The Challenge of Being New
By Lillian J. LeBlanc, Author of The Flight Level Chronicles
Do you remember your first flight, or your first day on a new job? You probably experienced a range of emotions, including excitement, a twinge of fear and a sense of being a bit out of place. Being new, whether a brand new student pilot or a first-day employee, can be a challenging experience. The impressions and events of this first encounter often influence the long-term outcome.
Aviation serves as this blog’s platform for leadership lessons. The aviation industry suffers from a sadly high rate of attrition of student pilots. There are many factors that influence this unfortunate situation and certainly some – such as cost – are significant. However, the degree to which the new pilot feels welcomed and included does play a role.
Employee turnover, the business equivalent to pilot dropouts, is a concern for organizations. Many companies invest large sums to overhaul pay programs or create attractive benefits in an effort to retain good employees. Yet the answer to retention may lie in the effectiveness of the new employee’s orientation.
The value of a buddy
The student pilot – or the new employee – can be supported and helped by others. In aviation, the flight instructor is often the only individual with whom the new student interacts. If the student is a bit intimidated by the instructor, or if the chemistry between the two is less than ideal, the student may see no option other than to walk away. Often, this means entirely abandoning the pursuit of flight. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) recognized this phenomenon and created “Project Pilot,” a buddy program matching experienced aviators with students. The results of the project have been very successful.
In many business settings, the new employee may interact primarily with those in his or her own department. Most of the new worker’s time, especially on the first day, may be spent with the immediate supervisor. When these relationships are positive, the new employee is off to a good start. Sometimes, though, the pressures of work preclude a meaningful welcome. The new employee may be shunted off to read policies or perform low-value work until someone has time to “deal with the newbie.” Many organizations, including the US Navy, are using buddy programs to ensure that the new worker is matched with a seasoned employee, often from outside the new employee’s own department.
The importance of the “little things”
Whether new employee or new student pilot, the little things matter. Individuals who have been in an environment for some time become comfortable and may lose sight of what is important to someone who is new. Something as simple as ensuring that the “newbie” knows the location of the restrooms can be critical.
Industry or company jargon can be confusing. Aviation in particular has an alphabet soup all its own, but every business has company shorthand and abbreviations. Taking time to explain acronyms and jargon are key to a warm and inclusive welcome.
Orientation goes beyond day one
The first day on the job, or the very first introductory flight, can be overwhelming. Yet the challenge of being new extends well beyond the initial encounter.
Some student pilots drop out of aviation after the solo flight phase. New employees may leave after 6 months or a year. The reasons are as varied as the individuals involved, but closer shepherding and focused attention from those in leadership positions may make a difference. We think of the brand new employee or intro flight student as the actual newcomer, but it may take very long time for one to feel accepted and fully immersed in a group. A long term buddy system can be of value, as can a concerted effort to include the “semi-new” individuals in extracurricular activities. Even an invitation to lunch now and then, accompanied by an informal “how’s it going” chat will help the assimilation process.
Being new can be uncomfortable. But with the right kind of support, guidance and attention, being new will evolve to a state of inclusiveness, accomplishment and long-term success.
For further reading on this topic, consider Onboarding: How to Get Your New Employees Up to Speed in Half the Time, by George Bradt and Mary Vonnegut. It is a step-by-step guide to ensure successful integration of new employees. If you know a budding aviator, consider giving him or her a gift of The Student’s Pilot’s Flight Manual: From First Flight to Private Certificate, by William Kershner. This is a great way to say “welcome to the fold.”
©2011 Flight Level Leadership. Reprinted with permission from the author.