I recently received an email from a college senior who listens to the Carnegie Coach podcast asking how to start their career effectively. As I began to consider our response, it became apparent that many of the employers we work with struggle with this too.
Many clients have struggled to engage and retain new hires over the past decade, especially new hires starting a first job. While there are broad societal factors at play, there are also actions every employer can take in order to maximize new hire performance.
Bonni Stachowiak (my wife) is a business professor at Vanguard University and also helps university faculty to teach more effectively. She has the unique perspective of preparing students for the workplace while also having regular dialogue with employers who have recruited former students.
When we spoke on the podcast about this issue, Bonni recommended three steps that almost every employer can take, based upon what she hears from former students who keep in touch regularly.
1. Provide Meaningful Challenges for New Hires
Bonni tells me that one of the most consistent things that she hears from former students in the workplace is that they aren’t challenged. I’ve heard that same complaint echoed in conversations with her former students in recent years.
There is of course a necessary aspect of “grunt work” that comes along many positions that new hires accept coming out of school or other training programs. However, many employers miss opportunities to challenge new hires in meaningful ways.
Bonni recommends that employers consider the perspective of new hires, who have often been moving full speed ahead for several years and managing complex schedules of coursework, student activities, and extracurriculars…only to suddenly find themselves populating a spreadsheets all week.
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of grunt work, but it should be balanced with meaningful strategies to maximize the full potential of the new hire in a meaningful way.
Throw down a challenge. -Dale Carnegie
Bonni suggests that a great place to challenge new hires is in creating their own personal learning system. Up until now, many of them have relied on others to frame their learning for them. Your guidance can help them discover your company and industry, while laying the groundwork for a meaningful professional development path.
New hires may not bring as much experience, but they often bring fresh energy and perspective that you may not see as much from other employees. If you’ll hold them accountable to their learning, they can help your organization become more innovative.
2. Over Communicate to New Hires
I spoke recently with Chip Espinoza, author of the book Millennials@Work, on how to best motivate young people in the workplace. Both Chip and Bonni echo almost the same advice for employers of new hires:
Over communicate to them.
Chip reports in his book that new hires in today’s workplace are very relationship oriented and hungry for regular feedback. An important distinction he makes is the disconnect that often happens between today’s employers and new hires coming into the workplace.
Traditionally, employers give employees feedback at planned intervals (an annual performance review, a weekly or monthly one-on-one, or a formal mentoring program). Chips reports that often little feedback is given outside these periods, resulting in ambiguity early on in a role.
He says, “Ambiguity is the millennial kryptonite.” Instead of waiting for formal reviews, make every effort to give immediate feedback in less formal ways that’s relationship orientated. Aim to have a conversation with them instead of a conversation about them.
Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view. -Dale Carnegie
I’ve found that many employers struggle with this, since it’s outside of their traditional operating patterns. However, if we expect the best from new hires, we also must be flexible in how we approach them.
3. Avoid Assigning Intent to Behavior
Often, there is a generational gap between employers and the new hires they bring into the organizations. It’s simply human nature for many of us to forget that new hires may approach the workplace in a different way that they do.
Bonni reminds employers that it’s easy to assume that a new hire might not be engaged in their work if you see them texting on a phone or with their nose in a laptop. Rather than making assumptions about their behaviors, it’s better to ask questions and measure the results that new hires are creating.
Appeal to the nobler motives. -Dale Carnegie
Texting doesn’t necessarily mean, “I don’t care.” In fact, the exact opposition can be true. Their non-traditional actions may be their way of engaging with their work. That doesn’t excuse inappropriate behavior, of course — just take time to learn about that behavior before jumping to conclusions.