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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

how should new managers be trained?

It's practically cliche at this point to point out that new managers don't get enough training in the art of management, but I haven't seen a lot delineating exactly what topics new managers should be trained in.

Here's what I have on my outline for training new managers:

1. What exactly is a manager responsible for? I posted a list of manager responsibilities here recently.

2. Oversight: How to determine the appropriate amount and how to exercise it. Some employees need more interaction and oversight than others, and it's the manager’s job to determine how much is appropriate for each employee. What systems will the manager use for checking in and staying apprised of her employees' projects?

3. Feedback: the importance of giving regular feedback, making sure that employees know what they do well and where they need to improve. Withholding criticism out of fear of hurting an employee’s feelings does that employee a disservice, and that if a manager has complaints or concerns about an employee and the employee doesn’t know it, the problem lies more with the manager than with the employee. (And similarly, if you have an employee who rocks your world and the employee doesn't know that, something is wrong.)

4. Morale: the importance of looking out for staffers' morale and quality of life.

5. Public image: how to make sure employees are maintaining the organization's public image.

6. Employee policies: managers need to be familiar with all employee policies and understand that applying them inconsistently could create legal consequences. I scare them about these legal consequences.

7. Working with other department: how to work most effectively with other departments and the need to act in a gatekeeper role when other departments send work your way. How should the manager handle conflicting priorities?

8. Determining when to escalate things up the ladder and when the manager is authorized to act on her own.

9. Staff performance problems: what's expected of managers when a staffer is struggling, tools available to a manager in such situations, and how to be clear, direct, and specific about the standards of a job.

That's the basic outline that I use at the outset. Then I try to mentor new managers, so as challenging situations come up, I can hopefully help them navigate them.

What's on your own list for training managers? Or what do you wish someone had trained your manager in?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

offer never materialized

A reader writes:

I have worked for the last five years as a non-traditional, part-time student assistant at a campus job while working on my "four year" undergraduate degree. The very unofficial title I’ve earned over the years is "media guy"; I transfer nearly century old films and audio items to digital, more accessible mediums for students and researchers. I don’t actually have a degree in these areas, but many archives utilize people with life experience in these areas, rather than only degreed archivists with no or little real world experience with these items.

Between my second and fourth years there, both our director and our office manager repeatedly suggested that I would be a great addition to their staff after graduation, to the point where our director even threw out hypothetical salary figures on several occasions. With graduation growing close, I asked our director about the specific details of this position. He got very nervous, and said that he wasn’t sure how soon or even if he could create a position. He then asked me how many weeks it would take for me to TRAIN SOMEONE ELSE to do all of the things that it took me years to teach myself while in this position. Later that day, when an employee confronted our director about this situation, his response was that he "never PROMISED me a job there."

Despite these events, and against my better judgment, I stayed on the job to complete some ongoing projects that I didn’t want to leave unfinished. My part-time contract has been extended until December, yet they are starting to outsource projects that had previously been discussed with me. They are also interviewing student assistants with more media-based backgrounds. They haven’t found anyone (yet) with the diverse knowledge and experience that I have with these different tasks and items, but they seem to be trying.

The strange thing is that if this was a retail position, I would have had no problem telling my boss that he was a liar and then just moved on to another job. But I fear that I won’t find another position somewhere that allows me access to such interesting and historical items.
Does it sound like I should even try to secure a position there? Any thoughts?

It sounds like your director is not a very good manager (or handler of sticky conversations), but I'm not sure he's a liar.

It sounds like your director realized that he can't create a new staff position for you, even though he had hoped to be able to. Since he seemed very happy with your work, this is presumably due to there being no money in his budget for it, or someone above him nixing the idea. In and of itself, that's not his fault -- it's true that he never made you a promise, and it's not unusual to talk with good student workers about the possibility of further employment without knowing for sure that it will pan out. (As a general rule, don't rely on any job prospect until an actual offer is made.)

However, he is handling it badly. When he realized that there wasn't going to be a new position, he should have told you forthrightly, saying something like: "You've been a tremendous asset to us and I wish we were able to create a position for you. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to make that happen, so I know we're going to lose you when you graduate. Since graduation is getting close, let's talk soon about the transition and figure out what the training process should be for the next student. Meanwhile, I hope I can help you in your job search."

He skipped delivering the hard part of this news, and as a result, he's generated bad feelings and destroyed your loyalty. Had he been straightforward with you, you likely would have been disappointed but understood, and presumably would have happily helped train the next student before graduating. I recommend that you still approach it that way, since if it's handled amicably, your director and other coworkers may be fruitful sources of job leads, contacts, and recommendations.

getting the raise you've earned

A reader writes:

So what happens after you explain and show the measurable amounts (just shy of $1 million savings in the current year) you have saved the company.....and you have it explained away as "you did your job" when a pay raise is discussed? As a leader I absolutely understand this statement, but as a subordinate....I really do not.

