Q I'd like to help some of the newer employees in my company develop their general professionalism. They have good technical skills, but could use some polish. What would you suggest?
A Step by step, introduce new ways to help your employees build their professionalism.The inner game
Take some time to get your thoughts in order.
First, determine what "general professionalism" means to you. Consider three main areas: appearance, attitude and behavior. And note that standards on these areas may be industry- or company-specific. The appearance area may not have a strict dress code, but will certainly include neatness and hygiene. Attitude may include responsiveness and generally being pleasant. Behavior may be as varied as having good table manners or not texting in mid-conversation.
Now, think about the employees in your company. Which of the areas need the most attention? Someone might meet appearance expectations, but have challenges on the attitude or behavior front. If you think about each individual in turn, then you'll be able to make a collective plan that'll be of the most benefit.
Prioritize the areas for improvement from a customer perspective. If you have employees who are out with customers, even if their technical skills are great, shortcomings on any of the three areas could limit their success. Similarly, consider the effect of increased professionalism on morale. Some of the advances could help maintain the quality of your workplace, too.
Also keep in mind that differences exist among generations and their expectations in the workplace. And while some expectations make sense for all, there is some evolution that needs to be accommodated.The outer game
The steps you take depend on the severity of the need and the level of investment you want to make. If you've heard from customers that lack of professionalism has been an issue, then you need to take faster and more comprehensive action, perhaps finding an external trainer to help.
However, if this is less urgent and more focused on development than repair, you could set up some internal options. Some ideas include:
A "professionalism tip of the week" via e-mail that is discussed at staff meetings; these could be researched and produced by team members to build engagement.
Individualized attention by setting performance goals on an area that needs work.
Group goals on a specific aspect. There can be a fun aspect of paying a dollar if you fall short -- the money can go to a team social event or charity.
Make sure that you keep the tone positive and growth-oriented; it'll be counterproductive if it seems punitive. Also track progress so that you build forward movement. And if you're not, reassess your approach and try again.The last word
The intangibles can be hard to master when moving into a professional workplace, and providing direction will help your employees advance their careers as well as advance your company.