Managers have always played a key role in molding young employees, often by modeling what organizational psychologists call executive presence. It’s tougher to do now that so much work happens virtually, but there are ways to create these learning opportunities.
If done right — and regularly — managers will set young professionals up for long-term career success.
Organizational psychologists and hiring managers that WorkLife spoke with said there’s an increased focus on training managers to teach new employees adaptability, curiosity and relationship building skills. Before the pandemic these were skills most young professionals learned by osmosis — sitting next to seasoned professionals and mimicking their business sensibilities. But with so many companies now offering remote positions, learning that way is no longer a given.
“My clients are investing in training managers on how to develop people,” Julia Lamm, a partner in PwC’s financial services people and organization practice, told WorkLife. “It’s focused on how to be an empathetic manager and put yourself in your employees’ shoes. They don’t know how to navigate the organization, they may have never been to an office or met anyone they’re working with in person.”
The upfront investment will likely pay off in the long term, she said.
“If you’re a manager who invests in your people, they’ll have a better experience and it becomes a virtuous cycle,” Lamm added. “The better experience they have, the more likely they are to stay, perform and be engaged.”
Setting the mood
To do this, managers must be purposeful in their interactions. But first, create the right atmosphere, particularly for virtual meetings, which can be awkward and impersonal. Elizabeth Solomon, an organizational consultant and emotional intelligence coach based in Northampton, Mass., advises clients to set a clear expectation that all attendees of a virtual meeting must have their camera on.
“As an organization you need to set norms around this,” Solomon said. “Managers should say, ‘We’re asking everyone to be seen. That’s how we do meetings here.’”
Next, do a simple opening exercise before getting down to business. Solomon suggests having everyone pick up an object on their desk and explain what it is and what it means to you.
“It’s a way of inviting people into your home, which is an amazing reflection of who we are,” she said.
With young employees, conduct a post-mortem after meetings, particularly ones where there was a presentation or a client in attendance. Ask what they thought of the presentation, what went well for the presenter and what didn’t and what they learned. It may seem obvious, but ask if they have any questions.
Judy Goldberg, founder of Wondershift, a training firm that coaches employees and leaders how to optimize their teams and work, recommends bringing young, new hires to client meetings (virtual or in-person) so they can observe seasoned professionals. Be sure to explain to the other attendees who the new addition is and their role in the meeting.
Set expectations with the new hire, too. For the few times they join, Goldberg recommends they observe how business is conducted and regroup after the meeting to review what they noticed. As the new hire gets more experienced, invite them to play a participatory role and increase their responsibility as appropriate.
If the ultimate goal is to get new hires comfortable leading a meeting, Solomon recommends setting a clear goal. For the first five meetings, the new employee will observe. On their sixth meeting, they will run half the meeting and work up to leading the entire time.
“A huge builder of emotional intelligence” is to create a comfortable environment for new hires to ask leaders questions, Goldberg told WorkLife. When a company’s top leaders attend departmental meetings she recommends they open the floor to questions.
She’d like to see leaders take it a step farther by throwing a question back to the attendees with something like: “This is one thing we’re looking at, what’s your perspective on it?” “How does this make you feel when you hear me talk about this?” “What recommendations do you have?”
Along the same lines, Solomon says it goes a long way when managers demonstrate empathy. Not only will employees feel seen, it models best practices. It also creates an opportunity to bring people in who haven’t participated.
She suggests something like, “I’m curious to hear your perspective because you have a lot of expertise in this area. Would you be willing to share your perspective?” Knowing what’s going on in someone’s life outside of work is even more valuable. A manager might say, “I know it’s been school vacation and having the kids home while you work must be exhausting.”
“If a leader knows this it says, ‘I see you.’ That goes a long way,” added Soloman.