Wednesday, 27 June 2012

How to properly induct a new staff member

In this age of under-staffing companies are stretching their human capital to the limit.  New employees are often left to fend for themselves because current staff tend to be 'too busy' to provide a decent introduction and handover to them.  You're hired because you have the correct levels of qualifications and experience, so the thinking is you should know the job because you've done it before at another company.

However, a product costing accountant at Proctor and Gamble is never the same as a product costing accountant at Unilever.  Both companies can employ the ABC Costing model, use SAP and both jobs can have identical Key Performance Areas (KPA's) on paper, but in practice they will be different, and moving from one to another presents a learning curve to even the sharpest, most experienced candidate.  No two jobs are ever the same.

Handover and induction therefore, are imperative.  Besides being beneficial to the new incumbent, a proper handover and induction will save managers and the company a lot of time and possibly disaster later on.


On the first official day that your recruit reports for duty, do the following, in this order:

#1: Go through the Hierarchy -  First, take your new employee through the organisational structure.  Show them who reports to who in your department.  They don't need to know how other divisions feed into the CEO just yet.  Before learning about company history and other business areas of the company, a new employee wants to know about the sub-system within which they work first first i.e. their own department.  There's a lot to take in when starting a new job so non-core information should be put on the back burner.  Let the induction program (#4 below) take care of the broader company overview.

#2: Quantify the Output - Next, take your new recruit through a summarised page of their Key Performance Areas (KPA's) that they will be expected to fulfill: the types of reports; the analysis; their revenue targets...whatever they may be.  Don't get into the actual mechanics of what they will be doing - that is for the handover process.  Keep it high level.  

A new employee needs to be able to quantify the requirements of their job in order to mentally prepare themselves.  If they at least have a decent idea of what to expect, they will have less anxiety.  While flexibility and adaptation are commonly used buzzwords, for the most part employees need to know what's expected of them well in advance.  They're hired to do a set of tasks, not to "be flexible" and do a bit of everything there is to do.

#3: Emphasize the Importance of what they will do - Once the incumbent sees where they fit and has a decent grasp of what's required of them, elaborate on: 
• The background to their job i.e. why this job exists in the first place. 

• How their work affects the functioning of your team.
• Who the "customers" of their output i.e. which parties will depend on the work they produce.

If you want a good employee, you need to sell them importance of their job from day one.

#4: Induct them into the rest of the Company - Get your new employee on the induction tour or program if there is one.  If the induction program is little more than a brainwashing exercise, let the employee go through it anyway because even the most PR driven induction program will have a few important things for them to glean.  Induction is useful because a new entrant shouldn't learn everything about the company they're in from their manager or department.


With the overview done and foundation set, it's time for the handover of the actual job itself.

#1: Create a handover document - Before beginning any handover and training, use a structured handover document as the basis on which their training will be based.  
This document forms the framework for your handover.  On this document have each key performance area (KPA) listed.  Break down each KPA into the actual tasks required to meet that KPA (see example below). The more detail the better.  As a manager it may be a pain to initially produce this document, but it will pay for itself many times over and with slight modification can be useful for many subsequent years.

#2: How to take them through each KPA: Schedule time to take the new employee through the detail of each KPA.  Tick off one KPA at a time as you complete each session.  A new employee will forget most of what they're told the first time, as the learning curve for a new job is very steep.  This KPA document then will allow you to not only track what you have taught your new colleague/subordinate, but more importantly it becomes something they can refer to when they're lost.  Only if the document still doesn't express something will they need to ask you.  This in turn will result in you fielding fewer queries.


Before explaining the detail, explain why they're doing it.  So in the above example you would explain the purpose of the monthly material consumption report and only thereafter delve into each of the tasks needed to fulfill the KPA.  Context, context, context.

As you show the incumbent the mechanics of a given task (e.g.obtaining standard prices as described in task 2 above), ensure you're physically doing it in front of them while explaining.  Theory and illustrations should be done simultaneously.  As much as I'm a fan of detailed and thorough handovers, time is always a constraint and they cannot last indefinitely.

#3: Provide a basic exercise for each KPI: Once the theory and illustrative example have been provided, give the employee a few minutes to complete a practice example on their own.  The next time they do this it will be in a real and live situation, so a practice run is a good idea.

#4:  Interim Reviews: When a new employee embarks on something for the first time in the live environment, you should have many interim or 'dummy' reviews before holding the real review or meeting with management. In the real world, mistakes at high level meetings are not tolerated.  An interim review is not micromanagement; it's a safety net that will allow you to detect errors early on and advise on corrective action, rather than waiting for the eleventh hour only to find the work done is completely wrong. 

Do not rush the employee, but express that they should try to complete as much of the task as possible before the first interim review.  These reviews are not in place to have a task reviewed one piece at a time; they serve rather to allow for early detection of mistakes and weak points.

#5: Start Enforcing Deadlines: The employee can't be on training wheels forever and they need to be understand pretty early on what sort of deadlines they will typically face when the training wheels are off.  Sounds a bit harsh, but that's what it means to be employed, unfortunately.  When they do something for the second time in a live environment then, you need to stipulate to them that their work needs to be fully completed in time for the first interim review.  Mistakes are fine, but the biggest challenge facing employees is not competence; it's working under the increasingly tight deadlines and getting the job done on time.  Completing work on time therefore is a skill they need to pick up sooner rather than later.

#6: Hand over the Reigns: An employee needs to be able to explain their work to any audience - even the general manager or vice president.  After running the first few official meetings/reviews, inform the incumbent that they will be taking the reigns from you at the next high level meeting.  They will realise they need to be open to questions/challenges, and this in my experience causes one to learn very fast.  Maybe it's the fear of embarrassment or reprimand, but it's a good development tool nonetheless.  Afterward they will gain much confidence and the faith you show in them will strengthen your relationship.

#7: Dealing with Questions and Shortcomings: When your charge falls short, show infinite patience and a willingness to go through the problem with them.  When they pose repetitive questions, show even more than infinite patience and answer it as if its the first time you're answering them.  It's pointless saying "You've asked me this before."  Well, if they're asking it the second time, consider that your answer wasn't good enough the first time.


I've had jobs where months of learning and frustration could have been spared if I had just been guided along a formal, structured path as outlined above, rather than leaving me to "learn on the job" i.e. sink or swim.  Investing time in handing over shows the new employee a few things:

That they're not alone and there's support.  This engenders confidence.  Confident employees perform better.  Make them feel as if they're out of their depth and they will perform accordingly.

Their understanding is deep as it is broad.  They will see where their work fits in the big picture, in addition to being able to get the actual job done.  This provides context and meaning to their job.

They will perpetuate this culture when other new employees come in.

The idea of good training and handover is to make a smooth transition from the departed employee to the new one, as well as keeping stress levels - which can be very high for someone starting a new job - to a minimum.  In fact, formalised handovers should form part of a company's operating procedures and policies, because staff turnover is par for the course in the modern workplace.

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