In the last post, a Food Service Director asked how to hire motivated employees.
I argued that all employees feel motivated when they start a new job. It’s what happens to them afterward that drains their motivation. Sometimes it takes years. Sometimes months. And sometimes it happens right away, even on their first day. And it’s a shame.
In our culture, starting a job is a positive event, like a birthday or a wedding. When you tell people you got a new job, they rarely say: “I’m sorry to hear that. Is there anything I can do for you?” They usually say: “Congratulations! I’m so happy for you! So, tell me more…”
Even if your new hire is not sure how the job will turn out, all the happy noises from family and friends—who also have no clue—give him a temporary high. How temporary? It depends on many factors. Most importantly, his new boss and his coworkers.
Hiring people is an expensive proposition. There’s the time to post the job, read the resumes, and interview the candidates. Sometimes there are formal tests and background checks. It takes something to get everything ready for the new hire and get him up to speed, too. So, it’s only fair that managers get a little enthusiasm in return for all that investment and hard work. You deserve it. Unfortunately, most managers waste it. And some even squelch it with boot-camp tactics.
As a manager, you want to hang on to the new-hire enthusiasm as long as you can. It’s the seed of everything you want in the workplace. The desire to please. Being there to help. The willingness to learn. It should be every manager’s first order of business to keep it alive and growing. To nurture it and shelter it from any negativity. If you agree with me, let’s go a step further and see how you can make it happen with your people.
First, don’t even dream of engaging new hires if you are not there. We’ve talked about this problem in a previous post, Help! My boss is not engaged. If that’s you, the best you can do is to work on your attitude and stay away from the new hires until it improves.
Now, let’s say you don’t have a problem motivating yourself. Suppose you wake up every morning ready to rip into your workday. Great! Now, do you believe your new hires could match your commitment and drive? If yes, help them make that possibility a reality.
However, if you secretly enjoy a sense of superiority, you may find it harder to become a fountain of inspiration for your new hires. They will look to you to set the tone. And if they detect a condescending note, they may retreat into insecurity and apathy—or even a superiority complex of their own. “This manager is a jerk. I’m too good for him.”
When we start a new job, whether or not we realize it, we’re all looking to answer two questions:
Do I belong here?
Is it safe for me to put in a full effort?
If you don’t have a deep physiological reason for wanting your new hires to fail, you will need to reassure them on both counts. Don’t wait for them to draw their own conclusions. Give them a reason to believe. Two easy places to start:
Once I heard a Yale student describe his first moments on campus as an incoming freshman. As soon as he pulled into the courtyard with all of his stuff, a crowd of college kids in matching T-shirts surrounded his car. They were jumping, dancing, and screaming, “One of us! One of us!” Before he figured out these were his future dormmates, they had already grabbed everything out of the car and were carrying it into his room. By the time they unpacked him and helped him settle in, he had met the entire dorm.
If this student had any doubts about his choice of college, this welcoming ritual dispelled them all. There would be plenty of challenges later on, but he was better prepared to face them with his confidence intact. And what in the world can give you more confidence than meeting a crowd of people who will be there for you?
Do you have a special way of welcoming new hires? Something that puts them at ease and makes them feel valued? If you want a few more ideas, check out Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Chapter 2, Engage from Day One.
You might wonder what I meant by “Am I safe?” How is it not safe for people to put full effort into their work?
Full effort is always about self-expression. If fear and doubt inhibit you, you will not be 100% engaged.
Some companies understand this rule and go out of their way to make employees feel at home. At Axero we like to encourage our new hires to ask questions. Here’s why.
People often feel embarrassed to ask too many questions, especially when they are new and hoping to make a good first impression. That’s why we tell them we love questions. We want to hear the same question many times, many ways. Ask even if you just asked me a minute ago. Ask even if you don’t think it matters. Ask even if you think you know the answer.
Another thing we want from new hires is feedback. Tell us what you think about anything in the company. Anything you’re working on. Anything you hear. Anything that might not sound right. Once new employees speak their mind, they know it’s safe, and they can learn and contribute faster.
Besides the boss, the most significant influence on the new hire is his coworkers. New hires don’t learn the company culture from a three-minute promotional video during their orientation week. They learn by observing the people around them. Do they talk about projects or news, or sports, or company gossip? Do they respect the manager? Do they admire high achievers or invalidate them?
For many people, social acceptance is more important than success. They absorb their attitudes and opinions from those around them, to fit in. You may think you are hiring a motivated individual, but the truth is: he doesn’t know how motivated he will be until he meets the rest of the crew.
Your strategy? Well, you have to keep an eye on the whole team, not just the new-hire. On the plus side, the stronger the team spirit, the less work you will need to do to acclimate the new guy. A close-knit, secure, self-expressed group of employees will give one another coaching and support.
That’s what happened to a customer of ours, Best Collateral, after they launched their social intranet. Before the launch, management worried that employees might put the wrong things into the public domain and distract and alienate each other. In reality, the opposite happened. People reached across locations to ask and receive advice, acknowledgment, and on-the-job training.
Best Collateral learned how much “unused” motivation was in the company. The same is true of any company. Where do you think the new-hire enthusiasm comes from? People are always waiting to show their good side. And they don’t always need to change jobs to let it shine.
Today’s lesson is simple. Managers, don’t let the new-hire “honeymoon” end too soon. And make sure the old hires are feeling some of it too. If not, they may become somebody else’s enthusiastic new hires.
If you like to keep your employees, you might like my book, because it helps you eliminate the causes of turnover and disengagement.