I have often been asked to coach a new hire for the first six months when an environment is particularly challenging. For instance, I was recently asked to coach a newly hired manager, because the day that she started, the company announced it was being sold and her hiring executive would be retiring shortly. And you wonder why she might have been a bit stressed?
Any new hire is going to be concentrating on two things initially. First, learning the job and demonstrating competence are key drivers. This is the “See, you hired the right person” motivation. Often, they are driven to make changes and prove their abilities quickly—a normal behavior for new hires but often a problematic behavior, especially if they have not learned the job or environment well enough to create meaningful change. Still, most new hires try to do this. They are like the seller who tries to close without learning what the customer really wants.
Second, new hires want to fit in with the others in the work environment. They want to find someone with whom they can bond and build a positive relationship. Obviously, introverts have the greatest struggle with this aspect of onboarding. Also, if the environment includes conflict directed toward the new hire, problems will arise.
Therefore, integration is often tough for many new hires. They frequently experience what psychologists call social anxiety. Typical integration conflicts that can result in social anxiety include:
• An overlooked incumbent may be resentful
• the new hire’s charge to change things may cause ripples
• the new hire may be unable to get the information that is needed to do the new job
• the new hire’s role may be encroaching on the responsibilities that once belonged to someone else
• a supervisor may lack good skills with everyone, including the new hire
• The new hire feels excluded, judged, and/or passively resisted
The biggest cost of such anxiety is a tendency for the new hire to withdraw and avoid asking questions. Reluctance to ask questions is a natural reaction to resistance, because someone new does not want to highlight his/her ignorance about the new job or the organization. Yet, the new hire, to be successful, must gain information and learn quickly. Anything that reduces a willingness to ask questions also reduces successful integration. If a new hire feels he/she must guess rather than gain clarity through questions, there is an increased chance of failure during the onboarding period.
So how can you help reduce this stress and increase the chances of a successful integration into your company?
The best solution to such a situation rests with the supervisor. A new hire suffering social anxiety needs a positive relationship with the supervisor. Through that relationship, a safe route to asking questions and gaining information can be found.
The focus of that relationship, however, needs to be twofold. First, it needs to create an environment where the new hire feels unthreatened and is, therefore, willing to ask questions. Second, the relationship should be focused primarily on ensuring that the new hire ultimately gains the information he/she needs to do his/her job effectively. It is a purposeful relationship with limits suggested by common sense and organizational realities. If that relationship is not bound by strict limits, it is likely to be seen, questioned and resented by others, and the relationship can easily contribute to even more exclusion and resentment toward the new hire.
Help the new hire learn how to get things done in your organization. Keep in mind that often the “needed” information is not processes and procedures but, rather, who holds the tribal knowledge and who can actually get things done in the organization. Once things start getting done, the culture will begin to adapt to the new hire and relationships within the work group will resolve themselves or become an indicator for further changes in the work group.
It should also be mentioned that, just as new hires get social anxiety, the introduction of a new person into an existing work group creates anxiety for members of that work group, too. Sometimes referred to as the “impact network”, research suggests that a new midlevel manager, for instance, has a potential negative performance impact on an average of 12 or more people! Helping a newly hired manager build relationships with direct reports, bosses, and peers is critical to both his or her success and the productivity of others. A new hire needs help learning about his/her network, and those in that network need to learn to adjust and adapt to the new person. A supervisor or boss needs to be alert and proactive in addressing such feelings and work to alleviate whatever myths or realities are present that are creating the anxiety. Role clarity and focus on shared outcomes can often help with this process. Inviting senior team members to play a role in helping the new hire learn and connect is also a way to reduce problems.
Outside coaching for a new employee can often help the person navigate the dangerous waters of onboarding. Such coaching typically needs to include coaching the supervisor, because the relationship between the new hire and the supervisor will largely determine if the new hire is successful (assuming the new hire is a good hire).
(Thanks to Drs. Nifadkar and Bauer for your recent article in the Journal of Applied Psychology for providing the research basis for much of this blog.)
Dr. Duane Lakin is author of Ten Ways Top Sellers are Different and The Unfair Advantage: Sell with NLP!