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Posted March 17, 2003 By Melaney Smith     Feedback

Your colleagues can tell you what your customers can't -- or won't.

In my last column, I mentioned using new employees to help take a fresh look at your site, to see it with "virgin eyes," as one reader put it. It's not that hard to do but requires you to check your ego at the door.

It can be humbling, frustrating, and downright embarrassing to try explaining your product decisions to a new colleague. But if you can view the experience as a great source of new ideas and a fresh perspective, you can gain a lot from even the greenest of the bunch.

It's hard to see your own site the way your customers see it. And it's even harder not to make excuses for the flaws. Compromises, lost battles, budget constraints, conflicting priorities... there are so many reasons why our sites are less than perfect. Who has time to come up with new ideas when you've got a product to run?

New employees can help with both -- seeing your site the way a new visitor might and brainstorming ideas for the next wave of improvements. You only have to give them a little of that most precious commodity: time.

Here are a few ways you can utilize new employees to freshen your perspective.

Go for the Green

I used to groan whenever I saw a brand-spanking-new college grad walking anywhere near my office. The energy. The enthusiasm. That rosy outlook on the business world. All those suggestions, ideas, and questions. It's exhausting. Sigh. Here comes another youngster who has yet to encounter the reality of life in the business world.

Try not to roll your eyes. Those suggestions, ideas, and questions can help you gain a fresh perspective. Make a point of seeking out the greenest of the green from a department relevant to your own. Give them tasks to accomplish on your site and ask for feedback about the experience. Share customer research, usability results, product plans. Spend time talking to them. Answer the annoying questions. Take a deep breath when they unknowingly criticize or question your work.

When it's over, see if you can identify staleness in your own approach. Find priorities you should revisit that didn't make the cut a few years ago. Seek those ideas that are worth fleshing out. It's refreshing, and worth a chuckle, how big these folks can think before they make a habit of putting budget constraints first. You just might end up with an idea worth fleshing out or a new perspective about how customers see your site.

Look up the Ladder

More experienced workers, whether above or beside you on the org chart, can also provide new ideas tempered by experience. New employees joining you from other companies present a different challenge in terms of our egos. I have a much harder time handling questions from new colleagues or superiors than from new employees who are junior to me. It's easy to get defensive or blame someone else for things that don't make sense.

That's the best time to take notes. When you feel yourself getting defensive or passing the blame, pay special attention. Those areas of your product or plans are often the ones that need to be addressed. If you can get over the urge to pretend you know everything, you can often gain valuable insight from someone who's seen things done a different way. New colleagues are now one of my favorite sources of information because they provide a perspective of how a different company might handle issues you're facing today.

Change Your Definition of "New"

There might be entire departments within your company that have never logged on to your site. Hard to believe, but it's often true. Their jobs may have nothing to do with actual site operations. They've done no more than check the site out quickly back in their early days of employment. You'd be surprised at the ideas they have but never voice, because they're usually found in departments far removed from marketing or product management. These people are great for informal usability tasks, using caution, of course.

It's so hard to step outside our own thinking, but when you add in the time constraints we all face, it's near impossible. New (or previously untapped) employees are a quick -- and free -- source of fresh perspective. Visit the new employee nearest you today.

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