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How to Integrate New People

By Patrick J. McKenna and David H. Maister

"The greatest havoc comes when a firm is unable to integrate new people into the culture of the firm," claims Robert M. Dell, leader of the law firm Latham & Watkins. It can be disruptive to introduce new capabilities and personalities to an established and well functioning group. With each addition, the group's requirements for communication grow exponentially. The addition of even one new member requires that the entire team regroup and rebond, finding new ways of working and ultimately recreating their dynamics and working style.

It takes time and effort to integrate a new team member. Without it, the new member may (and indeed, often does) flounder, become isolated, create conflict, or worse. While some firms may try (even in this day and age) to rationalize a sink-or-swim philosophy with junior people, most firms cannot afford the internal and external impact (not to mention the costs) of people coming and going with frequency.

After all, you're not just hiring a warm body. In most cases you're adopting a new colleague, or someone you expect has the potential to become a colleague, into your family. With a little thought and attention you can take steps to ensure that these new hires don't take a good look behind the curtains and head back onto the open market.

Initiatives to Integrate New Additions

Here are some steps to integrate new additions:

1. Manage first impressions
2. Give them support - before they ask
3. Make them feel valued
4. Provide an immersion experience.
5. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

1. MANAGE FIRST IMPRESSIONS

First impressions are critical. Design an orientation program that provides information to people as soon they arrive. Remember to introduce your group to the new person and the new person to the group.

One practice team greets new people by having their photos taken and affixed to a large sheet of flip-chart paper that also displays the personal answers to two questions in the new people's own words: my most gratifying personal achievement and my most important transaction. The sheet is then posted on the boardroom wall at the group's next regularly scheduled meeting.

A simple memo from the group leader (distributed on the day of their arrival) welcoming new people and sharing pertinent details (where they came from, what they do, their credentials, new office location, secretarial assignment, etc.) can do wonders. Suddenly everyone in the group knows enough to say "hello" and "welcome."

2. GIVE THEM SUPPORT - BEFORE THEY ASK

New people require a clear understanding of their group's expectations. They also need introductions to specific people that can support their aspirations, training on the equipment and systems they may need, and a tour of the facilities. Someone must invest the time necessary to make them feel welcome. It is up to the group leader to organize this.

The executive director at one consulting firm invested in a staff coordinator whose task was to spend one-on-one time with new additions during their first days in the office. She trains them on the telephone system, explains firm resources, shows them how to access the computer network, makes introductions to staff members with whom the person will interact, talks through office kitchen protocol, and answers the myriad of seemingly trivial questions no one would wish to ask the person in the next office.

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