When new employees begin working for you, they are often excited, enthusiastic, and engaged in their new jobs. They seem curious about everything, and they may have a lot of questions. Assuming you have done a good job initially orienting your new employee, it’s time to move on to the next step of managing their performance successfully. You want to keep this positive momentum going and identify any areas that need work.
Have some casual conversations with other employees about how the new person is fitting in. Talk to his customers. Get a sense of both his successes and how behaviors may have to be tweaked. Sit down and make a list of what you are seeing, both areas of positive contribution and areas which may need additional effort or even training or support from you. Take a look at the initial expectations you set for this person. Think about any additional ideas which have occurred to you as you’ve become more familiar with his capabilities. Once you’ve done this homework, set a time to meet with your new employee. This meeting will likely be scheduled after 3-4 months of observation and interaction.
Start by explaining that you want to see things are going for the new employee and to talk about the goals and expectations the two of you set initially. Start by asking the employee how he thinks things have been going. Don’t allow an answer like, “Fine.” Ask leading questions, such as:
- What 3 things have you done in the past quarter that you think went particularly well?
- What were the assignments, your contributions, and the outcomes?
- Are there things you would have done differently?
Once you have discussed the positives, tackle the other areas. You could ask:
- What are your least favorite parts of your job, and why?
- Another possible question could be, “Are there tasks you were asked to do which you didn’t realize were part of the job or that you didn’t feel prepared to do?
- What were these and what were the outcomes?
- In your opinion, why did those outcomes occur?
- Would you do anything differently?
A frank discussion around questions like these will provide you a great deal of valuable information. You will find out if the employee understands the expectations of the job. You will find out what parts of the job he particularly likes or excels at, and you will see where misconceptions could have occurred. You will also have an opportunity to identify where further training or redirection may be needed.
This should be a non-threatening meeting for the employee. Even if some significant mistakes have been made, your assumption at this stage of his employment needs to be that he does want to do a good job. Your goal is to figure out if he does in fact have the skills he needs, or if you are dealing with a budding performance problem. If skill sets need beefing up, figure out a way to get that done. If the skills exist, but the performance is lagging, have a frank discussion about your expectations. Be absolutely honest about what you are seeing.
Now, consider the happy circumstance that all your expectations are being met, or even exceeded. You may even be seeing an employee who actually has more potential than you originally realized. The good news is that you have a person who can grow and take on more responsibility and be an excellent resource for you and your department. The bad news is that these people may be difficult to retain. Your job in this kind of situation is to work with this person to plan a path forward so that they see a future in your organization. By no means should you promise promotions that are not forthcoming. But you can make this person’s job broader, more engaging, more interesting, and actually more valuable to you as a manager.
Start by simply asking this employee where her interests are. You may be surprised to find that she sees herself in an entirely different future role than you imagined for her. Talk these ideas through thoroughly. She may not have a full understanding of the roles you are both considering, or you may not have a solid understanding of how she’s thinking about the future. She may also simply not be aware of the existence of growth opportunities you know about. Keep in mind that you do not have to support her desire to do something which does not support the goals of your organization just because it’s her interest. Work together to determine what opportunities or assignments both interest her and will contribute to the success of your organization.
Once the direction has been identified, it’s time to get creative. Most organizations today are flatter than ever before. Regular promotions for exceptional performers are often a thing of the past simply because so many layers of organizations have been eliminated. So the key may well be job enrichment or expansion rather than traditional promotions. For someone who is interested in Project Management, for example, a place on an existing or newly forming Project Management team may be an appropriate assignment, even if that team is not in your direct control. That manager will appreciate the enthusiastic team member, and your team member will learn some valuable skills to bring back to your department. She will also appreciate your attention to her career interests. A true win-win-win for all involved.
Some managers have a sort of nagging voice in the backs of their heads encouraging them to keep their best performers under lock and key for fear of losing them to another department. This strategy, while tempting, is actually ill-advised all around. Your employee could become disgruntled at the lack of interesting work once the core job is learned. Your colleagues won’t benefit from the skills you are hoarding, and you won’t benefit from a stagnant employee or from not being offered the skills of those reporting to other managers. So please silence this voice if you’ve heard it! The best tactic is to make the most of the talent in your organization. If all managers were doing this routinely, think about the benefits to the whole organization. If your organization’s culture doesn’t support this kind of talent utilization, consider starting the process yourself.
Once you’ve met with your new employee after 3 or 4 months in the job, you have had the opportunity to make mid-course corrections and to do some planning. The two of you may even have revised the job goals or expectations that were originally set. But what if you had not had that meeting? Does it surprise you to know that most employees who leave jobs voluntarily are leaving managers rather than jobs? It’s your role to proactively interact with and manage your employees so they stay with you, so they contribute to their maximum potential, and so that your department goals are being met. Again, another win-win-win to strive for.