How can I help a new employee be successful?

Next month I have a new employee coming on board. I have heard you talk about setting new employees up for success and I am specifically concerned about what I should plan for in developing and training her.

There are a number of things that you should do in order to get this new employee off to a good beginning and ensure that she will be successful and, more importantly, and that you will be happy with her performance. Of course, there is all of the standard paperwork to get payroll, withholding and benefits arranged. These may be handled by your HR department, but there are several other essential first steps that HR cannot do for you. Many of these first steps deal with making sure she becomes acquainted with the company, other employees and the policies that you have in place. I strongly encourage you to spend as much time as necessary with her to explain the rules. Don't delegate this duty to another employee. Escort her around the operation to meet all of the other employees and explain the equipment and provide samples of the work that your company does. If your business is large give her a guided tour to show her all aspects of the company and show how her functions will relate to what other departments will be doing. Give her a chance to ask questions about the company and its operations and encourage her to talk to the other employees and ask questions.

While you should handle the formal orientation yourself, you should be prepared to also assign one of the other employees to act as a sponsor for the new employee. The sponsor is there to help her feel comfortable and to be ready to answer questions about those unwritten policies that exist in any business and those which she may have been too timid to ask of you. But remember, the sponsor is not responsible for job training. That is always your responsibility.

Another critical first step, perhaps the most important, is to go over the job description for her position line by line to make sure that she fully understands her duties and responsibilities. You should have thoroughly reviewed and updated the job description before you started the hiring process and you should have used it during the interviewing process that led to the employee selection. But now that the employee is on board, it is more critical to focus clearly on the job description. Have a frank discussion about the details of the job and her ability to perform all of the tasks. While experience may have been one of your hiring criteria, it is not likely that a new employee will know all of the duties and in particular your expectations about her performance. As she identifies areas where she feels she will need training, use those as the starting point for developing a training program. This program is not just a short duration data dump. It is a long term program that defines levels of competency and expectations for demonstration of success in that competency. I believe that such a program could cover many months depending on the complexity and the level of responsibility the position entails. It will take time for the employee to be fully conversant with all of the rules and procedures and sufficiently knowledgeable that she can be fully empowered to handle all of the responsibilities that you have set out in the job description.

But just setting the timeline is not the end of your duties. Over the course of the training period, you need to schedule frequent get-togethers to evaluate her performance and to make adjustments and refinements to the training program. During the first few months, you should provide daily feedback sessions. These informal sessions present opportunities to discuss any concerns she may have about the job and answer any questions that may have arisen as she performed her duties. In addition, there should be a formal performance review at least every 6 months. More frequent at the beginning would be better. I suggest that for these formal reviews, you use a suitable format and have the employee evaluate herself as well. In the discussion compare your respective views of her performance. Commend her on her strong points and successes. Do not berate her for her failures or shortcomings, but explore added training or coaching that will help her overcome these problems.

The process of building a successful employee is lengthy and requires your full attention. Remember always that the goal is to make her successful and you need to do everything you can to make that happen. Think back when you may have trained your child to ride a two-wheeled bike. At first you put on training wheels to have them learn the feel of the bike. At some point you took off the training wheels and sent them on their way. If they fell, you didn’t put the bike away. You reinstalled the training wheels and helped them learn further how to do it. The development of a successful employee is the same kind of process.

Debra Thompson is President of TG & Associates, specializing in Human Resources for the Graphics Industries. Debra is the winner of the 2003 PrintImage Industry Award of Distinction. She can be reached at 877-842-7762 (toll free) or Visit for more information on hiring and developing top performers. Visit her website to find her How to Series and to obtain forms for planning and recording training and for performance evaluations.
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