Probationary periods and employee learning curves don't always match. Sometimes a new hire catches on to everything like a speed demon. Other times, the learning curve is seemingly paved with mud.
What can you do to ensure your employee learning curves are free from roadblocks?
Set up employee for success - before they're hired
To clear the way for employee success is to start the learning process early from your side of the road. During the interview process, perhaps once you've narrowed down your candidates to the top three, you can ask the candidates how they learn best.
Ask candidates for examples of when a previous employer got it right:
What was the environment like?
What tools were they given?
Were there any other people involved in the process?
How quickly were they able to not only catch on to the new job, but how long did it take them to feel comfortable taking control of the wheel?
Inform yourself once they're hired
Once you've received the signed offer letter, send out an assessment like a DISC or Myers-Briggs as part of the onboarding process. These assessments provide useful information including, how:
The new hire learns best
To best manage them
They naturally communicate
Best to reward them
Share that information with the new hire and the management team. That's a critical step, especially if you're hiring for remote positions because managers won't have the opportunity to get to know remote new hires as well as they will onsite employees.
Inform the team once they're on-board
Once new hires are on board, encourage them to share with their teammates and trainers how they best learn and how best to communicate with them.
For example, if someone learns best by doing, you don't want the trainer to hand over a procedure manual and expect the new hire to grasp the new concepts or procedures on their own. You'd want the trainer to provide the manual but also walk the new hire through how to do the job. Then, stick around to answer any questions.
Tailor the probationary period
Sometimes you find a person who doesn't quite have the exact background spelled out in a position description but has transferable skills or significant work experience that you think will add to the position or team. When you hire someone like that, you should know up front that the employee learning curve will be longer than usual - perhaps longer than the traditional probationary period.
If your policies allow it, tailor the probationary period to the person.
Say you promote a person into the human resources department.
She's never worked in human resources but has been a supervisor.
She has the personality you're looking for and knows the company mission and vision.
She doesn't know labor laws in detail or rules governing employee benefits, payroll, etc.
You can set up a training schedule with regular checkpoints along the way to get her up to speed. Provide other resources like webinars and access to professional associations to teach her the basics in these areas to get her started.
The schedule might be four months long rather than the usual three; extend the probationary period one month to ensure she grasps those basics and has a solid foundation to build upon.
Shorten the employee learning curve
You should do anything you can to shorten the employee learning curve. For example:
1. Assign a buddy.
It's helpful to have someone other than a supervisor to tap to learn a job.
Buddies can accelerate new hire productivity and even enhance job satisfaction, which has the added advantage of making it easier to retain people. New employees who are made to feel part of the work group gain more confidence and are likely to become more productive faster, according to Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
Buddies not only make new hires feel welcome, but they can also answer questions and help navigate your company's culture. They can introduce the new hire around, and answer questions without making the new hire appear incompetent. They can also be a resource when their leader is unavailable.
2. Create an individualized training plan.
Work with the new hire and supervisor to come up with an individualized training plan that considers what the new hire already knows. This will allow the leader and buddy to focus on areas where the new hire is weak or has no experience.
3. Build in communication checkpoints.
Throughout the training and probationary period, have set points where the new hire, leader and even the buddy, check in to see if the new hire is grasping concepts, understanding procedures, and acclimating to the culture. That way you know if that person needs more training, different training, more resources or anything like that.
4. Follow up and follow through.
When you set checkpoints for or receive questions from your new hire, make the time to follow up. Then make sure you follow through with whatever it is you say you're going to provide or do.
5. Provide meaningful positive feedback.
People want and need to know when they're doing things correctly. They need to know they're fitting in. Make it a point to follow your new hire's progress. Take the time to personally give meaningful positive feedback be it in-person or in a note or email. (If you've assessed your new hire, you'll know how they need to receive the feedback to make it meaningful.) Be specific so the behavior can be repeatable, for example:
Great job on your presentation today! Your facts were clear, and your analysis was creative and accurate. You presented your information in such a clear and interesting way; you kept the audience engaged. Well done!
6. Provide meaningful negative feedback.
When providing negative feedback, it should be
Well thought out
With reasons why something didn't work and suggestions for improvement
Solicit the new hire's help in coming up with ways (and timelines) to improve.
7. Encourage two-way communication.
It's not enough to communicate. You must be open to being communicated to, be it positively or negatively. Foster an environment where your new hire can let you know when you need to be clearer.
If your new hire's still struggling …
When you've done everything you can to try to curb the length of your employee's learning curve and they're still having trouble, it's time to try other things.
1. Bring them to a meeting.
When they're struggling to grasp the business model, the concepts or process, bring them along to a meeting they wouldn't normally attend.
Pre-brief them before you go into a meeting; let them know what you want them to get out of if or look for.
Expose them to the business model in action.
Let them hear how concepts are developed and lived in everyday circumstances.
Let them see how others bring to life processes your employee's only read about in a procedure manual.
Then debrief them afterward. Ask what they learned and how it applies to what they're working on. It can help them connect the dots.
2. Revisit the assessment.
Ask yourself these questions:
Are you providing the right learning environment?
Are you providing feedback in the ways that will have the right impact on your new hire's behavior?
Are you communicating in ways they can absorb the information and do something with it?
Are you recognizing them in ways that will bolster the behaviors you need to see from them?
Summing it all up
There's not a one-size-fits-all employee learning curve. It depends upon the position and the background that the person coming in brings to the role. It also depends upon the training plan you have in place and how easily you can tailor it to whoever lands in the role.
If you fit the training to the person, communicate well both ways, follow up and follow through, you will be well on your way to curtailing the employee learning curve.
For more information, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to employee engagement.