I was hired a year ago into this position that two former managers held for a combined time of less than 1 year. One even left within 40 days of being hired because of the difficult position and environment . I did negotiate my salary up front, but based on my performance, numerous dramatic changes I have made, a now more cohesive workforce I have turned around and others, I felt asking was justified. Do I just wait or ???

Does the company have a set time each year to conduct salary reviews? Or is there nothing formal in place? If there's a set annual time, you're probably close to it since you've been there a year, so it may be a conversation to have then. If there's no time formally set aside for this conversation, it's certainly not unreasonable to ask for a salary review after a year of employment.

Since it sounds like you've already done step #1 in asking for a raise (demonstrating the accomplishments that warrant it), my advice now is to ask what you would need to accomplish in order to earn a raise. If your boss can't articulate what a raise-worthy performance would look like, or why he or she isn't willing to review your salary after a year in the job, you may be caught in a short-sighted company that doesn't understand compensation, in which case you may need to look for one that does.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

rejecting job candidates

In a post today, Penelope Trunk talks about the advantages of rejecting bad candidates on the spot -- for instance, telling them at the end of the phone interview that they're not among the strongest candidates and you're going to be focusing on others.

I will occasionally do this, but more often than not, even if I know during the phone interview that the candidate isn't right for the position, I won't reject them then and there. Instead, they'll receive a (very nice) rejection email within a few days. My reason for this is that some candidates will try to argue with you, continue trying to sell themselves, or try to talk you into reversing your decision and, frankly, it's not up for debate (if I'm rejecting a candidate on the spot, it's because there's absolutely no doubt in my mind). This is the same reason why I never do rejections by phone.

Monday, October 22, 2007

what are managers responsible for?

Later this week I will write about how I train new managers, but first let's answer this question: What are managers responsible for? It sounds simple, but all too often people can't give a comprehensive answer.

Yes, managers are responsible for "getting stuff done," but let's break it down. Managers are responsible for ensuring the following are true:
  • all employees are doing their jobs correctly, thoroughly, and on time

  • expectations and goals are clear

  • conflicting priorities are addressed and readjusted as needed

  • objectives and goals are being met or exceeded

  • key information is conveyed up the ladder, to the manager's manager or others who might need to know

  • employees are given a level of oversight appropriate to their position and abilities

  • good employees feel appreciated, heard, and as if someone is “looking out” for them

  • employees are given regular feedback about their performance, including what they do well and where they need to improve, with special attention toward low performers to ensure they improve or are transitioned out

  • staffers are representing the company and department appropriately to the public and various stakeholders

  • employees are following company policies

  • there is a plan in place to ensure continuity if disaster were to strike (for instance, if a key staffer were to disappear tomorrow, is there a way for you to access passwords, important documents, and the other information someone would need to step in?)
And, finally, and hugely important, managers are responsible for ensuring results in their realms. Concrete, measurable results.

What else would you add to this list?

i love me some humility

I have a pet peeve: job applicants who tell me in their cover letter that they are without any doubt "the best" candidate for the job.

This amazingly bold statement is often made by candidates who, in fact, match very few of the requirements of the job. But even if that weren't the case, come on. You don't know who the other candidates are, and (unless you're an internal candidate) you don't know the needs of the job intimately. It comes across as overly cocky, naive bluster.

I understand why people do this -- they've been told they're supposed to display confidence. But humility matters too (and it's rare that I've hired a candidate without some).

Carnival of HR #18

The Carnival of HR #18 is now up at the HR Capitalist. Check it out!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

do you conduct entry interviews?

Exit interviews of employees who are leaving are a great way to collect information about how the organization can do things better -- but why not get that information before the employee is halfway out the door? Even better, why not get it early on in an employee's tenure, so you can use the information to improve their experience and productivity, catch issues early, and get the fresh perspective of someone not already steeped in "the way we do it"?

Here's what I ask when I conduct "entry interviews," which I do with every new employee a month or two after they start:

Did your job turn out to be as you expected it would be when you were being hired? How did the reality differ from your expectations when you first joined us?

What improvements could be made to the way you were oriented and trained for your role?

What areas would you like additional training or help with?

Do you have a good understanding of what all our other departments do and who to go to for what?

Are you getting enough feedback? Are you clear on what's expected of you and how you're doing?

How’s your workload?

Are there any policies or rules here that seem silly or frustrating to you? Are there any obstacles that make doing your job more difficult?

Is there anything that would improve your quality of life at work?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

reference requests when you can't give a good one

I love to serve as a reference for most former employees. But I've also occasionally been asked to be a reference for employees who I can't honestly recommend.

