Thoughts on ways to improve the management of professional services firms

Thursday, August 31, 2006

People Management in Professional Services - Induction

In my last post People Management in Professional Services - Recruitment I provided a simple recruitment check list. I now want to extend this to the next stage in the process by looking at induction.

I am constantly surprised at the number of firms without defined staff induction processes or where induction processes are limited to provision of the most basic information and sometimes just to junior staff. All this ignores two basic realities:

  1. The longer term attitudes of staff towards the firm are strongly influenced by their experiences during the recruitment phase and then their first period on the job. It does not matter what you say, it's what you do during this period that is important.
  2. It is in the interests of all firms to make new staff as productive as possible as quickly as possible.

Just to illustrate this last point by analogy. Recruitment is expensive, especially if time costs are taken into account. Then people have to be paid regardless of performance. No firm would let a new $100,000 asset sit idle or partially idle accruing costs, yet that is just what some firms do with their new people.

As with the recruitment case, a simple check list follows:

  1. If you have followed the recruitment processes I outlined you already know what you expect from your new staff member. You have a feel for that staff member's current attitude, knowledge, skills and judgement.
  2. Think through what you expect your new staff member to be able to do at the end of three months. I have selected three months because this is a common end to the probationary period. This step provides a base for both induction action and subsequent performance review.
  3. Taking this as a base, look at any gaps that might exist in knowledge, skills etc that might need to be filled via formal or, more likely, on the job training. Work out what you might do to fill those gaps. This should be done in conjunction with the person who will have direct supervisory responsibility.
  4. Work out what information the person will need about the firm and its procedures. Decide how the person is to be given that information.
  5. Decide where the person is to sit, what things they will need, the most basic housekeeping stuff.
  6. Work out how the person is to be welcomed, who they will need to meet. The human elements.
  7. Ensure that the initial work the person will do is sufficiently defined so that they have something to start on at once.
  8. Develop an overall three month induction plan based on steps 1 through 7. Make sure that the necessary machinery is in place and that other people in the firm are aware of what they have to do. To take a very simple example, if the new staff member is to meet a busy senior person, make certain that there is time in that senior person's diary.
  9. Explain the induction plan to the new staff member so that they are clear.

A key thing to remember is to keep it all as simple as possible.

In my post on People management in professional services - a training primer 1, I spoke of the learning curve effect, the time taken for people to learn to do knew things. You want your new people to move along this curve as quickly as possible.

People absorb new things at different rates. Further, all people stop learning once they reach overload. This is especially so for a new staff member who will already be under a degree of emotional pressure.

The key is not to overload. Chunk the induction process so that the staff member has time to get comfortable, to absorb initial information, to reflect. By all means increase the pressure over time, but do so in a realistic way.

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