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How to Keep a New Hire Excited About the Job

In the last post, a Food Service Director asked where to find motivated employees.

I argued that all employees are motivated when they start a new job. It’s something that happens to them afterwards that drains their motivation. Sometimes it takes years. Sometimes months. And other times it happens right away, even on their first day. And it’s a damn shame.

In our culture, starting a job is a positive event, like a birthday or a wedding. When you tell people you just 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 is going to turn out, all the cheerful noises from family and friends—who, by the way, also have no clue—give him, at-the-least, 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 it takes 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 deliberately 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 actually make it happen with your people.

First, don’t even dream of engaging new hires if you, yourself 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 own attitude. And stay away from the new hires until it gets better.

Wait! I’m not done with you yet. What if 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 that your new hires could possibly match your commitment and drive? If yes, go ahead and 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 be looking 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 we realize it or not, we’re all looking to answer two questions:

  1. Do I belong here?
  2. 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. And it’s best not to wait for them to draw their own conclusions, but to give them a reason to believe. Two easy places to start:

  1. Welcome.

    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 had any doubts as to whether he had made the right choice by going to Yale and how he was going to fit in, this welcoming ritual should have 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 are going to be there for you? From day one.

    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.
  2. Encourage self-expression

    You might be wondering what I meant by question 2 above. (Am I safe?) How is it not safe for people to put their full effort into their work?

    Full effort is always about self-expression. If you’re inhibited by fear and doubt, you are not going to be 100% engaged.

    Understanding this simple rule, some companies go out of their way to make employees feel at home. One thing we like to do at Axero is encourage our new hires to ask questions. Here’s why.

    People are often embarrassed to ask too many questions, even when they are new. 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 different ways. Ask if you just asked me a minute ago. Ask if you don’t think it matters. Ask 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 they start speaking their mind, they know it’s safe, and they can learn and contribute faster.

Besides the boss, the greatest influence on the new hire are his coworkers. New hires don’t learn the company culture from a 3 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, in order to fit in. You may think you are hiring a motivated individual, but the truth is: he doesn’t know how motivated he’s going to 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 hire. A close-knit, secure, self-expressed group of employees will automatically give one another coaching and support.

That’s exactly 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 spontaneously reached across locations to ask and receive advice, acknowledgement, 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 a simple one. 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.

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If you like to keep your employees, you might like my book, because it helps you eliminate root causes of turnover and disengagement.

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Tim Eisenhauer
About Tim Eisenhauer
Tim is the author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Break Down the Invisible Barriers to Employee Engagement. He's also a co-founder and president of Axero, a technology company that makes intranet software for businesses. He's spilt insightful ink on the pages of Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur.com, and other top publications.

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