Football fans joke that in August, everybody is undefeated. We can all point to a great draft, a new coach, or a favorable schedule as reasons why this is our year. The same can be said of new hires at the onset of a new job – they’ve found a fresh, innovative company, they love the location, maybe there’s a pay raise or a great new boss. Let’s parallel the different phases of the NFL season with the experiences of a new hire and see what lessons there are to learn.
Preseason – Hope Springs Eternal
In the NFL, the pre-season is when every fan is excited. With excitement, however, comes apprehension. I’m a lifelong Detroit Lions fan, so all my optimism in August is tempered by memories of 2008, when a 4-0 preseason turned into an 0-16 regular season.
For new hires, a blackout period transitioning from candidate to new hire, when there’s little or no communication from their new company, can dampen their spirits and lead to some disengagement before ever walking through the door.
There are a few basic steps a company can take to eliminate this phenomenon:
- Provide new hires with easily consumable information about the company and keys to success. Welcome videos are a great example.
- Assign a mentor – someone on the team who can share positive experience and best practices.
- Introduce them to other key contacts, not necessarily in the same reporting group. An important question to ask is: Who does this person need to know to help get things done?
- Set goals for the first 30, 60, and/or 90 days. This establishes expectations and helps new employees understand how they will add value.
- Communicate basic logistics such as directions, work schedules, and what to expect on the first day.
Week One – An Early Crossroads
Opening day is when early optimism runs into blunt reality. We all expect a few early hiccups. Aaron Rodgers throws a last-second touchdown pass to beat your team? These things happen. But a four turnover, penalty-riddled blowout will make you seriously reconsider your Sunday plans for the rest of the year.
Working in Talent Management for several years, I have heard the horror stories. New hires sent to the wrong building or assigned to the wrong training class. Several days spent waiting for a permanent desk, laptop, or cell phone. The new hire is above all else a person, and people want to feel valued. A poor first day experience will make new employees wonder just how badly the company cares about them being there.
This issue is magnified with millennials, who are already the largest generation in the workforce and by 2025 will make up 75% of all North American employees. Millennials desire individuality and real-time recognition; renowned generational researcher Jason Dorsey notes that many will decide whether to stay with a company on the first day of work. He points out that an act as simple as having business cards ready on day one will make a new employee feel valued by their employer.
Mid-Season – The Future Takes Shape
As the calendar rolls into November, it becomes apparent which teams are going to be contenders. The Patriots look as good as ever. The Vikings started 5-0 but seem to be in a mid-season tailspin. The Browns are – well – the Browns. With half of the season still left to play, most fans have a pretty good idea of whether to expect January football in their home towns.
An Aberdeen Group study found that 86% of employees make a decision on whether to leave or stay for the long term within six months of starting a new job. Nearly one in three employees will leave a new job either voluntarily or involuntarily within the first year. Like football fans, employees see the writing on the wall and will begin making decisions about their future. Early touchpoints such as 30- and 90-day reviews can help measure an employee’s progress and head off engagement problems before they become irreversible.
The Offseason – Where True Development Happens
Football players often refer to the regular season as “a grind”. They try to rest and get healthy on a week-to-week basis, and development is mostly limited to preparation for each week’s opponent. The real work to develop players, improve skills, boost strength and conditioning, etc., happens during the offseason.
At work, this can be seen as the time when the honeymoon period is over and the spotlight is no longer on the “new” employee. In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Ceridian’s Chief People Officer Lisa Sterling asserts that “Employees both desire and deserve continuous development as they navigate their careers.”
Much has been written over the past two years about the move away from static, annual performance reviews to ongoing feedback and development. Executing on a continuous development strategy requires collaboration tools and the ability for employees to solicit as well as receive feedback. I blogged on this topic back in March using (what else) another sports analogy.
Few people go into a new job expecting to quit within the first year, and companies don’t deliberately demotivate high potential talent during the first few weeks on the job. Just as a football team’s fortunes – and the enthusiasm of its fans – can change quickly, so too can the relationship between employer and employee. Taking care to manage that relationship throughout the lifecycle – from offer acceptance to continuous feedback and long term career development – helps ensure that top talent will remain engaged and productive for years to come.