Hiring isn't easy and it usually isn't fast. With all the time and resources that go into finding your next great hire, the last thing you want to discover is that your new employee is underperforming. Now, no one drops into a new job knowing everything already but some hires seem to find their feet faster than others. There are many reasons a new hire might struggle, from a miscommunication during the interview to a steep learning curve once in the job. But whatever the reason may be, if a new employee is underperforming, there are steps you can take to help them get back on track. Instead of regretting your hire or starting the interview process over again, take a look at your talent management process and see if there's anything you can try that will help your new employees get up to speed more quickly.
Bad hire or bad onboarding?
There can be a few reasons why a new hire is not progressing as quickly as you'd like in a new job. It usually comes down to either an imperfect hire or a poor onboarding experience. Hiring misalignments can happen if a structured interviewing process isn't followed or if the job description was unclear. Adding assessments and screening steps to the hiring process can help avoid these problems and increase your chance at making the right hire. Let's assume, however, that your hiring process is comprehensive and that your new employee should have all the qualities they need to succeed. What might be holding them back?
A rushed or unstructured onboarding process may be the real culprit here. If the new hire hasn’t fully absorbed what the new job is about and what to focus on they can find themselves adrift in their new role. It can be very intimidating and confusing to start a new job, particularly if an industry shift or promotion is involved. Employees might not know how or where to ask for help or might be trying to course correct on their own. A rushed onboarding likely glossed over the information they need and now the limits of that learning are coming to the forefront in the quality of their work.
Why structured onboarding matters
It is critical for employers to take the time to ensure every new hire has the best possible, structured onboarding experience. According to Christian Harpelund, Co-founder and Consulting Director of Onboarding Group, and Author of Onboarding: Getting new hires off to a flying start, it takes the average new hire about 6 months to become productive. Those companies that have standardized an onboarding practice have a 54 percent higher productivity level from new hires than other companies with no formal onboarding process, and they engage with new hires faster to maintain their engagement levels.
Addressing the gaps in the onboarding process
How can you get to what’s not working well for the new hire, without making matters worse? It can just take a quick meeting with the new hire’s immediate supervisor to sit down and discover where the employee needs support or what information they're often asking about. Perhaps the employee is struggling in a certain area of learning the company processes or the software used. Or it could be just knowing where he or he fits into the team and the bigger picture of the company. Gather this information, then create a performance review style meeting to discuss the situation in a supportive manner with the employee. Come up with a performance improvement plan to give the employee a more structured experience, complete with coaching as needed.
Helping a new hire who is struggling
Setting a new hire back on the right path takes a few simple steps, that you can implement swiftly to salvage the experience the new employee is receiving. After meeting with the employee and supervisor, it’s time to put a plan into action. Here are some suggested next steps:
1) Ask about a new hire’s career goals
What do you really know about the new hire, outside of the initial interview and occasional meetings? Find out what the employee is really looking for in a career experience, including how he prefers to try new things and what the future holds for them in the company. Communicate the opportunities that the company can offer him if he works hard and sticks with things for a while. This can be a powerful incentive.
2) Discover how a new hire learns
We often fall into a trap of thinking everyone learns and retains information the same way we do. In actuality, there are many different ways of consuming information. One employee might learn best from watching videos while another needs to take notes to remember what they've heard. Talk to your new hire about how best they retain knowledge and if that isn't the format of your onboarding program, see if there are any tweaks that can be made to help the employee learn in the most effective way for them.
3) Find a mentor for the new hire
Being the new hire can be a lonely place for many employees. It can be awkward getting to know colleagues. Even being in social situations can be painful for those who may not be extroverted or have strong people skills. Make it a point to match up every new hire with a mentor (or a more experienced employee) who can act as a guide and support during her first year on the job. This can help the employee find the right resources for overcoming obstacles to becoming a productive member of the team.
4) Provide regular check-ins with the employee
Step up as an HR professional and ensure that the employee gets regular scheduled meetings with his or her manager. This is very important in the employee experience and part of a successful onboarding process. Their supervisor needs to be responsive to their requests and use a coaching stance to help them through any rough spots. Gaps in knowledge should be met with understanding and support, rather than punishment that might make the new hire hide their mistakes or think about leaving the company.
5) Evaluate the new hire’s growth over time
For some employees, it just takes a bit longer to get up to speed. Having a clear set of performance goals can help remind them of where they need to focus to be successful. Keep this handy and acknowledge the growth that the employee has demonstrated over time if you see improvement. Reverse any negative first experiences with fresh new ones through additional learning support and relationship building with the team or managers involved.
6) Help the employee find his or her place of value
According to an article in Harvard Business Review, “The faster a new hire learns about the organization and their role, the more they will be able to accomplish in the critical first months.” When employees understand how important they are to the success of the organization, they tend to take a stance of being more responsible for their role. Be sure to communicate often how important they are to the team and allow them to see how their actions and contributions impact the company as a whole.
Underperforming doesn't mean you've made a hiring mistake
Sometimes people just need a little more time to hit the ground running. By supporting their learning and providing them with the tools to succeed, an underperforming new hire can become a contributing team member more quickly. Remember, something about them wowed you in the interview and that's worth the benefit of the doubt when someone is just starting out. People learn in different ways at different rates and a smart onboarding program will account for that. You might find that with a little more hands on training, your slow starter might just become a top performer.