An enormous number of highly talented people have lost their jobs over the past year or two. As a result, sorting through all of the overly qualified applicants responding to job openings can be daunting, and resumes can only help eliminate those who are not worth pursuing further.
Hiring successfully in these challenging times requires a twofold approach. First, leaders need clarity about the kind of person they seek; then the organization needs an on-boarding plan to get new hires up to speed faster than ever before. Both of these steps need to be measurable.
Knowing What You Are Looking For
First, leaders must be clear about the kind of person the position requires. This demands a description of that individual, not just a job description. Current top performers can provide a model from which to identify specific qualities in individuals inside and outside of the company who have the potential to contribute in meaningful ways.
An in-depth personality assessment of top performers can offer clarity and a measurable profile from which to evaluate promising applicants. Ask: What qualities do current top performers possess? What distinguishes them from other employees? Is it empathy, flexibility, self-discipline, the ability to connect ideas or to connect with others?
Once identified, those attributes become the profile for top performers, and that profile becomes the new hiring model. The closer applicants match the top performer profile, the more likely it is that they will meet or exceed performance expectations.
By having the most promising applicants take an in-depth personality assessment, leaders can glean insights with which to make a more informed decision. Assessments provide a deep, measurable and objective view of an individual, and, if necessary, a consultant can act as a sounding board to discuss whether someone has the right qualities to succeed in a position and if an applicant’s favorable first impression will be a lasting one.
Leaders also will be in a position to explore whether the applicant will fit in with the culture, team and his or her new manager, factors that make all the difference as to whether an individual will ultimately succeed or not.
Next Step: On-Boarding
Hiring someone who has the potential to be a top performer can offer leaders a leg up on the competition. But making sure the new employee lives up to his or her potential can be a challenge.
Many organizations view the hiring process as completely different from the employee development process, and these two practices are often handled by different people. In some companies, recruiters feel their job is done once the candidate accepts the offer. But that is often where the real work begins.
The first few days on the job are the most critical. This time can make or break a candidate’s potential for success within the organization. Typically, new employees take one of two approaches. They either say to themselves, “I’m going to sit back and observe to see how things really work here.” Then their new manager looks at them thinking, “Why aren’t you stepping in and making things happen?” Or they think to themselves, “I’ve got a track record of success. I know how to make this work.” But by doing what worked in their previous environment, they may misread the new culture and trip over themselves in ways from which they may never recover.
Hiring isn’t just about filling empty chairs. It’s about integrating new people into the culture and setting them up to move through the ranks. That’s where effective on-boarding is key. On-boarding can help new hires achieve desired goals faster and fit better into an organization’s culture so they can avoid potential clashes with their managers and peers.
On-boarding can be as simple as spending a little bit of time with a new employee to illustrate the lay of the land, or it can mean launching a formal, highly structured, yearlong process to help the new hire fit in to the organization’s culture and his or her department or team.
The goal is to coach new employees on how to be most effective in their new environment, how to play to their strengths, how to realize their potential, how to connect better with their new boss and, ultimately, how to hit the ground running.
Jamie Diehl, vice president of finance and human resources at Concept Systems, said he relies on a structured on-boarding approach to ensure the people the company brings on not only fit into the job, but fit into the culture. “It’s been very effective for us to identify with the new hire some development areas that they usually agree they have and how they can work better with our team and with their manager,” he said. “[And] the coaching continues.”
The most important thing about on-boarding is that it doesn’t just involve the new employee; it also should involve the manager. Both manager and new employee need to work together so they can truly connect and find the common ground on which success can be built.
Yet surprisingly few managers sit down and have open and honest conversations with their new hires to explore questions such as: What is your work style? What impression do you want to make? How can we work together most effectively? How can you collaborate with your new team members?
Many managers assume these questions will somehow magically be answered, but having clarity on these questions can foster a smoother transition. Confusion can cause a bumpy first few weeks on the job and ruin a promising start.
With the information from the new hire’s in-depth personality assessment and guidance from an organizational development coach, a manager can help a new employee start off on the right foot and continue toward success.
“It has been very effective for us to identify the unique strengths as well as some development areas for the new employee, then to develop a plan they can work on with their manager and their coach. Then it becomes an ongoing thing for us,” Diehl said. “Each of these new employees continues to keep these things in mind as they continue in their career. These types of conversations and coaching help everyone understand that we all have different work styles and we need to understand those to work as a team.”
Helen Slaven, former chief learning officer at WellStar Health Systems and now a strategic consultant, helped create a one-year on-boarding process for all new leaders at the health provider, based in Marietta, Ga.
WellStar’s commitment is to make sure that all 500 of its manager-level and higher executives have the resources they need to succeed. It starts with an eight-week program built on a performance map, which basically teaches new leaders the key behaviors they are expected to possess. “Every new leader receives coaching and counseling, as well as a clear understanding of how to set goals, meet expectations, and recognize and reward exemplary performance,” Slaven said.
“People who have gone through the on-boarding process have a stronger sense of what is expected of them and know that they will have the opportunity to be coached by their manager on a regular basis,” she said. “One of the things that we hear from people who are going through the on-boarding process is that they know there’s a plan, and they’re not guessing so much about what’s going to happen next week. Instead, they have a solid level of security, and they know where to go to have their questions answered and what they have to do to succeed.”
In addition to WellStar’s on-boarding program for new leaders, there is also a nine-month nursing leadership development program. “As part of this process, each of the 120 participants recently had an opportunity to speak [with] an organizational development coach for a half day. In thoughtful conversations, they were able to focus on their strengths and their development opportunities. And with their coach, they are putting together development plans, which will serve as their road map for the [next] nine months,” Slaven said.
As a result, new employees become conscious of their natural tendencies and how these impact their work. “It makes it possible for them to become more self-aware and to make choices where they are not on automatic pilot anymore,” she said.
A consultant can create a customized coaching program to help both manager and new employee set goals, truly understand each other and measure how well they are doing together. And as a side benefit, upfront coaching creates a successful platform for ongoing employee development down the road.
Ultimately, both new hire and manager win in more ways than one. First, they understand each other, and productivity is achieved faster. Second, a level of trust is built, and new employees feel valued knowing that the company is willing to invest in them immediately.
What This Means for the Company
So much can happen when leaders understand their top performers and what makes them tick, use that information to bring on more people who share their defining qualities and then invest in those new people from day one.
As stated, the first few days on the job are the most crucial, so take the time to build a plan to set up new hires to be the next top performers. New hires immediately will feel more engaged when they realize their employers are willing to invest time and money in their personal development, and managers will be better poised to grow in their leadership roles as they build the most effective teams to bring their organizations into the future.
Patrick Sweeney is president and Herb Greenberg is CEO of Caliper. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.