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Your new hire orientation is a great time to show employees what matters most at your company, explain how you do things around here, and get them jazzed to be part of the team.

If you’re like most HR leaders we talk with, you’ve got that part nailed — but you might be missing an important opportunity. While you’re showing new hires the ropes, are you also deliberately tapping into the best practices they’re bringing with themselves? Are you setting the stage for them to leverage their fresh perspectives and bring new ideas to the table?

Will’s Story

We recently had lunch with “Will,” one of Karin’s favorite direct reports from her time at Verizon, to talk about his new hire experience in his new gig. He was visibly frustrated as he described the situation: “Well, basically my week of new hire orientation ended with my boss saying, ‘I didn’t hire you for your ideas. I hired you to implement mine.”

Seeing the look of surprise on Karin’s face, Will continued, “But I’ve been thinking about it. I probably came on a bit too strong. I had so many ideas right out of the gate. I think I overwhelmed him and maybe even hurt his feelings. He thought I was being critical rather than trying to help. From now on, I’m keeping my mouth shut and working on my exit strategy.”

This is tragic, because Will’s not just an idea guy. He’s a loyal operations manager who will do anything to make your vision happen, including finding creative ways to accelerate results. Surely, Will’s new employer hired him for his track record of success, and yet the company lost him at “hello.”

Be Sure Your New Hires Know Ideas Are Not Just Okay, But Expected

In research we conducted with the University of North Colorado into why people withhold their best ideas, we found that two-thirds of employees say management operates under the notion “this is the way we’ve done it.” Forty percent of employees told us they lacked the confidence to share their ideas, and 35 percent said they were not asked for their ideas when trained for their role.

If it’s that hard for your existing workers to have their voices heard, imagine how challenging it is for the new hires. They’re busy trying to figure out your culture, building new relationships, learning how to get things done, and determining what success looks like for their role. Bringing you new ideas and best practices is not their top priority. If you’re not explicitly asking, it’s unlikely they will share.

Again, this is tragic. That fresh perspective and competitive intelligence may be exactly what you need to turn the corner on your thorniest challenges.

6 Ways to Encourage Your New Hires to Share Their Ideas

It’s easy for new hire orientation to go in one direction: The company telling the employee how things are done. Unfortunately, that usually means new hires don’t get the chance to tell you how their last company did things and why those methods worked so well.

Don’t wait until your new hires are indoctrinated into your way of doing things to ask their perspectives. Instead, set the right tone off the bat.

1. Be Clear That Sharing Ideas Is Part of Your Culture

That means sending direct messages like:

• “Around here, we expect you to share your best ideas to improve the business.”

• “The most successful employees here are micro-innovators and problem-solvers.”

• “This is how our employees share ideas and innovate.”

2. Share Examples and Tell Great Stories

Showcase some specific examples of employees at all levels who have come up with great ideas that improved the business. To give your new hire recognition and encouragement right away, you can set aside time in the orientation process specifically for the employee to share their own stories of micro-innovation and the results that followed.

3. Train New Hires on Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills

Teach your new hires how to vet their own ideas as part of your new-hire orientation. Our IDEA model can help employees consider how their ideas align with your strategic priorities.

Idea Model

4. Carve Out Time to Talk About Previous Employers

Ask your new hire what they liked most about their last company and why. If your new hires have worked in the industry before, even better. Dig deep to learn how other companies are approaching your biggest challenges.

5. Assign Homework

Your new hires may not have enough context to know which best practices are relevant right out of the gate. They might assume you will already be doing what they consider business as usual and be surprised to hear you’re not.

Give your new hires homework: Ask them to identify at least three new ideas or best practices they would recommend during their first month on the job. You can help structure this assignment with a few conversation starters:

• “How did they approach [insert your biggest challenge here] at your previous company?”
• “What does XYZ Company do better than we do?”
• “What tools or processes do you miss from your old company?”
• “If you could teach everyone here one best practice from your previous job, what would that be?”

Make a calendar appointment to follow-up with the new hire and discuss their ideas one month later. This step is especially important because it both reinforces the expectation of innovation and immediately taps into your new hire’s outside perspective.

6. Respond With Regard

How you respond to an idea — even if it’s not a great one — matters a lot. Half of the employees in our research said they didn’t share their ideas because they didn’t think anything would happen if they did. Be sure to thank your employees for any ideas they share, and then let them know the next steps you’ll take to move those ideas forward. If you’re not ready to implement those ideas — or if they’re just not right for your company — be sure to explain why.

When you start your new hire off with the clear understanding that you want their best thinking from their very first day, you lay the foundation for a courageous culture in which contributing is the default and innovation is the norm.

Karin Hurt and David Dye are the founders of Let’s Grow Leaders and the authors of Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates.

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