Coach Mike Krzyzewski (better known as Coach K) recently became the winningest coach in college basketball Division 1 history.  However, he almost didn’t get the chance.

Coach K was nearly fired after his first three years at Duke University after going 21-34 in his second and third year, and 7-21 in the powerful Atlantic Coast Conference.  The Duke athletic director was considering firing Coach K, until he received a visit from Bob Knight – Coach K’s college basketball coach at Army where both legends started their coaching careers.  Knight told the AD he’d be making a big mistake – in Bob’s rosy vocabulary.

Coach K stayed on and turned the Duke program around in his fourth year and went on to 11 Final Four appearances and four NCAA championships.

Similarly, I write in my new book – The Mackay MBA of Selling in the Real World – about four Hall of Fame NFL coaches who started poorly.  Tom Landry was 0-11-1 in 1960, Jimmy Johnson 1-15 in 1989, both with the Dallas Cowboys, Chuck Noll was 1-13 with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969 and Bill Walsh 2-14 with the San Francisco 49ers in 1979.  They even got massacred in their second years.  But management kept them on, and they were rewarded with 11 Super Bowl championships among them.

Face it; something set that new hire apart from the crowd.  You had high hopes that their attributes would complement the rest of the team’s, and they would simply hit the ground running.

Your mistake.

It wasn’t necessarily a bad hire.  But after the “job honeymoon” is over, your job as a manager is to make absolutely sure that they understand what you expect.  You also have to be willing to provide the training and support they need as they assume more and more responsibility.

It’s a common problem:  A new hire starts out strong, only to slow down once the initial excitement of a new job begins to fade.  If that happens to any of your brand-new employees, keep the spark alive with this advice:

  • Address the problem promptly.  Meet with the employee to review his or her early progress.  Remind your new associate of all the reasons you hired him or her in the first place.  Ask about problems, and reinforce your confidence in the person’s ability to do the job.
  • Stay positive.  You may be impatient, but when you deal with the employee’s diminishing performance, concentrate on coaching, not disciplining.  Ask questions designed to find out what the employee needs to improve.  A little compassion will go a long way toward rebuilding the employee’s attitude and creating a sense of loyalty.
  • Focus on strengths.  Examine what the new associate has done well in the first few months, and remind him or her of those successes.  Don’t linger over mistakes or weaknesses.  Try to expand on what the person is doing right.
  • Perform a reality check.  Are your expectations reasonable?  Were you totally honest and forthcoming about the job description?  Do you expect the new hire to immediately possess the same level of knowledge and competence as the person who had the job before – perhaps for many years?  Are you making the situation more difficult by your demands?  You may have done things the same way forever, but the new employee is on a learning curve.
  • Communicate.  Be available, or assign someone to act as a resource.  You didn’t hire a mind-reader.  Make absolutely sure goals are clear and well understood.

It takes time for personalities and work styles to mesh.  After a reasonable, pre-determined probationary period, reassess the situation.  If everyone has been honest from the initial interview through the first few months, there should be no misunderstandings.  Make a change if necessary.

Hiring is hard work, if you do it right.  The last thing you want to say – or hear – is “I think I just made the biggest mistake of my life.”   Such a big investment of time and energy deserves a fair chance.

Just like in the Super Bowl, winning teams fight for every inch.  Before you throw in the towel, make sure all the players know the game plan and are prepared to win.

Mackay’s Moral:  With good coaching, new hires can become superstars!


About the author Harvey Mackay

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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