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You're expecting too much from your new hires. Here's why.

The perfect hire.

Their resume was outstanding. The references exuded praise for the individual's past job performance. Although rigorous and lengthy, they sailed through the interview process without hesitation. Finally, you've done it—found the perfect hire for the position. Excited about their potential to make an impact right out of the gate, you pat yourself on the back, reenergized for the next task on your to-do list. Then, weeks later, as you check in on your new hire, you discover that the gem you were sure you found has lost its shine. Your high expectations end in disappointment. You question yourself, what did I miss? The truth is you didn't miss a thing. The gem you saw during the interview process still exists. It just happens to be temporarily cloaked in a shroud of fear.

High expectations, hijacked amygdala, increased chance of failure.

While it is easy to see the outward signs that performance isn't going as expected, it takes a little more empathy and mindfulness to understand what is happening inwardly. And inwardly, I mean what is happening mentally and emotionally with the new hire. Consider for a moment the individual's circumstance. The new hire is coming into a new role, a new manager, a new company, and sometimes even a new physical location. This new environment leaves them stripped of all feelings of comfort and safety. It hijacks their amygdala. And new hire or a seasoned pro, a hijacked amygdala increases the chance of failure.

In case you are new to the term hijacked amygdala, Daniel Coleman coined the term in his book Emotional Intelligence: Why it matters more than IQ. Amygdala hijack refers to the situations where the amygdala overrides control of a person's ability to respond rationally to a perceived threat – the logical brain gets impaired. Understanding their circumstances and what is happening mentally and emotionally under the surface makes it easier to comprehend why pre-hire and post-hire can look so dramatically different. You weren't wrong; there's nothing wrong with the new hire. What is missing is a more human-centered approach to leadership. What I call leading by design.

Questions not expectations

In an article posted by Harvard Business Review recently on LinkedIn, they posed 5 Questions to Ask When Starting a New Job they recommended new hires ask themselves when starting a new job. They were great questions for any new hire to consider. To summarize, the questions were:

  1. How will I create value?

  2. How am I expected to behave?

  3. Whose support is critical?

  4. How will I get some early wins?

  5. What skills do I need to develop to excel in this role?

Don't get me wrong, these are great questions and could be helpful on some level. However, given the likely hijacked amygdala we discussed, I'm not sure how likely it is that these will come to mind for most new hires. However, as the leader of the new hires, we must ask ourselves some fundamental questions if we expect our new hires to arrive at the correct answers to these questions. With so much on the plate of a new hire coming in under a new manager, new company, and new role, it's important as leaders to take responsibility for setting them up for success.

Creating Value

If leaders expect new hire's to add value, we must ask ourselves, "how can we make our goals for this individual crystal clear?" Some additional questions leaders can contemplate are

  • Given the purpose of the team and the individual's position, what creates the most value?

  • Given the other team members' and this individual's strengths, what gap will they fulfill? Have I acknowledged the new hire's strengths and shared my enthusiasm for how this will bring value to the team? Acting on this second question is a great step in creating an inclusive and safe environment that will help calm the amygdala of the new hire.

  • What does it look like to create value for our clients? How do the new hire's duties and strengths translate to creating this value?

Behavioral expectations

Behave? Really? Are we raising children? I know it may seem like it at times. First, however, it's essential to distinguish achievement from expectations. This quote by Bruce Lee comes to mind:

"I'm not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you're not in this world to live up to mine."

Questions we as leaders need to ask ourselves:

  • How might I model the behavior and character traits I want my team members to exude?

  • Am I publically recognizing and rewarding those team members already demonstrating those traits?

  • Am I confronting team members who are disrupting the team and our goal achievement by not behaving appropriately?

The need for support

This question that HBR suggested gave me quite a pause. 🤦🏼‍♀️ Do we really expect a new hire, with a new manager, in a new company to know where to go for support? That's our job as leaders in a company. Questions to ensure we take responsibility include:

  • Have I introduced vital team members or cross-function departments supporting the new hire?

  • Have I confirmed the new hire taps into the training support needed to succeed? (Think more than - here's your login and the modules you need to complete)

  • How can I make them feel comfortable enough that they can come to me when the people and resources I've provided don't meet their needs?

Early wins

Who doesn't enjoy wins? We all do! Wins make us feel competent, which is essential for new hires and reduces the effects of amygdala hijacking. Early wins also give us the courage to tackle the next thing. If successes aren't happening, it's likely that they are either vague or have yet to be defined. But, again, expecting employees to be able to answer this for themselves is one that will lead to disappointment. So instead, as leaders, we should ask ourselves:

  • What does an early win look like for this position and the project currently underway for the team?

  • Have I communicated what early win opportunities I see?

  • Where do they exist, or are they most important to me and the team's vision?

Skills to excel by

Skills and the support mentioned above are linked. New hires need support from others to succeed, while skills are what they will use to support themselves in achieving success. But sometimes humans can'