish an open line of communication where any question can be asked or any issue raised.
--Have an agenda. Don't confuse such sit-downs with shoot the breeze sessions. They are not. Therefore, you should go into them with a clear, written agenda. Informal and relaxed doesn't mean disorganized and haphazard. Such an agenda might include the following: Mistakes to avoid; areas of work to prioritize; key people (internally and externally) to touch base with, etc.
--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 organizations, e-mail and/or telephone communication drive the organization's success. If that's the case, establish e-mail and phone communication within the first few days.
--Style matters. For example, tell the employee you like brief, concise bullet-point e-mails where key questions are raised and issues are put on the table. Further, communicate how decisions will be made. For example, don't tell a new employee to "be assertive". Rather, tell him to make a recommendation on a course of action and get your feedback by a certain date. If you don't get back to him, tell him up front that it means you want him to move on it. This will avoid the type of communication bottlenecks that often hurt productivity.
--Have key people in the organization meet with the new employee. Don't leave it to chance that valuable information will be shared around the water cooler. 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 variety of sources.
--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.