Pressure is growing on people managers to rise to a new level when it comes to onboarding early-career professionals and setting them up for success. Employees who are early in their careers, especially in the current, rapidly evolving climate, require a different sort of commitment and action from their leaders.
Early-career employees warrant particular attention for everything they bring — fresh, outsider perspective, new skills and diverse experiences — as well as for their special needs, whether they are just entering the workforce or changing careers. They join the organization without the baggage veterans of the sector carry or wearing the blinders of tradition, only being able to see things as they have always been done in the organization. Their newness is an asset, allowing them to see new opportunities if they are embraced for who they are while being introduced to how the organization operates.
Other recent statistics point to the end of workplace orthodoxies regarding new employees. For example, about 25 percent of millennials believe it is okay to leave a job within 12 months of being hired. Whether a recent graduate, or a 30-something starting a second (or third!) career, this means that a workforce made up largely of millennials has the potential to reach unsustainable churn rates quickly if people managers don’t re-think behavior and assumptions about their own leadership practices.
Leaders who continue only to pay lip service to valuing their people, especially newcomers to their company or field, will run into limitations to accomplish their goals. In fact, close to 90 percent of tech executives report turnover rates exceeding what more recently was considered “normal.” Anecdotally, a big-tech exec recently shared they have seen examples of employees recruited away from the company with offers that double current salaries. High turnover in a critical function coupled with unexpected growth in payroll expense can jeopardize the product roadmap and financial performance.
Here are some recommendations for people managers to get to know and mentor early-career employees so they can feel motivated and engaged to do their best work, and not become part of the turnover statistics.
Their Experience Is Not Your Experience
Beginnings are unique times in any career. These early experiences will cast a long shadow over any employee’s futures and you have the power to make a difference, good or bad, through your behavior and actions. Take this responsibility seriously and commit to their success by treating them as individuals while supporting their onboarding to the team.
Start by recognizing that what meaningful work looks like to new employees may be different from your own expectations or those of current members of the team. Consider that more than half of global knowledge workers were expected to be either hybrid or fully remote by the end of 2021; the workplace is changing and it’s creating new complexity in building and leading collaborative teams, creating camaraderie, driving a cohesive culture, and understanding of the organization’s purpose and goals. New solutions are needed, and digital natives are in the position to provide them. Approach your conversations and learning opportunities as bi-directional. Yes, you may be coaching an early-career employee, but each conversation is an opportunity for you to learn from them. Be humble and ask questions.
Let Their Strengths Complement Your Weaknesses
A manager gave me this advice when I was a new people manager, “Hire people who do the things that you don’t like to do, and who are good at the things that you are not good at.”
Wise and time-tested advice. If you’ve followed suit, you are now managing people who are complementary to you — so you may have little in common in terms of skills or interests. That’s a positive if you deliberately cultivate a relationship. Recognize your own strengths and weaknesses. Accept that as you get further in your career, you will know less about what your less-experienced team members are doing. Know your own assets as a manager and be authentic about what you know and what you don’t know.
Establish processes that ensure you:
- Ask questions. Build trust by showing genuine concern about team members as people, not executors of a task list. A simple question like, “Tell me about you and your goals,” before launching into the latest list, can go a long way to establishing that you care about your team members and why they decided to join your organization.
- Preserve your commitment to regular one-to-one meetings. Do not let these fall off the calendar because of last-minute emergencies. Is there a key early-career team member who doesn’t report to you? Hold less-frequent skip-level meetings to check in, get to know them, and show that you care. Reach out to build a relationship.
- Hold people managers on the team accountable for building their people management skills, including adopting norms for onboarding and developing early-career employees. People management skills are learned, and people managers must learn and practice coaching and developing other competencies that may be brand new to them.
Collaborate on Implementing the 90-day Plan
All new employees, including early-career employees, benefit from a plan defining key activities and outcomes for their first 90 days on the job. This is a make-or-break period during which they will establish relationships, a reputation, and their feelings about the decision to join your company and team. Take advantage of how critical this time is.
Maximize the Impact of the 90-day Plan With These 6 Tips
- Be welcoming
- Provide a model or template for drafting goals
- Show them the big picture
- Focus on development
- Give them the trust they need to experiment
- Start coaching leadership skills right away
Introduce them to the team, point them to people or groups with interests aligned to theirs, and expose them to other parts of the organization.
Provide a Model or Template for Drafting Goals
Collaborate with them to develop S.M.A.R.T. goals — Smart, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Ensure that their goals connect to their abilities and passions.
Show Them the Big Picture
Take the time to orient these employees to the vision and North Star for the business, and see how their role contributes. Include an orientation to the culture, and guidance on how to operate within the culture of your organization.
Focus on Development
The 90-day plan should include development activities — meetings, training, specific assignments, perhaps a presentation or reverse mentoring role — to help them get their feet wet and build confidence and relationships.
Give Them the Trust They Need to Experiment
Any organization must be a place of continuous learning where people are able to experiment … and fail. The earlier in a person’s career the freedom to experiment is established as a norm the greater that person’s contributions and engagement can be now and in the future. Create the space for experimentation that works for your business and encourage people to use their creativity and outsider perspective to help advance business and customer goals.
Start Coaching Leadership Skills Right Away
Be sensitive to the importance of coaching on soft skills that matter most — resilience, influence, communications, how to make positive choices and tradeoffs, decision making. You are setting the basis for leadership skills that will matter throughout their career.
The traditional ladder of advancing one’s career at a small number of employers through ever-upward moves is the way of the past. In their best-selling book, The Squiggly Career, authors Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis present the case for curating one’s career path, making moves in different directions — up, down and sideways — to gain the experiences that contribute to the joyful and purposeful career we each deserve to have. The “squiggly career” is the experience early-career employees are more and more likely to have. Your role as a people manager is to help them set off on their path by having a great experience at your organization.