Q: I often hire staff straight out of college. By and large, they are talented and motivated, and I am happy with them. Yet, they do make mistakes, and are in fairly visible roles. How can I help mentor them to minimize mistakes and keep their errors from becoming a larger issue?
Paul, 59, corporate communications director
A: Make sure you have created a solid safety net for your team, with the support needed to effectively learn their new responsibilities.
Regardless of age or experience, clarity of expectations is essential for success. Even for you, after many years in the workplace, being given a new set of responsibilities would be daunting if you didn't really know what was expected of you. But you would have the background to make educated guesses, at least. Imagine how much more important this is for someone in their first professional role.
Now reflect on the direction you have given your new employees. If you put yourself in their shoes, would you know how to handle the variety of situations they likely face? Do you coach them on the personalities and preferences of the people they are dealing with? How about on the politics of a situation before they walk into a meeting? If you are not doing this, you are falling short on setting them up to succeed.
There are also adaptations that employees need to make in the transition. If needed, coach people individually to help them become comfortable in your organization — and to help the organization become comfortable with them. But — important point — don't try to coach the individuality out of them; you will lose their loyalty (and talents) and diminish the value they bring. No one wants to work in a bland, "one size fits all" setting.
Be with them in the moment as they get up and running. That may mean going to meetings with them that they will eventually be expected to cover solo; you will be able to step in if they get off course and then coach right away to cement the learning. The time you spend will be well worth it. The bonus is that they will learn how to help others by being helped, and then they can provide support to the next new team members.
Then have their backs. If there are dissatisfied folks in your company who have been affected by errors, work through the issues and ask for their support. And never throw a team member under the bus. Your team will never trust you again!
Also consider if you are asking too much, too fast. If the visibility of the roles is too high for someone brand-new, then it may be more than coaching can overcome. It's worth looking at your job classification to see if you need to redesign some positions for a slightly more senior level. Even a year or two of work experience can make all the difference.
Challenges are great, and people generally thrive on them. Just be sure you set up your challenges to make success achievable.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.