28 January 2009

How to help your clients avoid failed new hires

This article originally appeared in Issue 66 of InSight published 28th January 2009

I have failed in a job. No surprise, really because many people fail in jobs, every day.

Having worked in recruitment since 1989, I have interviewed many candidates who have failed in jobs, witnessed colleagues fail in jobs and heard from clients and friends who currently have employees failing in jobs or have previously had employees fail in jobs.

So who has actually failed?

The universally accepted wisdom is that it is always the person in the job who has failed. That's technically accurate however, if the only diagnosis undertaken is of the symptom (almost always the person who is failing in the job), rather than searching for and diagnosing the underlying cause of the failure (potentially many things), then there is a huge risk of failure reoccurring.

In other words, either the wrong person (with respect to skills, competencies and/or motivation) was hired or the right person was hired, but once they started their employment, they were inducted poorly or were not lead effectively.

I have written frequently about how hiring mistakes are made, so the focus of this article is on how employers make mistakes in inducting, orienting and leading, new hires.

By generalised definition, a new employee fails in their job when: 
  • the new employee is terminated during their probation period or shortly afterwards, or
  • the new employee voluntarily resign of their own accord within the same period of time
To avoid being unfairly blamed for an employee's failure, I suggest you help your client clearly understand how they can do their part in ensuring their newly-hired employee succeeds.

Here are 9 suggestions to get you started (I am sure you can think of others):

1. Ensure the employer communicates with the new hire PRIOR to their start date

A call by the employer to the newly-placed employee, or even better an invitation to visit their new place of work, are often very important steps in avoiding any ‘buyer's remorse' responses from newly hired employees, such as no-shows on day 1 or walk-outs in the first week.

2. Ensure the new hire has an accurate job description

A new hire quickly loses motivation if they are undertaking work inconsistent with their job description.

3. Ensure the new hire is provided with the necessary equipment and tools for them to be productive immediately

A new hire who has to wait for a desk, a computer, a telephone, a log-in, an email address and other essential tools of their trade, will feel unwelcome, out-of-place and unexpected. There is no greater motivation-killer than waiting around, twiddling your thumbs, unable to start your job. 

4. Ensure the new hire is introduced to their colleagues and shown where the employee facilities are located

A new employee feels enough like a stranger, without staring across the partition at colleagues they haven't met yet or wandering around like a lost sheep looking for the toilet or lunch room. Likewise, their new colleagues will be wondering who that stranger is, sitting in their department.

5. Provide the new hire with clear expectations

Unless expectations of a new employee's results (with accompanying time-frames) and behaviours are communicated clearly to them in the first few days of their employment, they will simply be working in a vacuum.

6. Provide the new hire with a buddy or mentor

A buddy or mentor can be an invaluable guide, sounding board and ‘cultural interpreter' for the new employee in the first few weeks of their employment. Unfortunately it is way too common for departing new hires to state ‘nobody really talked to me or offered to help me' as a major reason for not sticking around.

7. Provide the new hire with consistent feedback

An employee will always assume that what they are doing is consistent with what is expected of them unless they are told otherwise. Positive re-enforcement of desirable behaviour together with a lesser amount of feedback about what should be done differently, keeps motivation and performance up. An informal cup of coffee out of the office is an excellent way to ‘check in' with a new hire and provide feedback in a more informal, relaxed environment. This also gives the new hire an opportunity to voice any concerns or issues affecting their performance.

8. Provide the new hire with formal performance appraisals

Formal, written performance reviews are critical during probation to ensure that there is no misunderstanding about whether progress is Below Expectations, At Expectations or Above Expectations (I wouldn't advise a more multi-tiered scale for an employee in probation).

It is critical that performance appraisals not only rate an employee's performance but also include the specific action required for improvement. The area for improvement that might be seen as ‘obvious' or ‘common sense' to a manager is unlikely to be so obvious to a new employee. Expecting anyone to be a mind reader is rather ambitious, I would think.

9. Ensure the new hire is invited to both formal and informal social events

As formal work-organised social events are mostly publicised via group or whole-of-company emails, it's unlikely a new hire will be forgotten. It is usually the informal events that tend to slip through the cracks, such as drinks after work, birthday lunches, etc. As these sort of social events ‘just happen' there is a risk that no-one thinks to mention it to the new hire and as a result, when they find out about it, they feel intentionally excluded or unwelcome.

Why are these sorts of actions important?

In the current economic climate, there is more scrutiny than ever before on the performance of employees. If an employee fails, it is always easy for the employer/client to point the finger at the recruiter and say ‘they failed because they were the wrong person, and that's your fault because they were recruited by you'. This can have a number of undesirable consequences such as:
  • the client demands a free replacement that they are not entitled to (bad)
  • the client won't pay your invoice (worse)
  • the client withdraws all current recruitment assignments from you (even worse)
  • the client does all of the above and also threatens to somehow ‘blacklist' you throughout their organisation and via their industry contacts (total disaster).
To avoid any of the above occurring to you, I suggest you gain a greater understanding of what each of your clients do or don't do, during a new hire's probation period. Asking your placed candidates is an obvious place to start.

You can then use this knowledge to respectfully and appropriately provide some valuable consulting advice to your clients which will assist them in having their new hires succeed in their job quickly rather than being fired or leaving voluntarily.  

Given the financial and emotional cost of a failed new hire, isn't that a genuine value-add service you can provide to your clients and placed candidates?

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