Orient new employees with respect, clear expectations

I thought my brother, Jack, the youngest in the family, was the cutest tow-headed child ever. As he grew, he seemed to be in serious deliberation with himself more than most other children. Mom often explains this characteristic of Jack’s with a story.

Jack was born with unfortunate timing since all of his three siblings had whooping cough. The disease was not life-threatening for older children but might have been for a newborn baby. Mom stayed in the hospital as long as was allowed and even begged for unusual accommodations. After about 10 days, the patience and compassion of the hospital staff as well as Dad’s wallet waned. Mom was forced to leave. In order to keep Jack safe, Mom and Dad sent him to Dad’s sister, Aunt Jenny, for a couple of weeks until the whooping cough had diminished. Jack missed some important bonding with Mom.

Years later, when Jack started to talk, he developed a strange habit. If Mom were in another room doing chores, Jack would call, “Momma, Momma, Momma.” When Mom finally responded, Jack was silent. He seldom wanted anything; he just wanted to know where Mom was. Mom to this day feels guilty that her early absence led to his apparent childhood insecurity.

I am two and one half years older than Jack and my older brother, Joe, is two and one half years older than I. In hindsight, we may have contributed to Jack’s look of serious deliberation. We often called him “Jackie Boo.” Once we saw his distress with the nickname, we used it all the more often. It was great fun to watch the immediate change in his mood due to what seemed an innocuous phrase.

One day, Joe said to Jack with a disdainful voice, “You little human being.” Jack tuned into the tone of voice and screamed in argument, “I’m not a human being.” The intensity of Jack’s response made us both laugh so hard our stomachs hurt. Of course, Jack became more upset with our laughter. He ran to Mom and complained, “Mom, they’re calling me a human being.” To Jack’s dismay, Mom laughed also.

Jack also provided humor by his pronunciation of Abraham Lincoln, Hambam Lincoln. I love my brother Jack and to this day he is my best friend. He has had many successes including high school valedictorian, college scholar, author of articles in American Archaeological Magazine and National Geographic. So our using him as a source of humor probably did not have a lasting negative impact.

How we say hello to and orient new employees sets the stage for the respect level or productivity of the relationship. At times, our communication can make this initial positive connection difficult. Who you choose to bring into your organization and how you bring them in may be the most important decision you make. My suggestion is to orient them with dignity and clear expectations.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of “The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success,” visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com.