Recognizing challenges and providing guidance for smoother staffing transitions.
By Derek Muller - Montgomery Township in Montgomery County, PA
Your trusted employee of several years (to several decades) has moved on, and your established groove is thrown off. Enter the new employee tasked with new responsibilities in a new municipality with a whole new culture to learn. It’s a lot. Change is hard. It’s inconvenient. This article is for supervisors and newly hired employees alike. I don’t have a “how-to” guide on how to skip the growing pains that come with this transition, but I hope this post provides insight to smooth out the process and open a dialogue on how we can better assimilate new employees into their positions and keep our organizations on track.
The Trial By Fire Approach
Let me start by saying there is merit to the “trial by fire” approach to training new employees. No, it’s not the smoothest method. It’s the quickest way to assess someone’s natural strengths and areas of improvement, and arguably new employees learn more information faster with this method. With that said, it does have its pitfalls, and I hope the rest of this article helps clarify when this approach is appropriate, and when it may hinder the growth and development of new employees in relation to the overall success of your organization.
Challenges Facing New Employees
No two municipalities are exactly the same, and no two employees are exactly the same. Their specific needs may vary, but here are some common challenges that face new professionals:
Shifts in Responsibilities
I’m willing to bet most of us entered the Parks & Recreation field through programming. Some were camp counselors, lifeguards, seasonal instructors, etc., but for the most part it’s the ground level aspect of running programs that attracted us and kept us invested. I remain involved because I had a supervisor early on who encouraged me to develop programs around my interests and hobbies. In my first turn as a head facility supervisor, I suddenly went from program developer to security guard. Needless to say, the day-to-day of the job was not nearly as appealing once the novelty of the promotion wore off. Community and organizational culture and needs can shift the responsibilities that fall under Parks & Recreation Professionals. Keep in mind that new employees may be experiencing a bit of a shock as they make this move from a previous position, or as they enter the field for the first time.
The notion of “replacing” someone is pretty misleading. Expecting new employees to come in and do the job exactly the same as their predecessor is unrealistic. This is also true of the community’s adjustment to the “new kid”. Comparisons will fly around, and often the employee will hear “X used to do it this way.” This is extremely frustrating to constantly hear. As a supervisor, be sympathetic to this reality. You’ve probably been through it as well. Encourage your new employees and give them time to find their path. A great story about living up to expectations and navigating this particular challenge can be found in a previous article by Jason Lang, titled “How to replace a legend…”
People are difficult. It’s tough when you are trying your best to start new programs or increase efficiency and all you meet is resistance. Maybe it’s the first time the new employee is managing a team and setting their schedules. Maybe there are established employees who have been there a very long time, and they like the way things are or the amount of control they have of the operations currently. If you can help to facilitate productive communication between employees, you help set up the new employee for success.
Proactive Steps To Help With This Transition
This may be a good article for another day, but briefly, here are some things you can do to help your new employee with their transition:
- Communicate! – Let the “new kid” know your expectations. Recognize and help them navigate the challenges they’re facing. While you don’t want to overwhelm them with information, share the information as it becomes pertinent.
- Don’t expect the new employee to just “figure it out” – This will lead to stress and lower productivity. Chances are you’ll also end up frustrating residents and other employees within your municipality that need to collaborate with your department. Give the new employee space to learn, but coach them when you can.
- Provide Resources – Sharing documents from previous events and initiatives will help the new employee learn about your larger programs and community events. Make it a habit to store all of your documents in a place where you can easily access them on your organization’s server. Make it a policy that your current employees do the same for the inevitable transition down the line. You’ll be glad you can access these files at a moment’s notice when the time comes.
Are you in the position of coaching a new employee? Are you the “new kid” in town? I’d love to continue the conversation. Email me at email@example.com if you have any thoughts on how we can further support our new professionals.