Teach Your New People the Top 15

It happens all the time. A new hire arrives for the first day of work. The supervisor rattles off a list of responsibilities and resources. The newbie nods over and over. The supervisor says, “You got that?” The newbie answers, “Yup.” And the supervisor says, “Good. Let’s get to work.”

Then the newbie bombards the supervisor with endless questions for the next several weeks until he or she comes up to speed. This is not the intent, of course. But it is the reality for more new hires than anyone likes to admit. If you think back to your first job, chances are it happened to you.

So how do you help new hires make routine decisions faster and with more confidence? The solution is simple and easy to implement – Build a list of the 15 most common decisions the person will have to make. Then teach them how to make those decisions. These decisions will cover the majority of problems they will need to resolve in any given week. Not only will you preempt the constant questions, the new employee will develop the confidence to act independently. Consider two examples:

Skylar has just been hired to work in the service department of a small manufacturer. Her job will be to resolve in-bound customer questions and concerns. If Jack, her supervisor, was to list them, chances are there will be fifteen that cover 80% of the problems Skylar will face. These might include delivery damage, missing parts, and customers asking for operating instructions. With little effort, Jack can explain the options available for resolution in each situation. Then he can role play each with Skylar for a few minutes. Chances are, Skylar’s up-to-speed time will be reduced by weeks. On top of this, Jack won’t have to deal with so many little questions.

Then there’s Colin. He’s been hired to manage a small art and framing shop. With a degree in management, Jill, his area manager, assumed that he can make the basic decisions required to run the store. But rather taking this for granted, Jill could make a list of the top fifteen daily decisions Colin will make. These might include employee absences, cash drawers that don’t balance, and customers asking for changes on already customized items. As with Jack, Jill can explain the options available for each situation and role play them with Colin. The result will be a confident manager after four week, instead of eight or even twelve.

The key to this process has to do with the development of intuition. Seasoned employees rely on their “sixth-sense” to act with ease and speed. This is because their brains recognize patterns in how they make decisions and apply these patterns to novel, but similar situations. (Consider, for example, the last time you were faced with a problem and your little voice said, “Oh, this is just like . . .” and guided you to act based on that experience. That’s pattern recognition.)

So the choice is yours. You can spend your time answering the endless questions new hires need answered or preempt many of them by teaching your new people the Top 15.

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