How Long Should You Observe A New Employee?

“From now on, time will pass without artificial academic measure. It will go by like the wind. Whatever you do, do it now. For life is time, and time is all there is.”  – Gloria Steinem (Commencement address, Tufts University, May 17, 1987)

You hire someone new. You have every reason to believe he will be a superstar. Impeccable references. Solid credentials. A great interview.

He starts off quietly. He shows up for work on time, gets busy, stays cheerful. He makes no mistakes. You have nothing to complain about, but you feel disappointed. He is not the ball of fire you thought he would be. You figure that he may be busy learning the ropes. You give him time to get adjusted.

Weeks go by, and nothing amazing happens. You draw him out. He is responsive but not dynamic. You wonder where that spark has gone. And how long it will take for his natural talent to emerge.

Consider this: New employees, like new products, show their strengths almost immediately.

Great employees don’t need a lot of time to get adjusted. They learn their jobs quickly and then go on to learn about the business itself. They set for themselves the highest level of standards and seek to meet those standards from day one.

So the answer to the “how long?” question is “not long at all.”

I’ve come to this conclusion reluctantly after years of nurturing, coddling, and patiently waiting. When it comes to work, I’m a Professor Higgins. I like to find hopeless cases and improve them. But this approach works better in Broadway musicals than it does in business. My patience and attention has been largely wasted. I would have done much better with my time had I spent it finding better people.

Next time you hire someone, do the following:

Determine what level of performance you want.

Make sure the new employee understands what that is.

Set a specific early deadline for evaluation — a week or two is plenty.

Keep him only if he has met or exceeded your standards.

What do you do about the employees you already have?

Some of them may be very good. Most probably are not. You can’t bring everyone up to the highest standards in one fell swoop, but you can commit to steadily replacing your weakest performers with potential superstars. By getting rid of the weakest and keeping only the new employees who meet your high standards, you will develop a first-class team of workers before you know it.