Supporting new staff

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Induction – the process of introducing new members of staff to their workplace and role – should begin as soon as the new employee arrives. The success of the University depends upon our ability to recruit and retain excellent people at every level. First impressions are important, and induction procedures can make the difference between retaining or losing good people.

Effective induction can

  • make the new employee feel welcome, helping them to settle successfully into their new role;
  • enable them to learn the role and perform it well;
  • provide clarity on performance expectations;
  • lead into an effective probation process.

Induction includes some ‘basic requirements’ (covered at ‘Starting your new job’, and in the Online induction resources).  Apart from these, induction covers two broad areas: the working environment and culture, and the requirements of the post including how the new starter will learn the role.

The working environment and culture

Without adequate context it can be very difficult for individuals to fully understand their role and what they are ultimately contributing. Each unit, department or faculty at Oxford has its own organisational structures and procedures; there are also ‘cultural’ aspects of departmental life: the rules and norms which are not usually written down. It is important that these are communicated early on in the induction process, otherwise new staff may consider their behaviour to be appropriate and acceptable when it is not. This applies equally to new staff who have worked at the University before. The line manager is best placed to provide most of this information and guidance, which may include practical aspects like access to facilities of the department (such as stationery, photocopying, expense claims); formal and informal communication methods (from departmental committees to coffee breaks and social events); and norms and expectations concerning matters such as working hours, dress codes and smoking.

The requirements of the post

New members of staff need to understand what is expected of them in their role, otherwise problems may arise with successful completion of the probationary period. Helping a new member of staff understand the requirements of the post is best carried out by the individual’s line manager. If the previous post-holder is still working in the department or the University, they may also be involved. Learning how to carry out the new role may involve being shown how to perform aspects of the role, watching demonstrations or observing activities, and taking on new tasks under close supervision, as well as attending courses or workshops. The line manager plays a crucial and ongoing role in helping a new starter to learn, by providing opportunities for them to understand the requirements of the role, assess their own skills and learning needs, and be open about what they need to learn. Most of this takes place in one-to-one meetings (‘supervision’), probationary reviews and PDRs, but line managers should arrange for new employees to be able ask for help whenever necessary. There is specific guidance on induction for research staff (see the Research Staff Code of Practice), and Departmental Administrators (and equivalent roles).

The time it takes to learn a new role varies with the complexity and time-scales of the job. However, by the end of their first few weeks a new postholder should understand the following:

  • the function of the role and what is expected of them;
  • who the key members of staff in the department are and what they do;
  • the basic geography and the facilities of the department;
  • training and development needs and how these are to be addressed, including whom to approach should they identify any further induction/development needs;
  • the relationship of the process of induction to the probation and PDR processes, and when their mid-probationary review meeting will take place.

The purpose of a probationary period is to ensure that anyone taking up a new appointment is, within a reasonable period of time, able to gain a full understanding of the requirements of the post and to achieve a satisfactory level of performance. See HR support's guidance on probation for more detail.

During probation, new staff will be likely to benefit from regular and relatively frequent one-to-one meetings with their line manager. They should also have a mid-probation review and an end-of-probation review, both diarised well in advance. 

Once probation is successfully completed, staff should continue to have routine one-to-one meetings with their line manager, probably less frequently than before. They should also have a regular (annual for professional services staff) personal or career development review, known as PDR or CDR.

You can find ideas and resources on supporting your people’s learning needs at Developing others.

These tips will particularly help you to support your new staff as they settle in and familiarise themselves with their role, and then to continue supporting their self-development and improvement in the role.

1. Provide a safe learning environment

As a manager, your role in supporting new staff goes far beyond the procedural requirements of induction and probation. You set the tone for all your staff, and above all for new members of your team.  

Many schools of thought, including the teaching and caring professions, have suggested a three-part role for those who have responsibility for others. Managers need to carry out:

  • a supervisory or ‘managerial’ role – e.g. setting and review standards, expectations, targets
  • a supportive role – e.g. providing a reassuring framework and environment, one-to-ones
  • a developmental role – e.g. considering and discussing development needs and possibilities, providing opportunities

In the induction process and probationary period, managers need to pay special attention to all three roles. For example:

  • If, as a manager, you are only ever in ‘managerial’ mode, the standards you set may not be achieved if the new staff member doesn’t feel that you can be approached with problems. Paying attention to the supportive role gives all staff a safe learning environment in which to get better at their roles.
  • If, as a manager, you neglect the developmental role, staff may feel that they aren’t expected to make progress or improvements, and may become demotivated.

2. Encourage self-development

When the time is right, which might be soon after the successful completion of probation, you could start to introduce opportunities for new staff to develop. We provide resources to help people develop themselves in their role; working together, you and your staff member can make the most of every learning opportunity using the performance management cycle: PLAN – DO – REVIEW

  • PLAN the development or area for improvement: the manager’s role is to set standards and expectations, agree objectives
  • DO the activity, undertake the learning or make the change: the manager’s role is to keep track and discuss progress
  • REVIEW the learning or progress: the manager’s role is to give constructive feedback and help the staff member to embed the learning in everyday working life.
  • …and then PLAN further development.

3. Think creatively about development

  • 70% of impactful learning happens on the job (i.e. is experiential)
  • 20% happens in social interaction
  • 10% happens in structured learning

(Eichinger, R and Lombardo, M, The Career Architect Development Planner, 1996)

There are many alternatives to sending your staff on courses. Consider:

  • A stretching objective: something new or outside their present experience
  • Work shadowing
  • Formal secondment
  • Assignment to a project, to see or carry out a particular role (needs to be short and fixed term and specified as a training opportunity)
  • Reading, desk research, YouTube, TedX talks
  • Visit to another workplace
  • A mentor (internal or external to department)
  • Observation of a particular activity (e.g. committee meeting)
  • Trial and error (giving people permission to try something out)
 
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