While thinking about the challenges of managing ‘Generation Y’ or ‘Millennials’, I came across this excellent article on the HBR blog by Chris Resto, author of ‘Recruit or Die: How Any Business Can Beat the Big Guys in the War for Young Talent‘.
In the article Resto discusses acouple of tips for managing expectations of young talent at the start of a project that he has observed from successful managers. These tips would work equally well for orienting a new hire, or welcoming a new team member.
Because I like easily memorable step-by-step advice, I’ve taken these tips and turned them into a format you can follow. At the same time I thought I would ‘show the working’ on one or two things that the successful managers in the article are doing, to make them easier to replicate.
- Write your expectations – of the project, what you expect of the new hire. At the same time, ask the new hire to write their expectations of the project, of you as a manager, what skills or knowledge they already have that may be applicable, and what they expect to learn.Just being asked this is going to make the new hire feel valued and make them think about their role in a different way. In order to answer the question, they have to move out of the role of passive recipient of orders (a tempting place to hide, for some personality types at least, when you are not very experienced) to thinking about what they want and how they can make that happen.Also, if they are seeing the project as a ‘second best’ in comparison to the more superficially glamorous assignment that they were hoping for, it helps them to start to reframe the project or role as an opportunity to learn and develop new skills.
- Meet with the new hire and share your expectations. It’s important that you go first, because – recognising that they report to you and not the other way round – you set the frame of what you expect. It avoids a variant of the classic unfair performance appraisal question “So, how do you think you did?” which is what it could feel like to the new hire if they were required to set out their expectations without any clues as to whether these will be acceptable.
- Then listen to their expectations of the project and of you as a manager. It’s important that you really do listen and are fully present. This is where the feeling of being valued will really kick in for the new hire.
- Find and explain the value in the project or new role, beyond what the new hire may have noticed. As Resto points out, young people without much of an experience base to draw on don’t know what they don’t know. But forming some sort of expectation or judgement is going to happen anyway, so they are forced to base their judgements on superficial impressions or received generalisations about particular types of role or industry sector.In Resto’s example from his own work history, the manager in his new role got him past his initial disappointment at being assigned to a project in an ‘unglamorous’ sector by outlining the complexity of the requirement, the skills he could learn, and how it would build his resumé.Just to make it explicit what the manager was doing, he took Resto’s focus away from the perceived sleepiness of the sector (publishing) that the project would be dealing with, and turned it towards the activities required (dealing with six business units in different locations, handling complexity, resolving cultural conflicts and making a data-driven case for process change). This reframes the project as an opportunity to develop experience and skills that would be applicable in any sector.
- Then listen to their expectations of what they will learn, the applicable skills they have, and the new skills they expect to acquire in the course of the project. You may find out about some useful skills that you didn’t realise they had.
- Finally, if applicable, point out opportunities for learning that they may have missed, and be specific about the skills that they can develop on the project. Encouraging them to raise their sights on their learning goals sends a clear message that you believe in their potential, which research (principally Robert Rosenthal’s ‘Pygmalion in the Classroom‘ findings and the ‘Pygmalion in Management’ studies referenced in J Sterling Livingston’s informative HBR article) suggests will increase their performance, sometimes dramatically.
If you have a project starting soon, a new graduate intake, or a new member joining a team, think about how you could apply these steps to help get the person started in the right direction. If your new hire has already started, maybe it’s not too late to apply the process (you could frame it as a catch-up after the first month or whatever). Or it may be worth thinking about what you could have done with these steps, as a learning exercise for next time.
Please do share your thoughts on this process or let me know how you get on with it – just leave a comment below.
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