What does an aquarium have to do with the status quo and a new hire? More than you think. Read on and see how an experience in ignoring the rules of good aquarium management resulted in a lesson that has much broader application.
At 12 years old, I was a partner in an aquarium. Four of us owned it and the fish and plants that inhabited it. We got the money to buy new fish by scavenging 5 cent deposit beverage bottles. We’d gather the bottles, cash them in and go to the aquarium dealer and buy fish.
We had developed a pretty good collection of Gouramis, Angelfish. Mollys and Neon Tetras, along with the necessary catfish and plants to make our freshwater aquarium look good, provide cover, and yet remain uncrowded.
The one thing we had done was always buy two fish of the same kind. But one Saturday we went looking for bottles – pickings were scarce and we only found enough to get money for one fish. We really wanted to add zebra fish to our collection, so we bought just one fish – even though the dealer advised against it – and brought it home.
We introduced our new fish with little fanfare – we simply dropped it into the tank. All the other pairs had been put into the aquarium in their plastic bags for a few hours in order to let the community get to know them. We were tired from scavenging bottles, it was getting late, and we were in a hurry to see how our zebra fish looked in the aquarium.
Our zebra fish darted around and showed a lot of energy – just what we wanted to liven up the aquarium. We noticed that all the other fish seemed to get a little tense with this new fish buzzing around the aquarium, but none attacked him and we felt that everything would settle down overnight. We put the cover on the aquarium, and went to bed.
The next day we checked on our aquarium, and the zebra fish was gone! The cover was still on, and it was heavy glass that could not be moved by a fish. We had no other pets at the time, and the house was free of rats and rodents. What we did notice was that the other fish in the aquarium had returned to their pre-zebra demeanor – everything was calm and collected in this little community – no tension, and all the pairs were in their places.
We came to the conclusion that our hard earned zebra fish – all alone because we lacked the patience to wait until we had the money for a pair, and introduced with little preparation because we had not taken the time to introduce him properly, had been eaten by the other fish in the aquarium. That was the only possible explanation for his disappearance.
See any similarities to what so often happens in business situations? We spend all our time and energy on the acquisition of a person, we want them to shake things up, we’re eager to have that happen, so we just drop them in the tank! And they get eaten – figuratively – by the status quo.
The purpose of this story is to suggest you spend at least as much time and effort in the assimilation of people as you do in the acquistion of people. Spend time with the new person, and with the people who will be part of the environment that the new person will have to live, survive and succeed in. Build the bridges of understanding and expectations that will allow the workgroup to be successful in accepting the newcomer. If you just parachute them in – sink or swim – you do so at your own peril. Make sure the success of people that are hired is a goal of the hiring manager, and make sure he or she understands their own performance will be measured on the basis of how well their hires succeed
Create a structure for followup that ensures the new person has regular contact with their manager – a structure that communicates expectations to the hiring manager for how they are to develop the new person.
If you accept the attitude that every new selection, be it a hire, promotion or transfer, represents an opportunity to improve your organization, and you follow that attitude, you will see a much higher proportion of successful selections from both a retention and contribution standpoint.
I wish we’d used that process with our zebra fish. As it turned out our aquarium never did get another fish – our little fish community liked things just the way they were – and we didn’t want to mess with the status quo. Plus, our unsuccessful experience with the zebra fish made it difficult to work up any enthusiasm for trying again.
Sound familiar? .