Set New Employees Up to Succeed

Set New Employees Up to Succeed

March 5th, 2015


by Ted Grossnickle


While at a client’s office several months ago, I was introduced to one of their new Advancement staff members. This person was both experienced and eager to get underway in their new work. The Vice President who had searched for and found this person is savvy, strategic, hard-working and good at setting and hitting goals.


When I asked the new staff person what they were doing to get started, they replied that they were reviewing donor prospect lists, learning systems and policies and “figuring out where the coffee was made.” I asked who was guiding them through this and who was mentoring them. The answers got vaguer quickly. I asked them about the history of the nonprofit and what was valued and what was not valued. By this time, I was getting blank stares.


I wish I could say this was a rare experience. It’s not.


Many nonprofits seem to assume that once a new person is hired the main work is completed. The VP can sigh relief because the position is filled and work can begin and move on to the next (of many) challenges that are pressing upon them. The idea often is that if a person qualifies for the job and is vetted and approved then they are ready to be successful.


My challenge to this is that from my perspective as counsel who works with advancement programs, I often see new staff struggle or take a long, long time to get to a modicum of effectiveness. And this is not because they are not well suited for the post but rather because they have not been on-boarded or oriented in a way to really make the most of what they do know and the experience they do possess.


Take a little extra time up front to truly mentor and train your new staff member and it will pay dividends in the future.


Here are some ideas to consider when you search for a new staff person and get them hired.


  • Write a draft on-boarding plan for the position at the same time that you are drafting or reviewing the position description. Be thinking about how they will start before you hire them. This will help them in the long run and it will help you as the hiring person ask better questions during the finalist interviews.
  • Include early opportunities for the new staff person to hear history and values from you, your colleagues, volunteers and others. This not only starts to build “connective tissue” or ties for the new person with others but it makes them much savvier about your organization much earlier.
  • Make sure someone is intentionally assigned to and responsible for mentoring the new person. Can they have a weekly meeting with that mentor to help them think about the job, what they’re learning and to help guide them through early questions?
  • Make sure others in your organization know that getting new team members oriented early and successfully is something you consider to be important. Perhaps they have roles in that “education process” as well for the new person.


Make the most of the new employees you bring into the work of your organization. Don’t leave it to chance. The results will be worth it.




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