When we welcome a new team member, we often dive headfirst into discussing the "what" of their work, neglecting the crucial conversations about the "how." Taking some time up front to focus on these essential aspects can save both you and your new team member from future challenges and difficulties. Engaging in conversation starters can lay the foundation for a successful working relationship and set the stage for their performance. At their first one-on-one meeting, consider having discussions about the following four key areas:
One of the most common concerns leaders face is giving feedback, especially when it involves redirecting behavior. Many of us shy away from these conversations and delay them until it's too late. However, feedback should ideally flow like the tides—two-way, daily, and without making it a big deal. Establishing upfront that feedback is beneficial for their growth and explicitly asking how they prefer to receive feedback can smooth the entire process.
"Receiving feedback, both positive and constructive, has been incredibly valuable to me, and I want to offer the same to you.”
“To ensure it's helpful, how do you prefer to receive feedback?”
“What has worked well for you in the past?”
“Are there any approaches I should avoid?”
“When I notice room for improvement or opportunities for your growth, how would you like me to address that with you?"
Remember to highlight areas of growth and success as well. It's not solely about constructive feedback. Especially during the early months, provide specific positive feedback whenever you witness them doing well. Don't hold back on acknowledging their achievements.
It's natural for a new team member to feel a bit nervous and eager to make a positive impression. However, it can be daunting for them to admit areas where they lack confidence. Create a safe environment where they feel comfortable sharing their strengths and areas of insecurity. If you don't receive much response initially, encourage them to pay closer attention to their confidence levels over the next few weeks and revisit the conversation later.
Emphasize that the purpose of this discussion is not to shame or blame. Follow up with a question like, "How can I best support you, particularly in the areas where you feel less confident?" Offer to create a plan that ensures they receive the necessary support and commit to following through proactively.
As Brene Brown wisely states in her book Dare to Lead, "clear is kind." Yet, we often assume we share the same understanding of expectations, leading to miscommunication. Take the time to clearly define expectations, not only in terms of tasks but also regarding behavior. When assigning tasks, engage in a conversation about what success looks like, referred to as "what done looks like" by Brown.
Pay attention to the details. Make it a two-way dialogue, asking coaching questions such as, "What's important to you when we discuss this?" or "What will success look like for you in this situation?" Another valuable question is, "What will we/you see and feel if you do this well?"
Finally, ask them where they believe they might need support. Remember, it's not only acceptable to ask for help when needed; it's highly encouraged.
Identifying and utilizing strengths is not only crucial for performance but also helps prevent burnout—a desirable outcome for every leader. Take the time to identify your new team member's "zone of genius" and explore opportunities to align their work accordingly.
These questions provide clues to their strengths:
If we truly want our new team members to flourish and thrive (which should be a no-brainer), it is essential to provide them with the best possible start. This means engaging in these vital conversations upfront—with compassion and curiosity. So, the next time you welcome someone to your team, remember these four conversation starters and create a solid foundation for a successful journey together.