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Encourage Courageous Networking to Get New Hires Off to a Strong Start

by William C. Byham, Ph.D.

Bill ByhamAll too commonly, a leader will mistakenly assume that, just because they’ve hired a great person, that person should be able to quickly figure out everything he or she needs to know to be successful. Or, the leader may falsely believe that the organization’s orientation program will provide all of the information, insights, and motivation the new hire needs, and that the leader’s role is largely to show the new hire the ropes and provide “post-mortem” coaching when the individual inevitably makes beginner’s mistakes.

This is not the case, however. Leaders need to take an active role in assuring that new team members—be they from outside the organization or promoted or transferred from within—get off to a strong start. Their early efforts, or lack thereof, go a long way toward determining whether the new team member becomes fully proficient quickly or becomes a turnover statistic.

One of the most important things a leader can do is encourage new hires to become "Courageous Networkers."

What is courageous networking?

Encourage Courageous NetworkingCourageous networking entails seeking the help of peers and others in the organization to answer questions and provide assistance with assignments and projects. It’s a behavior that accelerates a new hire’s speed to proficiency more than anything else.

Consider the following example: Michael, a manager in a large organization, hired two new team members, Colleen and Luis. Both were highly educated and technically competent. Within Colleen’s and Luis’ first weeks on the job, Michael gave each of them an assignment—a report that needed to be researched and written. Colleen, a naturally gregarious person, immediately reached out to her new peers for help. She found out how similar assignments were usually handled, and determined Michael’s expectations for the report’s length and format. Within a couple of weeks, Colleen completed the assignment. But more important, she had begun to build her network of internal contacts—people she would be able to reach out to for future projects. Colleen was a courageous networker.

Luis, meanwhile, tried to complete the project on his own, without seeking out others. He made two wrong assumptions at the outset, which led to Michael rejecting his report. In fact, Michael wound up taking the project off of Luis’ plate and giving it to Colleen who, by drawing on and further expanding her network, was able to complete it quickly. Luis was not a courageous networker.

Courageous networking does not come naturally to all people (which is why we include the word “courageous” to describe the behavior). For many, it’s just not how they operate. In fact, often courageous networking is thought to be gender-related—women are better at it—similar to their greater willingness to ask for directions. Yet it’s a behavior that should be encouraged, whether or not the individual is a natural networker.

Research has proved that courageous networking is effective. In a 2007 article published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, “Newcomer Adjustment during Organizational Socialization,” the authors presented the results of their meta-analysis of 70 different studies of new hires. Among their findings was that information seeking, the core behavior of courageous networking,“was significantly related to role clarity and social acceptance”—outcomes that, in turn, positively impacted job performance.

Why many leaders don’t encourage courageous networking

The challenge for leaders is to encourage courageous networking. Yet, many don’t, even though it clearly accelerates time to proficiency. (The outcome for Luis in the example above might have been different if Michael had realized that Luis wasn’t a courageous networker and had given him specific directions to check with others, while also encouraging and supporting him in his networking efforts.)

One reason for this is that leaders may believe that they have given the new report all the needed information and if more is needed, he or she will get it on their own and don’t need to be encouraged to ask questions of others.

Other supervisors assume that the orientation program and materials (which often include outdated manuals) provided to the new team member were adequate for orienting the individual to how the organization operates, who’s in charge of what, and the organization’s values. And what’s more, supervisors might view courageous networking as a time-consuming, as opposed to a time-saving, activity.

Four ways to promote courageous networking

On the other hand, there are at least four ways leaders can encourage courageous networking. They include:

  1. Probing for competencies associated with courageous networking (i.e., collaboration) during the selection process. Questions included in a Targeted Selection® interview can elicit data about an individual’s past courageous networking behaviors. Armed with this information, a manager can either determine that the lack of courageous networking is a negative criterion that needs to be seriously considered when making a hiring decision about the individual, or else note the area as a development opportunity once the individual is hired.
  2. Courageous networking can be covered by the manager in his or her orientation discussion with the individual. Alongside the description of the job provided to new team members, underscoring the need to get to know people and what they do, and to seek the help of others can help focus the individuals’ efforts.
  3. Assign a coach or buddy. Peer coaches or assigned “buddies” can be invaluable in helping a new team member navigate the uncharted territory that is his or her new organization. A peer buddy, who sits nearby and is readily available, can often prove especially helpful as the new employee seeks answers to the most basic questions, such as “Where is the kitchen located?” and “How does the copier work?” as well as more meaningful information about customers or projects. Working with an assigned buddy orients individuals to the value of courageous networking and encourages them to develop other “buddies” on their own.
  4. Promote interactions between the new team member and his or her new coworkers. Some ideas: organize a lunch where the new team member can meet coworkers in an informal setting; give the new team member early assignments that require assistance from others and coach the individual through the information-seeking process; have “welcome” balloons at the new employee’s desk on the first day as a visible reminder to others to stop in and say hello and introduce themselves.

What else should leaders do?

Promoting courageous networking is but one of the things leaders can do to shorten time to proficiency for new hires. Two additional important actions leaders should take include clearly communicating all expectations and helping new team members increase their confidence through personal development.

Learn more about building successful business networks.

Bill Byham, Ph.D., is DDI Founder and Executive Chairman. An internationally renowned speaker, educator, consultant and trainer, Bill is the author of 23 books, including Leaders Ready NowGrow Your Own Leaders and 70: The New 50

Posted: 30 Aug, 2016,
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