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Helping new hires 'hit the ground running'

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Helping new hires 'hit the ground running'

Like proud parents welcoming a new daughter-in-law, we warmly, if methodically, welcomed new employees into the fold. New hires acquired a “buddy” who gave them a tour of their new home along with the lowdown on the people and culture.

We introduced new associates with a group e-mail detailing their career history, family background, hobbies and interests. It helped break the ice with new teammates: “Hey, I love softball, too. What position do you play?” Those efforts built camaraderie, trimmed learning curves, and minimized unproductive, profit-draining downtime.

Assimilating new hires

We assimilated new hires into our coaching culture as quickly as possible. Their department head asked open-ended questions to draw them out, build rapport and establish healthy communication: “What do you see as the biggest challenges in your new position?” “What new skills would you like to develop?” “What can I do now to help?” Orientation sessions briefed new hires on what was expected of them — and what they could expect from us — regarding attitude, ethics and behavior.

Making new teammates feel valued from day one produced a big competitive edge.  As a service outfit, our success hinged on hiring and keeping great personalities. We understood that the first week is crucial — that’s when people decide whether they see a future with a new company. The time and money you’ll spend welcoming new hires is a pittance compared to the revolving-door cost of constantly hiring and training new employees to replace those who were unhappy and unproductive.

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The law of diminishing dedication

Ever been so fired up at a leadership seminar that you were champing at the bit to race back to the office to test things out? You were still pumped up when you got back to your desk. Then the regular stuff began crowding out your time. The days rolled by. Enthusiasm for what you learned began to wane and, finally, what was once so fresh in your mind had faded into a dusty memory.

So it goes with a new job. Most people show up for their first day all gung ho and eager to contribute. With luck, a wise team leader and a healthy culture will greet them. Otherwise, bureaucratic roadblocks, turf wars, inefficient systems and the hypnotic comfort of daily routines will blunt their passion and lull them into mediocrity. It’s as quiet and insidious as radon poisoning.

To avoid the “big sleep,” I personally talked to new recruits during weeklong orientation courses at the company school. New employees are open. I set aside six hours to distill for them our mission, vision and values. I urged them to keep up their guard should they happen across a rebel teammate. Even though we were vigilant about sustaining a positive, enlightened culture, I occasionally saw a new hire sabotaged by a negative colleague.

How do you combat that? I stressed there are best practices for everything, from heart surgery to piloting a plane, and that sticking to our system was the fastest route to success. I cautioned that they might get ribbed for following procedures so closely: “Aw, look at the rookie. Here, kid, lemme show you how we do it around here.” Call me obsessive, but we also role-played a way to handle those encounters. I suggested something like, “Thanks. Sounds like that works for you, but I’m going to go by the book so I can catch up to your level someday.” We want new hires to try to reach new heights — and stay excited about the journey.

Key points for snatching up stars

Think of yourself as a top talent scout. Landing the hot hire requires diligence and resourcefulness. Keep a lot of balls in the air — work your business contacts, offer referral bonuses, hit schools and hiring fairs, consider search firms. Make sure your culture attracts and retains good people. Here are some other suggestions for attracting and keeping the best.

• Don’t let stars in your eyes cloud your vision. Don’t assume that heavy hitters on other teams have more expertise or will fit seamlessly into your culture. Do your homework — and don’t make exceptions to your standard hiring process.

• Develop a good game plan. Job interviews are like hide-and-seek. Candidates try to hide their faults — you seek to discover them. Ask probing questions that reveal a candidate’s personality, maturity, strengths and vulnerabilities. The greater the resistance to answering a question, the more important it is to question the answer. Established drills like role-playing help avoid the irritation of watching new hires turn into misfires.

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• Make it mutual. It’s just as important to impress applicants as it is for them to impress you. If she knocks your socks off, chances are she’s wowed other employers, too. A perfect fit? Get an offer on the table ASAP (after her references check out).

• Follow the law. Know what you can and can’t ask in a job interview. Guard against ill-advised comments that a candidate could misinterpret. Display mandatory posters and keep detailed records to explain why each applicant was rejected or selected. Require new hires to sign nondisclosure and non-compete agreements so your trade secrets stay secret.

• Welcome new hires. Make employees feel comfortable from day one. Assign them a “buddy,” introduce them to colleagues, build rapport with management, and brief them on what’s expected from all sides.

This article is one of a series from “The Big Book of Small Business” by Tom Gegax with Phil Bolsta. Copyright 2005, 2006 by Tom Gegax. Published by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers.

Best-selling author Tom Gegax, co-founder and chairman emeritus of Tires Plus stores, served as that company’s chairman and CEO for 24 years. By the time he sold the company in July 2000, it had mushroomed from a concept sketched on a restaurant napkin to a market leader with 150 upscale stores in 10 states and $200 million in revenue.

Thanks to Tom’s warm-hearted, tough-minded approach to management, and his team’s relentless focus on customer service, the company’s turnover rate ranked among the industry’s lowest, and its guest enthusiasm index reached 98%.

He was named Modern Tire Dealer’s Tire Dealer of the Year in 1998 and a Midwest Entrepreneur of the Year by Inc. magazine.

In 2000, Gegax founded Gegax Management Systems (www.gegax.com) to help growing companies raise profits and reduce stress through fast and affordable business management guidance.

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