Coaching New Hires – The Teachable Moments

We all try to explain our organizational culture to new hires. We use buzzwords like “high-energy,” and “fast-paced” when recruiting. We repeat them in interviews and at new-hire orientations.

But culture is intangible. It’s hard to convey the values, unwritten rules and behavioral norms that make your organization what it is. Your initial effort to explain your culture to new hires is just the first step in a coaching process. New hires need months to truly experience an organization’s culture and align their behavior accordingly.

This implies some learning by experience. But some managers equate learning by experience with “sink or swim.” Through design or neglect, they throw new hires into the deep end and let them figure it out.

Sink or swim?

Sink or swim is one of the worst onboarding practices imaginable. Sure, survival of the fittest occasionally works. But even the most talented new hires can’t decipher a complex organizational culture all by themselves.

They need colleagues and mentors to guide them along for awhile. And above all, they need coaching from the person who’s the key to their current and future success – their boss.

So what do good bosses do? They anticipate obstacles. And they very carefully manage the process of onboarding new employees through what are known as Teachable Moments. Here are three such moments you can use to help your new hires adapt successfully:

Teachable Moment #1: Crisis Interventions. Often this type of moment happens when a new hire comes into conflict with a fellow employee. Or maybe they encounter a practice or policy incompatible with what they’re used to. As a manager, you need to help the newbie see the connection between what happens in your organization — its practice — and the cultural norms that cause that practice.

Teachable Moment #2: Opportunistic Coaching Sessions. These highlight something the new hire did well and why that action or behavior marks a step forward in understanding your organization’s culture. Opportunistic coaching sessions work because they arise organically from the workday. In the best cases, they’re seamless to the point where the employee might not realize she’s being coached.

Teachable Moment #3: Routine Check Ins. This type of moment is the the most structured of the three. It’s a scheduled meeting (perhaps weekly or biweekly) with the new hire where you ask the basic questions. How are you adjusting? Anything you’re struggling with? How are things with your colleagues? Is the job meeting your expectations? With each response, it’s essential that you take time to relate the employee’s experiences to the organization’s culture and how your new hire can best adapt.

Remember, most successful onboarding efforts take several months. So when using the teachable moments, don’t forget to be encouraging (“Don’t worry, you’ll figure this stuff out in time.”), and above all, be patient.

Do you use teachable moments to help your new hires adapt? Share your current onboarding methods below.

IMAGE: Courtesy of Flickr by Kullez

About the Author: Dave Clemens has spent years consulting with HR professionals, researching developing trends, and tracking employment case law. His HR Café blog is read by 14,000+ subscribers three times each week and he is a senior writer for the Compliance & Management Rapid Learning Center online training site. His work has also appeared in the magazine World Press Review, The Associated Press, and in several nationally recognized human resources, employment law and business newsletters.