by Steve Adubato, PhD

Even in these difficult times, organizations are hiring new employees. But when we bring on new team members, how we communicate with them greatly impacts the odds of their success.

Recently, a client of ours brought on a young woman named Jane, who was in her mid-20s with tremendous energy, enthusiasm and a positive, can-do attitude. The client clearly communicated in writing through a job description what was expected and required of Jane in terms of performance and evaluation. But it soon became clear that such formal and static communication wasn’t nearly enough.

As the weeks went by, Jane knew what her job description was, however, she was becoming disillusioned because there was little informal and proactive communication coming from colleagues and her direct superior. About six weeks in, Jane was feeling “isolated” in the job, which in turn had a negative impact on her performance. Finally, when the three-month formal review period was up, Jane sat down with Bob, her immediate superior.

Bob was shocked to find out that Jane was feeling underutilized, not challenged and somewhat isolated from the rest of the organization. Bob said; “But Jane, we communicated your job description clearly and in writing. What more did you want?” Jane responded that she would have appreciated some of her colleagues checking in with her or asking how she was doing on a particular initiative or another. Fortunately, Bob was able to gather some of Jane’s peers and have a candid and informal discussion about the situation and they agreed to be more assertive in their communication moving forward.

Consider some lessons here when communicating with a new employee:

--Schedule weekly meetings with the new employee to ask what she is accomplishing and what confusion she might be having. Press the issue. Don’t let her simply say; “Everything is fine.” Ask probing questions like; “What is the most rewarding part of the job so far?” Then, follow up with; “What one area do you find the most challenging?” The key is to get the new employee talking by using open-ended questions and creating an environment where she feels comfortable and secure in sharing.

--Create a two-way communication street. It is not enough that you proactively communicate with the new employee, but he must know and feel confident that he can come to you and others with a question, concern or issue. Make sure you make it clear the mode of communication that is most effective. If Bob (as the boss) would prefer to get an e-mail from Jane in which she asks for some time with him and schedules it, then that has to be directly communicated as opposed to assuming the new employee understands the culture of communication in the office.

--Consistently seek out recommendations as to how the organization can improve its effectiveness, even if some of them are not implemented. If certain recommendations are not implemented, communicate directly why they may not work. Further, one of the keys to having a new employee succeed is to have her colleagues go in to “teaching mode” in which they are constantly seeking to help her better understand how the organization operates.

--Never underestimate the value of getting together for lunch. Clearly, it is more challenging than ever to take time away from your daily responsibilities to break bread with colleagues, but in many ways, this can be one of the most valuable investments you can make with your new employee. Over lunch, communication barriers are often broken down. It is more informal and relaxed. People get to know each other, which will make them move confident in the way they communicate about business to their colleagues and bosses.