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7 Ways to De-Motivate a New Employee (and What to Do Instead)

Jeff HadenJeff Haden·

Search for advice about getting new employees off to a great start and you’ll repeatedly see how important it is to give them plenty of time to “get comfortable” and “settle in.”

And long lunches with team members, and plenty of opportunities for water cooler small talk so they “get to know other employees as people.”

Please!!

The first few days of employment are critical. New employees are a lot like cruise ships: Once their course is set—especially if that course is the wrong course—it takes significant time and energy to change their direction.

And just as importantly, you waste the opportunity to let the employee enjoy early, small achievements – achievements that are the foundation not only of learning and engagement, but of long-term motivation. (Small, consistent achievements create tiny doses of motivation that, as I describe in my book The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win, keep you on track as you work to achieve huge goals.)

Here are seven ways your organization can get new employees off to the wrong start – and what you should do instead.

#1 Play “Welcome wagon.”

Strong interpersonal relationships, positive working relationships, lasting friendships… those come later, if ever. You hire employees to work, not build personal relationships.

Absolutely be polite, courteous, and friendly, but also stay focused on the fact that every employee is hired to perform a job… and jobs involve work. Let new employees earn the respect and friendship of others through hard work and achievement.

It’s impossible to make good friends in a few days, but it is possible to hit the ground running.

#2 Train comprehensively.

Many training guides say providing a broad context for every task is critical for new employees.

Nope: Initially, a new employee doesn’t need to know how they fit into the overall operation. They need to know how to perform the tasks they were hired to perform. Leave the comprehensive overview approach for later, when they are better able to put their role into context.

Besides, people best learn to master complex tasks when those tasks are broken down into smaller, more manageable chunks. That’s how incredibly successful people achieve mastery: They break complex tasks into smaller tasks, work to master the first task, feel good about that mastery… and the satisfaction they gain motivates them to work hard to master the next task. In short, success breeds success – so the primary goal of any training program should be to set the stage for small early successes.

That kind of process builds momentum. That kind of process builds engagement.

That kind of process results in mastery.

Along the way you can start to introduce a more comprehensive view of job functions and how those functions tie into other operations and efforts. Think of it this way: How can you understand how your role fits into the broader organization when you don’t even know your role?

#3 Be slow to give feedback.

New employees are tentative, nervous, and tend to make mistakes; it comes with the territory. So, it may seem harsh or unfair to correct or critique… but if you don’t, you lose the opportunity to set the right tone.

Mastering a skill requires constant feedback. That’s why the best training methods – for employees, athletes, musicians, anyone – involve constant, objective feedback. Any process without a built-in continuous feedback loop is an inefficient process.

#4 Fail to set immediate and concrete goals.

Successful organizations execute. Set up your training plan so every new employee completes at least one specific job-related task on the very first day.

When they do, not only do you establish that output is all-important, new employees go home feeling a sense of personal achievement – which makes them eager to experience that same feeling tomorrow. Entire days spent in orientation are boring and unfulfilling, and they make the eventual transition to “work” harder.

Make each day a blend of orientation and real work.

#5 Make them wait.

It’s hard to coordinate new employee orientation and training. Supervisors, trainers, and mentors get delayed or called away. (After all, they have other jobs too.)

But when that happens what message have you sent? New employees who sit waiting—we’ve all been in that position, and hated it—decide you don’t value continuous performance.

#6 Let new employees immediately modify processes.

Granted, there is a better way to perform just about any task. Hopefully new employees will find better, faster, cheaper ways to perform their jobs.

In the first few weeks, though, a new employee should not be allowed to reinvent your wheel until they fully understand how your current wheel works.

Be polite, but ask them to hold their ideas for now. Early focus should be on mastery; then they can focus on improvement.

#7 Immediately grant broader authority.

Empowerment is a privilege. Empowerment is not a right. A new employee should earn the right to make broader decisions, to take on additional authority, or to be given latitude and discretion. Earned empowerment is the only valid empowerment culture.

Give new employees the tools they need to succeed. Then let them earn greater authority and privilege. Accountability and responsibility should always precede privilege.

Don’t worry: Great employees will be eager.


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