I had a conversation last week with a colleague who had just started a new job and three weeks in, was frankly feeling pretty miserable. She’d had a rapid-fire induction and after one week both of her co-workers went off on holiday, leaving her to deal with a constantly ringing phone and a host of problems she really wasn’t sure how to deal with.
Coincidentally, I also had my ear bent last week by a friend who was struggling to work alongside a new recruit who had a very different work ethic and appeared not to understand the priorities of his role. Key tasks were falling by the wayside and having to be picked up by other people and resentment was starting to creep in amongst the team.
Neither of these scenarios are unusual, and both of them link back to a common failing – the lack of feedback that is often given to new starters during their first weeks and months in the business.
In a pressurised working environment it’s easy for managers to fall into the trap of thinking that a thorough induction will suffice and feedback is something they only really need to think about when something goes wrong or the annual appraisal comes around.
But if the business wants to raise performance and keep people motivated and engaged, it should be part of the everyday dialogue managers have with their teams – and never more so than during someone’s early days in a new role.
The scenarios I’ve described earlier are a prime example of where a little bit of feedback at an early stage could have made a big difference.
In the first case, the new recruit needed reassurance that she was handling enquiries well and that the manager was pleased with how she had coped under difficult circumstances when there was no-one on hand to give advice. It would have set the stage for a further conversation about what on-going training or development was needed – and make it less likely she would feel she had made a big mistake in joining the business.
In the second example, the new employee would have benefited greatly from some direct feedback about the tasks he needed to concentrate on and about the strong teamwork ethos that existed in the business. He would have been less likely to have spent time focusing on the wrong things, would have had a better understanding of ‘the way we do things around here’ and would have gotten off on the right foot with his new colleagues.
Research from a number of quarters – PwC and Ashridge Business School among them – suggests that this early (and ongoing) feedback is particularly important for the Generation Y employees now coming into the workforce.
They have grown up in a digital and educational environment where sharing successes and getting validation for your achievements is common practice. They are also hungry for early progression, actively seek the feedback that will help them progress in their careers, and are surprised when they find out just how uncommunicative the world of work can be.
It’s understandable that managers – who are juggling many conflicting demands – often struggle to find the time to give people the constructive feedback they need. This makes it doubly important that the business finds ways to support them in the task of managing and developing their people.
A culture that prioritises performance management and believes in developing its employees will of course provide a strong foundation. There’s also much to be said for rewarding managers for the kind of behaviours you want them to display for example, making talent development a key competency.
Investing in the latest generation HR technology can also help. Technology can’t replace the conversation, but it can help to make it more likely that the right kind of dialogue takes place at the right time.
Systems can prompt managers, for example, when both formal appraisals and informal catch-ups are due. HR portals also provide a central place where both manager and employee can log information about priorities, record any actions or training that has been agreed and keep track of progress.
It’s not uncommon for new recruits to jump ship within the first few weeks of a job – and poor induction processes and lack of ongoing feedback are often the root cause. I wonder how long the two people I’ve mentioned will stay in their roles…