How To Coach A New Hire To Be More Professional

Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues–everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

Here’s a roundup of answers to three questions from readers.

1. How can I help a new employee learn to be more professional?

My new employee, Jane, is a couple years into her career and this is her first job working on a team. She has been here a week and I can tell she’s going to need some training on professionalism since she doesn’t have a lot of office experience. For example, her friends have stopped by twice to hang out in her office during the day. The first time it was around lunch, so I chalked it up to a lunch break. But today it happened in the morning. I stopped in to chat about a project with Jane, thinking her friend would take the hint and step out, but the friend stayed and ended up chiming in with her thoughts on our project.

I know Jane will need some guidance and mentorship on professionalism, but I’m not sure how actively to approach the subject. For instance, should I go ahead and tell her now that her friends are welcome to stop by, but it should be around lunch and not while she’s working? Or should I give her time to recognize this on her own? How direct should I be with feedback when she is just starting out? Do I tell her quickly with the idea of ​​”nipping things in the bud” or give it some time to see if minor things turn into ongoing issues?

Don’t wait for her to figure this stuff out on her own. Being very direct and explicit will be a favor to Jane, since otherwise she may never pick up on these things (which will mean she’ll perform more poorly, which is a disservice to both of you) or, she does, she might be mortified that no one told her. As a manager, you should always be very explicit about your expectations so that you’re setting people up to meet them and they don’t have to wonder or guess and get it wrong, and especially so with junior-level staff, where you can assume that you’ll need to do a lot of training on the basics of how to be in an office.

So yes, be direct: “It’s okay to have a friend stop by when you’re taking lunch, but please let them know that you can’t have visitors the rest of the time, unless it’s a very rare emergency.” (Or whatever the protocol is that you want her to follow.)

You can also be pretty directive in the moment when something is happening that needs to change. So when that friend was there when you came by to talk to Jane about work, you could have said, “I need to talk with you about a project, so this isn’t a good time for a visitor.”

Generally as a manager, you don’t want to rely on hints at all — but especially once you see they’re not working, that’s a sign that you need to abandon any hint-based strategy and move to very explicit communication. It really is doing everyone a favor.

2. Managing a frequently pregnant senior leadership team

I am on the board of directors of a nonprofit. The nonprofit was co-founded by two women who lead the organization together and report to the board. The board is responsible for making sure the nonprofit uses its money responsibly, fulfills its mission, and is well-run.

The co-founders are now in their early 30’s and for the past three years, one or the other (or both) has been pretty much constantly pregnant, on maternity leave, or just back from maternity leave and with an infant at home. During this time, their leadership of the organization has not been up to the standards that the board would normally expect. Major balls get dropped, and a few times we have had to step in to do crisis management. This did not happen before. The co-founders have both been open about wanting more kids.

The board has tried multiple times to put systems in place to prevent crises during maternity leaves, but we aren’t getting anywhere. Whenever we try to discuss a problem, it gets dismissed as temporary. As a person, I have total sympathy for this — having a baby is really hard! And if this were actually temporary, it would not be an issue at all. But this has been going on for several years now, and it doesn’t look to be letting up any time soon.

Is there anything we can do to remedy the leadership issues? The organization can’t afford a spare senior leader on staff just to fill in during gaps. We’ve tried hiring consultants, but they can only help with lower-level stuff. And I’d rather have a root canal than have a come-to-Jesus conversation with the co-founders about how having kids has reduced their job capacity.

The framing you want isn’t “you’re less effective now that you have kids.” The framing you want is “We support you in parenting and want you to get what you need for maternity leave and any needed flexibility afterwards. But we also need to figure out a plan for the organization to keep it functional at a high level during maternity leaves and afterwards. We need to come up with a realistic plan so that you’re able to take the leave you need and the organization avoids future situations like X, Y, and Z (fill in with specifics).”

It sounds like you may have tried some version of this and it’s been dismissed. So the key will be that this time, if you’re told that it’s temporary, you’ll need to say something like, “Certainly if this were temporary, we could work around it. But we’ve been having versions of this discussion For several years now, so at this point we need to function as if it’s not temporary and come up with other solutions. We’d be negligent in our own duties otherwise.” And if you still get push-back, keep in mind that as the board, you have authority to say, “Be that as it may, we’re going to put together new systems to manage this, and we’d like your assistance in doing that.”

3. Asking an employee to be more accessible when working from home

I manage an employee who works two days from home each week. When she’s in the office, she signs into our company-wide IM system. However, when she’s home, she doesn’t sign in, which gives me the impression that she doesn’t want me (or others) to be able to see if she’s actually working. She does a good job, but I worry that she is using this work from home time to do other things — when, if she has that much free time, I’d like her to help others on the team / take on additional projects . I’d also like her to be more easily accessible during those hours. I’d like to require that she start signing into instant messages when she is working from home. Is that reasonable? All other employees who work remotely already do this.

It’s very reasonable to ask employees who work remotely to sign into whatever instant messaging system you use; that’s normal and common. She may not realize that’s expected of her, so just tell her directly. Present it as something you ask of everyone who works remotely, not just something targeting her (and it’s worth making this a standard part of the expectation-setting you do when someone first starts working remotely).

If she’s handling a large volume of work and doing it well, I wouldn’t default to thinking that she’s slacking off at home, unless you have other reasons to think that. And really, if she is slacking off at home, she’s going to be able to continue doing that while she’s signed into instant messaging too — so you’re better off just talking to her about what her workload is like and whether she has any downtime that she could use for additional projects.

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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