Who doesn't appreciate a team member who is enthusiastic for learning? They give an outstanding interview, profess to be teachable, and express a desire to learn. We believe them, extend an employment offer, and they accept. We hire them, onboard them, strive for the clearest communication ever, and then watch and wait. We teach processes and explain policies because they are new to this industry. We inquire about learning styles and use proper assessments to tailor some of the training: videos, screenshots, and repeated demonstrations in addition to the written instructions.
The first 30 days pass, and then the next 30 days. It's been slow going, but there is hope and progress. Along the way, we refine the notes for any new and helpful steps the new hire discovers. We correct work, remind, and retrain. In reply there are a range of responses that we hear. The early, "okay, thank you" descends to "okay" and then taps out with grunts or nods. In between, there may arise the justifications by comparison: "I can't do [the tasks] as fast as you do." Or, there is just good old fashioned snark.
We schedule check-ins to learn how the new team member is handling things: the environment, the rest of the team, the workload, the timelines for work completion, and so on. There are some kinks, but they do not come up in the conversation. When we ask the new hire to self-assess, the answers are all hopeful and futuristic. Hope is fine, but there is no mention of the issues right now.
"I feel like I'm doing well. I need more time to improve."
"I can't do it as fast as you, but I'm going to get there."
"I will do better when I understand the tasks better."
In the moment, we do not realize the stumbling block of optimism. Another 30 days go by to complete the 90-day probation period. Now, we notice the responses to correction on tasks the new team member feels they do well...which is nearly everything. We see the nonverbal communication -- eye rolling, ignoring and intentional silences, blank stares, and flashes of anger -- when we offer correction. Then, it hits us. Where the new hire thinks they are excelling, they are not as teachable.
This is the scenario behind the question, and we are hunting for some data in the literature to explain if there are negative effects of optimism. How do we lead people who, while still new to the environment and the work, believe they are excelling and do not receive constructive criticism well? How does a new team member grow when they feel that discussing the opportunity areas is negative and that they are being targeted? What can companies do to test for the negative effects of optimism in the interviewing process?
At the very least, this is worth discussing. Consider the environments with healthy optimism that address the facts with hopeful intention to learn, grow, and move forward. There are consistent and earnest efforts for clarity and improvements can be closely measured and celebrated. Then, assess the factors of destructive optimism that lead to denial and a refusal to accept honest, constructive criticism that can help the individual and yield good results for the entire team. The result of the latter is potentially a destructive cycle of work where the new hire can sneakily yet skillfully rewrite their job description and the rest of the team's work load increases to compensate.
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