6 steps to help new hires grow


Tired of reseeding with new hires every year? It's time to cultivate perennials.

Without regular food and water and the right light, even the hardiest plants will wither and eventually fade away. And your new hires are the same way. They need regular contact, communication, and support to learn and grow in your practice. Here's what you need to know to tend to your crop of new hires.

1. Choose the best seeds.

First, start with the right hire. Clarify your needs for the position you're trying to fill. If you're looking for a compassionate animal handler/kennel attendant or a friendly receptionist who can multitask, list these facts in your classified advertisement.

Debbie Allaben Gair

Next, consider the position you want to fill. Will qualified candidates already have a résumé, or will you miss out on the opportunity to hire the perfect receptionist because she didn't have a résumé and didn't bother to apply? Registered technicians or managers may have résumés for your review. But many who are seeking other positions may pass up the opportunity to work at your practice if you require them. So make sure your requirements fit the position that you're trying to fill.

2. Weed out the dandelions.

They may look like flowers, but soon after the bloom fades dandelions show their true selves and their prickly leaves quickly spread and choke out the rest of your sprouts. To keep these nasty troublemakers out of your practice, ask the right questions during interviews.

Start with questions every candidate needs to answer. For example, you might ask, "Why do you want to work at this practice?" and, "Why are you the best candidate for this position?" Then share your expectations for the position. You might tell the applicant, "We're looking for someone who can verbally hug clients when they walk in the practice. Can you tell me what steps you'd take to achieve this goal as a receptionist in our practice?"

Remember, when you're interviewing candidates, they also should be interviewing you. This helps you find the best fit for the practice and the position. The practice is like a puzzle—you're looking for the best puzzle piece to fit the open hole on your team.

3. Review the care and feeding guidelines.

The hiring process isn't complete until you clearly state your hiring terms. Be specific. Explain your job expectations and what the employee can expect of the practice. For example, how do you determine work schedules and salary? Do you offer a performance review at 90 days and quarterly or annually afterward? Can the employee ask for informal, unscheduled performance reviews? The answers to these questions aren't as important as the fact that you answer them and communicate effectively.

4. Help them put down roots.

Cultivating a new team member is a lot like nurturing a transplanted tree. A tree transplant needs water every day for a week, every week for a month, and every month for a year. Just imagine how welcomed a new hire would feel if you invited her to lunch every day for a week, every week for a month, and every month for a year.

You could also show your support by offering to help her file medical records, clean the kennels, or tackle another task she's working on. Or try asking, "How's your new job going?" Remember, it's not easy to be the new person. And if there's an established team (and there usually is), you need to help the newbie feel welcome.

One word of caution: It's best to confine your comments to positive, supportive statements. For example, your impulse might be to say, "Let me tell you about Shannon. She's a know-it-all, so we ignore her." While well-intentioned, this creates an atmosphere of antagonism. It's better to say, "Shannon can be intimidating at first, but in the long run you'll see how much we appreciate her skills on our team."

5. Nurture your sprouts.

We all prefer different approaches to learning. Some people flourish when they watch someone demonstrate a task and then practice it themselves. Others learn best when they take notes, study, and ask questions. When you identify the approach that works best for your new team member, adjust your training to fit his or her learning style. (See "Are You a Lily in a Rose Garden?".) For example, if you're a fast-paced trainer you may need to slow down and offer the explanations a methodical trainee needs, while a methodical trainer may need to offer more hands-on training opportunities to hold the attention of a fast-paced trainee who wants to dive right in.

6. Don't transplant your blooms too soon.

A phase training program offers new hires the best chance for growth. Just don't drop the watering can at the first sign of a bud. I've seen it happen all too often; the new hire becomes somewhat self-sufficient, we get busy, and we drop the ball and never finish training. Some new hires may survive, but if they haven't been trained thoroughly they may learn tasks incorrectly. For those who leave, you're stuck back in the cycle of finding and training new team members.

To avoid this pitfall, try to share the training responsibilities with other experienced team members. If each person teaches specific tasks, the bulk of the training doesn't sit on one person's shoulders and the new employee benefits from different training styles. This is a nice way to build a sense of camaraderie among the team.

Just remember, not all flowers bloom at the same time. Some new hires require more tending, while others need more space. A team member who takes longer to learn may be someone who appreciates systems and consistency. Once she understands the necessities of the job, she may be more likely to stick around for a long time. And a new hire who learns quickly may grow bored quickly, so she may need more stimulation to keep her happy and growing at work.

My advice: Don't confine your training to a timetable. Instead, train the new team member completely on the tasks in phase one of the training program, then move to phase two when she's ready—within reasonable limits. You'll use your job descriptions to develop three to seven levels of phase training, depending on the team member's responsibilities.

Training usually takes between three weeks and three months. New managers are the exception. The first year presents a steep learning curve, so they often need the better part of a year to take on all of the responsibilities of their position.

Are you a lilly in a rose garden?

One final thought: Even with the best care, some of your buds won't bloom. Don't let it get you down. Just remember to offer each of your new hires the same care and support—and celebrate the beautiful garden of happy team members you've helped create.

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