Are you guilty of Drive-by Management?

It's been a while since I've been a new employee, and I think it's good for me to get another turn on this side of the hiring process. I always made a big point with all my new employees to tell them, "you're only new here once, so tell us where we're screwing up." So, here I am, experiencing some screw-ups. As always, I think this can be a learning opportunity, so I'm going to share some notes with you -- are you doing any of these things?
Starting a new employee is a critical time. Not only are you forming vital first impressions, you're probably more at-risk with your new employees than at amost any other time in their career with your company. Think about it -- if they're just coming off of a job search, they've probably got a whole database of contacts spun up, and their cell phones are still on speed-dial with a bunch of recruiters. If they're not happy in the first couple weeks of their employment with you, there's every reason to believe you'll lose them.

Here are some things I've seen in my first weeks of employment that could really stand to be improved. For the record, I intend to approach these as areas where I can help raise the bar here rather than reasons to get disgruntled. I guess I'm just a "glass half full" kind of guy. 😉

  • Ok, I lied. I'm going to start with something that went exceptionally well. The HR portion of orientation was well-run, professional, and friendly. This is the mark of an organization that sees "service" as an important part of their business, and it's a clue to you as a manager -- there are organizations that are optimized to create things (including processes) and organizations that are optimized to work processes. Knowing which one is which: priceless.
  • First day: new machine. There's something to be said for having a machine ready for you on your first day, especially for a developer-type who molds his PC to fit him like a race car driver tailors his seat. I started and was given a temporary laptop(for the first half-day or so), then a temporary desktop, and finally my laptop a week or so after I started. In the mean time, I avoided setting anything up the way I really wanted it, because I knew I'd be giving up the PC soon. Obviously, I was less productive and less comfortable in my new home as a result.
  • Where are the docs? Every company and department has a collection of docs, as well as a collective archive of "tribal knowledge". In my experience, organizations that know that they're lacking in documentation are a little better at sucking up the hit to assign someone to sit and explain why things are the way they are. In this case, there's a SharePoint site and a SourceSafe archive, so the natural tendancy is to just assume that everything's in there and easy to find. Only one problem: both are incomplete and not updated nearly often enough. There's just enough available in both places to convince me that nothing here could possibly be made to work.
  • Who's in charge of what? It's natural for a new employee to have questions about what's going on, why things are the way they are, and who can help explain things. It's really frustrating to get the runaround when you ask questions about this stuff. I've been asked to put together some best practices for builds on Visual Studio Team System (VSTS). Cool. I can do that. Three days later, I'm still trying to get set up, because I keep getting bounced around trying to find out who can get me access to the stuff I need to do my job. Sigh. Same thing goes for project work - "can you help with XYZ?" "Sure," I say. "Who do I see with questions?" "...uhh..."
  • Everyone's busy. This is a killer, because you obviously wouldn't hire someone if you weren't busy. Despite that, you've got to make sure it's someone's job to maintain some continuiity with the new guy, cause it bites to be hanging out in the breeze while everyone else is running around frantically doing what they need to do. The tough truth is that you need to expect to invest some time from your busiest team members in order to ramp up a new employee. That's the price of admission. If you don't put in that up-front effort, you're not going to gain the additional productivity you're looking for in the new guy.

The next time you start a new employee, take the chance to really look at your organization with those fresh eyes. In most cases, shortcomings that are readilly apparent to the new guy are places where you're really vulnerable organizationally, but you've been getting away with it because you've got good people covering the holes in your process. Take advantage of these clues to shore up the problem areas, and you'll have a more efficient, more reliable organization, and happier new employees, too.

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