Hanging On To New Hires

We talked the other day about holding on to long-time employees, but try not to let your new ones get away, either.

When you hire new employees, you need to remember that they have been in job-hunting mode for a while, and just because they have started a new job does not mean they’ve flipped a switch and are no longer aware of other possibilities. They are likely to still be getting responses from applications they previously sent, their CV and portfolio are still available on LinkedIn or JobsDB and may still be generating calls, and they might still be making comparisons between your firm and the other opportunities coming their way. While they may be very happy to have a stable job, whether or not they remain happy depends on how things start out. The first few months of your employees’ time on the job helps determine how long that relationship will last.

Management consultant Lilith Christensen notes that almost one-third of new hires start looking for a different job within their first 6 months of employment. Their introduction into the company helps determine if your employees will be part of that one-third or not.

In her book Successful Onboarding, Christensen points out a few things companies should do to smooth their employees’ transition into the company. She suggests

– providing information in a structured manner that’s easy to digest

– identifying someone who can provide support during the transition

– giving them a “stakeholder map” to explain relationships in the company

– listening to what they ask, not simply talking at them

I would add something else: try to avoid the “new guy” label. When you hire new people you are hiring them for a specific set of talents they can bring to you, and if you perpetually treat them like someone who has to prove themselves and pay their dues then you those contributions they’re bringing. Yes, they need to learn about the company, and no, they are not going to be the CEO on the first day, but treating them as if their talents are immaterial is a sure way to demotivate them and make them think about looking elsewhere, and the only benefit is making you feel like a tough guy, then cut it out. If they have not already proven their talents, you probably should not have hired them. I will never forget one of my grad school students in Singapore telling me, “My job is to sit against the wall in meetings for 20 years until it’s my turn to talk.” Maybe that worked back then, but in today’s tight labor market that’s a recipe for a sudden departure.

The importance of effective onboarding cannot be overemphasized. I’ll share a story from my own experience. I joined an organization and for the first month worked without a contract because my new boss did not know what was required and was too busy to care. Because I didn’t have a contract I could not get an email address or phone number. I also didn’t have an office, instead working out of a random cubicle (which I found occupied by someone else on my second day). About a week into it, the boss above my boss asked me “so, what do you think your role should be here?,” which suggested to me he hadn’t thought about it. (when I asked him, he wasn’t able to answer that question himself) It was 6 months before I figured out who I needed to talk to in the organization to get different things done. By then I was already planning my departure, and sure enough, I left at the end of my one-year contract rather than accepting their renewal offer. Those early problems left a bad taste in my mouth the entire time, and they were kind of ironic, given that my boss was passing himself off as an HR expert.

It’s important to pay attention to how you recruit your employees, but all that effort will be wasted if you don’t pay equal attention to getting people integrated into the organization. It’s one thing to find new hires, but it’s quite another thing to actually hang onto them.