Does the New Shoe Fit? When Old Shoes & New Shoes Clash in the Workplace

By Nanci Lamborn, SPHR – HR Leader and BrightMove Recruiting Software Blogger

A wonderful and talented friend who works in a very small department within a very large organization recently compared his employer’s process of bringing in new talent as similar to purchasing a brand new pair of shoes. He and his longer-tenured coworkers, who otherwise don’t have much in the way of workplace issues to complain about, were beginning to feel like the old forgotten shoes in the closet.

Well, really, who doesn’t love a new pair of shoes? I love shoes. Like most of my counterparts, I own somewhere around fifteen pairs.

After I spent a few minutes rambling about my latest cute strappy sandals to my friend, he explained his analogy further. It seems that the hiring managers for his division often viewed an impending new talent as a panacea, a long-awaited Messiah who would march the tired, poor, huddled and yearning masses of mediocrity into new and uncharted realms of productivity and profitable success. And these managers were not ashamed to proclaim how heavily their hopes were invested in the new guy.

Until that new guy made a major faux pas and the next new pair of shoes came along to take the coveted Savior spotlight.

My friend and his coworkers have an extremely valid issue of contention. For a hiring manager to essentially discredit their long-tenured, loyal and dependable workforce under the hopefully unintentional guise of excitement for the future is poor judgment at the very least. And if this hiring manager is acting upon the flawed negative reinforcement thought process of reminding his current workforce that they may not be all that valuable anymore leaps from poor judgment and dives directly into a pool of complete stupidity. Thankfully not all hiring managers make this kind of mistake.

There is always bound to be some jostling for elbow space when a new hire comes on board, especially if the existing team has been functioning well together for some time. There may be resentment, discomfort, and perhaps even a little jealousy from the existing team, especially if the newcomer is markedly different. The old shoes in the closet may start to murmur amongst themselves that the wardrobe was completely sufficient before this outsider newbie came along. But a newcomer can change everything. Like a Dwight Schrute for example. (For any readers who are unsure of who Dwight Schrute is, ask any of your colleagues who are fans of the television sitcom The Office. Better yet, Google any clips with his name and enjoy).

In a recent study of the effect that markedly different newcomers can have on an existing team, BYU professor Katie Liljenquist made some extremely interesting observations. In her published findings, (http://tinyurl.com/yfy74cr), Liljenquist noted that, “…socially distinct newcomers” can result in better overall team performance, and that the Dwight Schrute newcomers should be embraced for the change catalysts they can become.

It’s true that I may own fifteen pairs of shoes. But like most I also find myself usually returning to the same comfortable tried and true pair over and over, and there’s the rub professionally. I’m looking for comfort. That may be fine for shoes. But since when is comfort a good part of professional growth? Isn’t getting outside of my comfort zone something I should want to pursue?

Mediocrity doesn’t have an opportunity to take root when we step outside of that comfort zone. Admittedly, it’s uncomfortable to be on the rack of shoes next to Dwight Schrute. But if we can look past his social malformations, great as they may be, together we might just be able to take one more step closer to those uncharted realms of productivity and profitable success. By assembling the entire collection of shoes properly, including the Dwight Schrutes, it can result in a wardrobe that makes every individual look fabulous.

Even if the shoe doesn’t exactly fit. <>

Based in Atlanta, GA, Nanci Lamborn, SPHR, is a freelance human resources writer and a senior generalist with a global investment technology firm where it’s an awesome place to work. (Follow: http://twitter.com/TheHRLadi)

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