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Working with the first-time employee

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

Fred doesn't make eye contact with you. He mumbles when he talks. Sometimes he shows up for work in clothes that you wish he would save for the weekend.

He's working his first job and, though he's eager and interested, he unquestion­ably has a few rough edges. How do you transform him into a valuable, smoothly integrated member of your team?

Polish the rough edges.

Coaching the first-time employee can be one of the most delicate responsibilities a manager ever faces. If you harp on Fred's shortcomings or put too much pressure on him to change, you could turn him off or make him decide to look for a job somewhere else. But if you ignore his deficits or coddle him like a favorite son, Fred will assume he's okay as he is, and never shape up. Either way, you and your organization lose—and so does he.

It's better to make a concerted effort to help your new employee learn the ropes. That way, you have a good chance to enhance both the motivation and the com­mitment of a person who shows promise of becoming a reliable member of your team.

Begin with a smile and an understand­ing attitude, but a gently unyielding insistence that Fred start rounding him­self into form. Then present a list of the objective, external and behavioral—not personality—changes you'd like to see on the job, and go over the items to make them crystal clear. 

Remedy common shortcomings.

With a few minutes of personal interaction, you can often reduce or eliminate the shortcomings seen in many first time employees:

Clothing. Make clear what level of neatness and formality top man­agement likes employees to maintain in their on the job attire. Itemize a few wardrobe items to avoid—per­haps shorts, sneakers, T shirts or hats. Encourage Fred to watch his co-workers and follow their lead.

Communications skills. Carve out special times to converse with Fred. If he doesn't naturally begin to make eye contact and speak more clearly to you, purpose­ly discuss these behaviors. Share your understanding of why com­munications skills are so important, and offer to coach him. If he accepts your offer, make time to do it.

Attitude. At one extreme are young people who come to work with emotional baggage that gets in the way of top level performance. At the other are new employees who are highly interested in, but totally untutored about, what they need to do to succeed in the world of work. Some people just never learned enough punctuality or other accepted work habits to mesh well with anybody's team. Evaluate the individual reasons for your new employee's poor showing so far, and offer the support, encouragement and training you think will help.

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