Here are some ways to handle reference requests when you can't recommend the candidate:

1. Whenever possible, warn the employee in advance that you won't be able to provide a positive reference. You may still receive calls from reference-checkers who go outside of the list of references provided by the candidate, but this should minimize it.

2. There's an easy out if the employee worked for you more than a couple of years ago: You can explain to the reference-checker (or the employee herself) that you don't feel equipped to be a reference since her work for you was so long ago and you can't remember the types of nuances that reference-checkers are looking for.

3. If the employment was more recent and #2 isn't feasible, you can fall back on saying you can only confirm title and dates of employment. (Although be prepared for a savvy reference-checker to ask if this is your policy across the board or just for this candidate, or to offer you a release from the candidate.)

4. Last, consider honesty. Frankly, as someone who has to check references myself, I'm grateful when I encounter the rare reference willing to be candid about weaknesses. After all, reference checking (and the whole hiring process, for that matter) is all about finding out if the candidate and the job are a good match. If they're not a good match and it's not uncovered until it's too late, the company will be stuck with a poor performer and the employee will be stuck struggling in a job and maybe even losing it down the road.

However, if you do choose to provide a reference for a poor performer, stick to objective facts you can prove. (Despite corporate paranoia about defamation cases, employers are permitted to provide negative references as long as they're truthful -- but you must be able to prove what you said was indeed true.)

Monday, October 8, 2007

was I ready for a career leap?

A reader writes:

After spending about a year in a post-college entry-level position, I was recently terminated from a new job that I'd hoped was going to be a major step forward in my career. (We're talking a nearly 35 percent pay raise and an operation three or four times bigger than where I started.)

I'll spare you the gory details, but it will suffice to say that my former bosses admitted that my work ethic had been satisfactory and a lack of effort was not the problem. Rather, there was a discrepancy between the level of guidance I had hoped would support my continued growth and the amount of time my former bosses expected direct supervisors to have to spend actually working with me. At the very least, I'm clear that one of my mistakes was not asking the right questions in the interview process to understand what I was getting myself into.

Nevertheless, my question is what this means going forward. I'm just as confident in my talent as I ever was, but less so in my unseasoned ability to translate that into results. Still, I'm concerned that going back to an entry-level position could set back my career and leave prospective future employers questioning why I couldn't stay on a bigger stage. Should I take the assessment of my former bosses to mean that I need more time to grow in an entry-level position, or should I try to focus on re-acquiring a sort of "second step" job again (better armed with the first experience this time)?

It sounds as though your employer was looking for someone who could step into the job with little training (presumably aside from the usual training specific to the company, which one would give even the most seasoned veteran in his or her first weeks). That's not unusual on its face.

So, the question that naturally arises from your note is: Would a reasonable person considering you for the job have believed that you could step into the job and succeed with only a modicum of training? Would your skills and past experience make this a reasonable proposition, or would a company have to have taken a massive leap of faith to proceed this way?

If the answer is "massive leap of faith," the company owed it to you to say something at the outset like: "We're taking a big leap of faith here. Normally we'd look for someone with more experience in x, y, and z, but we think you have enough potential that you're going to be able to overcome your lack of experience and do well. But because of the experience gap, you're going to need to spend extra time learning the industry and how we do things. Here are some suggestions for where to start." Then you'd know what you were getting into and how much help (if any) you could expect from them. You'd also have the chance to consider whether you even wanted to take a job that was likely to be more than the usual challenge.

Now, if the answer is not "massive leap of faith" and instead a reasonable person would have assumed you would thrive in the job without significant training and guidance (based on your resume and interview), then we have a different situation on our hands. In that case, I'd ask you this: What sorts of things were you looking to your boss for help with? How often? How much time did you need of theirs in an average week? Were you looking for confirmation that your approach was the right one, or were you unsure of what that approach should even be? If you were being asked to make judgment calls in a way that was new to you (likely since you're early in your career), were you simply uncomfortable doing so because that was new ground for you, or were you uncomfortable doing so because you truly felt unqualified to do it? (Please feel free to write back or post in the Comments section if you want to answer any of this slew of questions!)

It's possible you were an extremely conscientious employee who misread the signals your boss was sending you about how autonomous you should be. It's also possible you simply found yourself in a job you weren't quite ready for. In either case, it sounds like you found yourself in a job that required you to exercise more independent judgment than you felt comfortable with.

Here's what I can tell you for sure: Many employers will want you to tackle the job without significant guidance or training (and the ones that will be willing to invest more time in training you should discuss this up front). So when you're interviewing for new positions, this is a great question to explore in the interview. Ask what kind of training they envision, how much autonomy they'd like the person to have, what sort of learning curve they expect, even what kinds of backgrounds their most successful employees have brought to that position in the past. You'll get a good idea of whether you'd be comfortable moving forward.

The fact that you're considering this question bodes well, in my opinion. Good luck!