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Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

First Impressions

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Managers expect job candidates and new employees to make a good first impression, but in doing so, these same managers may forget to put their own best foot forward on behalf of their organization.

Most federal agencies have formal orientation programs for new employees, but they tend to concentrate on generalities. When managers take ownership of the first impression presented to new employees, they can help increase productivity, retention and employee investment.

Doug and Polly White, workforce management experts and principals at Whitestone Partners, recently released their new book, Let Go to Grow (Palari Publishing, September 2011), which focuses on why some businesses thrive and others fail to reach their potential.

Polly White writes that there are five "musts" for creating a great first impression for new employees.

  • Have a plan. The first hours and days of an employee's new career help determine if she becomes productive quickly or languishes, White says. Orientation is the time when workers become acquainted with the requirements and expectations of their job, the culture of the organization, and where they fit in. Personalized orientation plans increase the speed at which employees become fully productive. Managers should make sure these plans balance time spent learning about the organization and co-worker responsibilities with the individual's specific duties. To the extent possible, White writes, the first hours of the employee's time in the organization should not be dedicated to filling out endless forms. "Spending your first hours creating a friendly, comfortable and productive experience for the employee is a better use of time," she writes.
  • Have a place for your employees to call their own. Nothing says, "we really want you to be happy and productive" like having an employee's work space labeled, clean and stocked with all required equipment when he arrives, White notes. The day before a new employee is to start working, take a few minutes to restock his future workstation and get rid of unnecessary clutter.
  • Introduce them to their co-workers. Managers can ramp up the standard tour and introduction for new employees in ways that benefit both the employees and the organization. White recommends spending at least part of the first day celebrating the arrival of the new employee. Have coffee with everyone on the team and allow time for socializing and building rapport, she recommends. And if possible, add a donut or snack to the mix. "There is nothing like food to help with bonding and creating great memories," she writes.
  • Choose carefully when involving others in the onboarding process. White warns about what she calls the "curmudgeon buzzard," the long-term employee who may swoop in on the new employee and regale her with stories of times when management was unfair or unkind to the rank and file. If the curmudgeon buzzard unloads on the new employee before she has fully formed an opinion of the organization, those stories can chip away at her confidence and enthusiasm. White advises coaching new employees yourself or assigning them to employees who will represent the organization in its best light, at least for the first few hours or days of their employment. This will allow them to form a favorable impression of the organization, which will be hard for even the curmudgeon buzzard to change.
  • Outline what new employees need to accomplish to succeed -- then set them up for success. Honest and clear communication with new employees on Day 1 can set them up to excel. Explain to new employees exactly what you want them to do during their first few days at the office and how you will measure their success, White writes. This can increase their confidence and the likelihood that you will get great performance. Make sure the tasks you select will be part of the employees' routine assignments and are very doable. Keep in mind that you want employees to succeed in the early days so that they will be eager to take on the more difficult work that lies ahead.
 
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