There are two general philosophies that most companies follow when dealing with new employees:

  •  Throw new people into the deep end of the pool, if they are good – they’ll learn how to swim. Otherwise they’ll drown (quit/ be fired)
  •  Mentor new people and help them scale gradually (3 to 6 months) – give them the opportunity to fail (and learn from the failure)

The first philosophy is perhaps ideal for an early stage start-up. No one really has the time to mentor new employees and they are expected to not only carry their own weight from day one, but also help the organization scale up.

But surprisingly, a lot of late stage start-ups/ established organizations also seem to favour this approach: swim or drown.

I strongly believe that this approach has huge flaws:

  • People who strive under enormous pressure and are capable of scaling steep learning curves are rare. And often, this phenomenal ability acts as a blocker for future growth within an organization. These individuals tend to get bored easily, need constant pressure and cannot deal with operational efficiency requirements – doing the same task over and over again using lesser resources – something every mature organization needs to master. These individuals make for phenomenal early stage employees, but not necessarily good late stage ones.
  •  A lot of people who drown are potential rock-star employees. You never get to discover their brilliance.
  •  Hiring for this specific set of skills will quickly lead to an organization that lacks diversity.

It takes a lot of effort to transition from the first to the second philosophy. The leadership team has to commit to a mentoring-based approach. And because the first philosophy delivers strong short-term gains, it is difficult to change tracks to a long-term gains approach.

So how does one make this difficult transition? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do we have enough mentors in our organization? Is one of their quarterly targets scaling up their teams/ squads?
  •  Is learning on the job part of our culture? Do we have enough learning resources and a strong on-boarding process for new employees?
  •  Are we teaching our new employees the importance of communication and asking for help?
  •  Is taking initiative encouraged openly? Is failure really acceptable?

Different approaches work at different stages of an organization’s life cycle. And not all new employees are alike. Measuring them on the same yardstick can lead to irreparable long-term damage. So beware of the deep end. Use swimming aids.

The Deep End of the Pool
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