Day 1: The key to Enduring Performance

08 March, 2017

By Marcello Russo and Gabriele Morandin, University of Bologna - Bologna Business School

PRAXI’s ongoing research study with the Bologna Business School is mentioned in the original Italian article “Day 1: momento chiave per performance durature“, published in the March 2017 edition of the Harvard Business Review Italia

Surfing the web, one can find many guides on how to approach the first day of a new job: the right attitude, what to say and not to say, the winning dress code that will make a good, solid first impression, etc. These articles focus almost exclusively on the new candidate. It is difficult to find any information pertaining to the other protagonists, like the company or even the new boss. This lack of attention to how companies manage an employee’s first day is a problem that can leave many companies poorly prepared for such an important day.
Why should a company plan the first day?
Before providing tips on how to plan “Day 1”, it is necessary to clarify why this day even deserves serious thought. Management literature clearly shows that the initial period of a new hire sets the foundation for a successful collaboration. This requires the building of shared trust and the ability to understand and achieve expected performance levels in a timely fashion. Like all new relationships, a good start is fundamental for it to be long lasting and mutually beneficial.
Failing to manage this process could mean significant costs as companies watch new recruits walk out the door. New employees demonstrate a strong desire to feel immediately welcomed and guided upon entering a new firm, and they are often not afraid to change their minds if not fully satisfied by the “honeymoon period”!
What is the manager’s role?
Managers are the key to this process as they represent the first point of contact between a new employee and the company. The manager’s actions can greatly affect the self-esteem and productivity of an employee, especially the youngest team members. It is critical for managers to be aware of this and give due attention to “Day 1” by planning the agenda in advance and scheduling time with the new hire in their busy schedules. The employee should be receive a warm welcome during the first few hours, in order to clarify any doubts that he or she may have about the new job. This is also an excellent opportunity to clarify the company’s expectations of the employee as well.
What is HR’s role?
The HR Director is also pivotal in this process, although the exact role is still unclear.  Referring to the widely used job titles found in HR functions, such as “hiring manager” or “director of recruitment”, they implicitly suggest that HR’s work ends once a candidate is hired. What to do? First, HR has the opportunity to sponsor and emphasize the importance of the company’s on-boarding process. As drivers of employee integration and social inclusion, they can help ensure a positive start for the new employee and his/her colleagues and manager.
Clearly, the opportunity to influence a new employee extends beyond Day 1, for example to the third month, when the introduction phase nears completion, or in the ninth month, when the newcomer effectively becomes a “true” employee. For mass hires – such as for those organizations that take on hundreds of people a year – it is possible to monitor the integration rates using appropriate research.
Interestingly, an active research study is underway between the management consulting firm Praxi and the University of Bologna, including the authors of this article. The study aims to monitor the effectiveness of the new employee integration process at client companies for all of the candidates placed by Praxi in 2017. The companies involved have appreciated the service as well as the mark of distinction.

Positive and negative examples
Forget about large investments and special arrangements. To make an employee’s first day enjoyable requires two basic elements: time and attention. New employees need time to meet team members and time to learn the tasks to be completed, the company’s active projects and mutual expectations.  This could mean chatting over breakfast or lunch, a worthwhile investment to promote a peaceful entry. Given the understandable timidity of a new hire who is probably afraid to say and/or do something wrong, it is up to the manager to break the ice and try to put the new employee at ease.

In an interesting piece on the importance of social relationships within a company, Dutton (2003) cites the experience of a new employee in a Wall Street firm, who claimed to be shocked by the amount of information that his new boss knew about each of her employees. In just one week, the boss had quickly figured out his interests, details about his family and even his favorite dish. The manager had found out all of this information about her employees by asking questions that showed a genuine interest in each employee as a unique and important individual.  

At a prestigious American university, a study conducted on two groups of students completing an MBA in trade negotiations revealed insights on the importance of knowing each other well. The results showed that the group that had been instructed to learn more about each other prior to the start of negotiations was more satisfied and achieved better outcomes compared with the group told to focus exclusively on business.

Contrary to the cases described above, the Wall Street Journal wrote about a worker who had  found a complete lack of attention and interest on the part of his boss. The employee complained that his boss had been extremely superficial, showing him to his new office and then leaving without providing any information on what to do, not even introducing new colleagues or inviting him to tour the office. His frustration was heightened later during a business meeting when a senior manager pointed at him, exclaiming: “Who’s this? I don’t know him and that’s not good. Someone “try” and fill me in! “(Source: Wall Street Journal)
As shown by these examples, a tour of the company and its various offices is another important step to take on a new employee’s first day because it gives the newcomer an overview of the company and a chance to meet colleagues and managers in other business areas. If well managed, this step can give the employee a sense of ownership and promote rapid integration. A company tour can also reinforce the manager’s own sense of belonging and pride in being part of the organization. You would probably agree that it makes you feel proud to give guests a tour of your house and receive compliments.

Conclusions and prelude
The actions and examples discussed are relevant because all new employees ask themselves, at times unconsciously, three questions: “What is my place here? Am I the right person for this organization? Is this the right organization for me?” The answers to these questions will help determine not only the degree of integration, but also the future job performance and turnover rates.
A warm welcome, a proper orientation and discovery of the places where organizational life takes place, are more than just good deeds, they evidently play a strategic role. From this point of view, they represent key ingredients of organizational success.
We must not forget that the first day of a new job is a prelude to a stage in life that can last for years or even decades. A popular Italian saying states that “getting off on the right foot is half the battle.” Perhaps not the hippest expression, but regarding the orientation process, it really hits the mark.

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