How to help someone new (and also help yourself)

Helping new team members is one of the many things omitted from every job description. Here’s a few different ways to think about increasing empathy towards new team members and being more useful.

Much has been written about how important hiring is to a team and organization. Indeed, getting the right people into the right roles is probably the most important thing any team can do. But a close second is getting those new people into the mix, feeling welcomed and working effectively (also known as on-boarding). This second step is where a lot of teams struggle.

Sure, some new hires come in to their new role with a nice welcome email waiting, a package of team merchandise and helpful materials at their desk, and perhaps even a suggested 30-60-90 day plan for getting up to speed. But even if that’s done (and that’s a big if), it’s likely that the expectations and plans for the team to help them on-board have not been discussed at any length. As a result of this and many other factors, most people don’t prioritize enough time to help new hires, and assume that they will ask if they need something or that they are “drinking from the fire hose” and that it’s best to not overwhelm them at the start. This is a shame.

Helping new team members is one of the many things omitted from every job description. Here’s a few different ways to think about increasing empathy towards new team members and being more useful.

Act like you are in the middle of nowhere…

Have you noticed how the social norms for interacting with people when you are on a city sidewalk are totally different than when you are on a mountain trail? The expectation in the city is that it’s not rude to pay little attention to each other, and you are justified to not make eye contact or at most give a little smile or hello. But, if you are on a trail in the mountains and you encounter other hikers, it’s generally a rare occurrence and the expectation is reversed. The norm is to say hi, and more than likely you will be inclined (or approached) to chat about your dog, how’s it looking up ahead, or where you are from.

I think we often default to treating new team members like we’re passing on a city sidewalk, and they probably feel like they are out in the mountains, expecting the next person they see will make time to talk about what it’s like up ahead. Act like you are on the mountain with them.

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”

Fred Rogers

Always give before asking or being asked…

Come bearing gifts. New team members don’t know what they need to know. Telling them you are “here to help” or to “let me know what I can do to help you once you get settled in” is not actually helpful. What is helpful is to put together a list of things you wished you knew when you started, introductions to other people that you think would be useful for them to know, or simply inviting them to lunch.

Be careful with “What do you need help with?”. That sounds helpful but it puts the onus on them. Instead, come to them with something they didn’t ask for that you think they might need. Doing some prep work for them is an easy way to build trust and it has very little downside (you needed to organize those notes anyway!).

Help them write their own stories…

With any new acquaintance there are a lot things you won’t know, which equals a lot of blanks to be filled in. Resist the urge to make up stories to fill these blanks. They are going to make mistakes, ask questions you thought were obvious, and also do a lot of things better than you. It’s going to be tempting to tell yourself stories that start with “They should be doing this…” or “They shouldn’t of done that…”. Anytime you recognize that coming to the surface, try to change the narrative.

The story that you want to write should be one that is about helping them by being generous and useful. The story about offering your expertise on a new issue or partnering with them to start a new project. The one where you improved your work because of something you learned from them. Change the framing from “They should do this…” to “I can help by…”.

“It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.”

Napoleon Hill

Welcoming a new team member is something to celebrate and enjoy, and on-boarding them should be a serious commitment for everyone on the team. Helping them succeed helps everyone, including yourself.

Read this before you go back to work

To me by me. A reminder before going back to work after time away.

Hey there,

You are about to go back to work after some time off. Maybe you just finished the weekend or you were off for a couple of weeks for the holidays, it doesn’t really matter. You’re going to need to get back in the groove of things and it’s highly likely you will feel overwhelm along the way because it’s happened before. Many times. In fact, it always happens.

See if this sounds familiar:

It’s Monday and you are looking forward to getting back to work so you can get back to your routine (alone time, finally!), contribute to something with like-minded people and do meaningful work. You get up and do your morning workout and are feeling pretty good. You sit down before looking at mail or other inputs and start making lists and getting organized so you can be intentional and focused right off the bat. Hell yes!

Seems all good but quickly that to-do list gets long and you start realizing how much stuff there is that was left hanging before you left or that you’ve committed to doing to meet your goals. Then, you look at your calendar and realize how many things shifted around, how many new things are there and, shit, what you actually scheduled that you need to prepare for and you need be “on” for a meeting an hour. Along with that, you start looking through all of the emails, messages, notifications up, and holy shit there is zero time to sort through it before you are sucked into the “Hey, how was the break?” catch-up conversation and you never got to really think about things before your first meeting starts.

This is the tipping point. Recognize that feeling of overwhelm? Say hi. It’s here just like we knew it would be. Now you have a choice.

One path is to dig in and grind. You can try to catch-up while in your meetings, not being fully present, get through your unread messages, not fully comprehending them, and get a partial list of your to-dos down on paper, which adds to the feeling of overwhelm. Now you’re still feeling behind, and you feel bad for how you showed up in that meeting. This is the path of resistance.

The other path is to realize that beginning again will be a bit messy, and focus on doing things well versus doing things fast. Focus on being present, only reading or working on what you can do with full attention, connecting with people and asking them what you can help with, be ok with a lot of unread stuff. Stay centered on your intention and don’t sacrifice quality. This is the path of acceptance.

Which path will you choose? Here is a checklist of things that have worked for you in the past and that you should pay attention to:

  1. Set the right conditions up-front. Ensure your good autopilot is turned-on prior to arrival. Eat healthy, sleep well, exercise and take care of yourself the day before.
  2. Be intentional. Set your intention for the day and week, keep perspective (practice zooming out), manage your to-do list and limit work in progress.
  3. Stay present. Focus on making the next 5 minutes rock. Don’t worry about the future, it will take care of itself.
  4. Fly high. Don’t give any mental space to negativity, blame, or criticism. People will forget the problems of the day but they will remember the way you handled them.
  5. Be gentle with yourself. The golden role applies in reverse. How you treat yourself is ultimately the way you will treat other people.

That’s it, now go get ’em. You’re going to do great.

Love,
-Yourself