In The Art of Possibility, Ben Zander and Roz Stone Zander write about an idea they used with a class of graduate music students. To put their students at ease and open them up to possibility, they came up with the idea of taking away the negative pressure of competition for grades. On the first day of the class, they awarded each student an A, with one requirement. Each had to write a letter, dated the end of the semester, beginning with the words, "I got my A because....," describing in detail the story of what will have happened by that time.
The authors found that the practice of giving the A allowed the teacher to line up with his students to produce the desired A outcome. This contrasts with the typical relationship, where the teacher aligns with the standards against the student. (like my University of Chicago visiting econ prof who warned us day 1 that 3/4 of the class would fail...) The experiment yielded strong results. The book is full of insights and I highly recommend it if you like to read about motivation, performance, and, my favorite - possibility.
The "so what" of the story is that how you manage your employees from the day they start working with you makes a difference. Often, my clients are so swamped by the time they hire that they don't think they have time to manage a new hire in. Yet, those first weeks are critical, with long-term impact. Whether you're adding a new hire or a contract employee, there are three things you need to do to kick off a great working relationship.
1. Make time to manage:
- Block time on your calendar for orienting your new employee, preparing the work you delegate, and to do the actual delegation and followup.
- Schedule a 60-day performance review, whether or not you have a probationary period. EVEN IF YOU ARE THRILLED WITH PERFORMANCE. Formalize it. Performance management is not about problem-solving, it's about proactively creating a high-performing team. If you have the habit of openly discussing performance in a win/win manner, you'll create a relationship and environment that will support you if you DO have problems. It's professional, not personal.
- Establish a schedule of short checkpoints with your new employee, appointments on both your calendars. This gives the employee the assurance that he will be able to get time with you and lets you stay close to the new employee while you're getting clear on performance expectations and developing trust in his capabilities.
- Welcome your new employee, let him know you understand there's a learning curve and tell him you'll support him to make it as smooth as possible.
- In the beginning, let the employee know you'll have a high degree of involvement, but that you expect that will decrease.
- You hired someone who wants to do a good job. Make sure that the two of you are in agreement on what that means. Discuss the position and work towards creating specific performance goals and standards. Use the process of creating performance goals as a tool to aim and guide performance, as in the Zander experiment- when the students detailed out how they'd earn their A's. By the end of the initial 60-day review period, you should have a performance management framework that you can use throughout the year.
- Be precise about your expectations related to work hours and attendance. You must have guidelines and you must be clear about things like days off, vacation requests, etc. The objective here is to make sure you have a fact-based policy to go to in the event that you need it. Lateness and attendance problems will make you crazy; start with clear guidelines and nip problem behavior in the bud. You want to be understanding, but always with the perspective that you hired a resource, you need that resource, and you count on the resource.
The difference between "satisfactory" and "optimal" performance is significant in terms of money in your pocket and your level of stress. Don't settle. Manage.