Performance Expectations for New Employees: How to Set Them (and You!) Up for Success


Hiring a new employee is time-consuming and can even be nerve-wracking. You have reviewed resumes, you have spent considerable time, and probably company funds, in the screening and interviewing process. You may even have called references, or started a background check process. Finally, you’ve selected a candidate, crafted a job offer, and the candidate has accepted your offer. You set a start date, complete the background check, arrange for the drug screen, and breathe a sigh of relief. 

While it’s true that the hiring process itself is over, it is also true that an extremely critical part of your job as a manager is about to begin. Your responsibility for providing support for that new employee’s entry into your work force is that next part. The next several months and even years of your working relationship with this person will be colored by how well you handle this responsibility. Obviously, you hired someone because you needed the help. Now it’s your job to make sure you provide the structure that new person needs in order to give you the help you need.

This is a pretty logical idea, isn’t it? The part that is not logical in this process of orienting new employees is that managers often don’t do it well. There are a variety of reasons for this short-fall. A manager may be so glad to finally have the position filled she sort of breathes a sigh of relief and retreats behind her office door to tackle the work that’s piled up while she was busy with the hiring process. Sometimes she simply doesn’t remember what it is like to be new to a job or a company. The manager may make assumptions. Sometimes managers make assignments, but forget to give the new person the resources they need to be successful with that assignment. All of these shortfalls could cause some real problems with new employees. Fortunately, all of them are also easily avoidable.

As with most business processes, some advance planning is in order. I’d encourage you to think “general to specific” when you first sit down to do this planning. First, don’t make assumptions! Ideas or information which you see as obvious will not be obvious to your new employee. Err on the side of over-informing rather than under-informing your new employee. Some of the areas of general knowledge to begin with could include information about your industry, where your company fits into the industry, and what challenges face your company in that industry today. Provide some reading material if that will help. The next level you could cover is your company specifically. How is it structured? What are the reporting relationships? How are goals set? Next, you may want to talk about YOUR boss. What are his goals? How does your department support those goals? How are goals set and how is success measured? How are performance reviews handled?

Next, you should make sure your new employee understands your own department goals completely. After all, he’s been hired to support them. Once you feel he has a good understanding of the department goals and why those goals are in place, it’s time to discuss goals for this new employee. If you’ve laid the groundwork well, you can easily tied his or her goals back to your own department goals and even to the company’s overall strategic plan. Explain how this new person fits into those goals and what your expectations are as to how they will assist you in meeting those goals. Sometimes managers get to this point, and stop here. While your new employee may be conversant with the company goals, department goals, and even his own goals, he is not yet equipped to contribute as you need him to. So your next step is to give him those tools.

As silly as it may feel at first, talk about the jargon in use in your industry or even in your building. Talk about your organization’s culture. Make sure the unwritten rules are transferred to your new employee. Introduce your new employee to customers and suppliers if appropriate. Finally, make sure you take the time to introduce your new employee to the rest of the team. Spend some time on this one. Perhaps have lunch brought in. Have each person explain his or her role, and have your new employee talk about his background. New colleagues can make current employees feel a little threatened. Allay some of those fears by taking away the questions your existing staff has about this new person and where he fits in.

Finally, you should formally assign a mentor to your new employee. Many times managers will think they have done this step when they actually have not. How does this happen? Well, again, a busy, well-intentioned manager may have introduced someone new to the staff, may have set great performance expectations, and may even have had a welcome lunch. He may have said something like, “Ask Joe next door if you have any questions.” But then the tendency, once again, is to sort of breathe a sigh of relief and vanish back into the daily routine. And Joe, as friendly as he may be, is in a passive role, waiting to be asked questions instead of actively supporting his new colleague. It is the rare manager who thinks of everything the new employee needs to know. That’s why an ongoing mentoring relationship is so important.

Once you’ve decided who the appropriate mentor is, have a conference with him or her about this role. Explain clearly what your expectations are. The mentor may be asked to think a couple steps ahead. If the new person is about to interact with a particularly difficult customer, the mentor can alert him to that customer’s hot buttons and help him prepare. If the whole group has a beer after work on Fridays, the mentor can invite the new employee along. If the first Monday of every month is “casual dress day,” the mentor can be sure the new employee knows about it so he doesn’t show up in a suit. Why is this step so important? Think about it for a moment. Haven’t you ever seen a new person make a goofy mistake that makes him and everyone else feel uncomfortable? Perhaps they forget to copy someone on an email, or they don’t realize that everyone brings in lunch on Wednesdays. These simple omissions WILL make your new employee feel awkward. And why do you care if he feels awkward? Simple. You have a job to do, you hired him to do that job, and you need him to fit in as quickly as possible and as seamlessly as possible.

If you have been thinking “general to specific” and have followed the steps as outlined, you are almost done. When you first met with your new employee, you discussed the industry, the organization, and goals. You provided support and even a mentor. You clarified expectations. It’s equally important that you think about next steps. When you and your new employee meet initially and goals are set, be sure to establish a timeline of future meetings. A one-month meeting is generally a good idea and an opportunity to answer questions and refine expectations if needed. You should meet separately with the assigned mentor before this meeting with the new employee to get input from the mentor’s perspective. The mentor may even attend this one-month meeting with you and your new employee. Your next meetings will probably be quarterly. Just don’t let them slide. You have done a great job making the most of your new employee and his ability to contribute. Make sure you keep the momentum going by continuing to provide the support and coaching you’ve started. Why? Because a first-class orientation and intake program is simply good business.

Categories Performance Management

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