Show your freshmen the ropes, and
you’ll help them succeed.
Resources abound to educate emerging managers, coach junior
executives and develop a firm’s ascending leadership.
Most firms use these resources and invest significant time and
energy to ensure that their senior staff is knowledgeable and
prepared to take the reins when the time comes.
It’s less common for a firm to invest in its freshmen
employees. These employees, often straight from high school or
college, sometimes enter our places of business with no real
work experience. Many go through a firm’s orientation
program, which teaches them about the organization, its
products, its competitors and its clients. But often these
sessions don’t teach new employees the basic behaviors to
ensure success on the job.
Consider adding an “Introduction to Success”
course to your on-boarding process and provide entry-level tips
and techniques to accelerate the success of your new employees.
Help them recognize that their behavior on the job can make or
break a career. Tell them, à la Will Rogers, “Even
if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over
if you just sit there.”
The following are some suggested topics, but your curriculum
should contain what you feel is most important for a newcomer
to know about your firm and its people:
Attitude. Junior might have
done well on his SATs, aced his way through college and
graduated at the top of his class, but without the right
attitude and strong interpersonal skills, he’ll be a
stone-cold loser on the job. Most successful employees have a
positive demeanor, say “yes” more than
“no,” don’t balk or grumble at an unsavory
assignment, and learn to work as part of a team. Let your
employees know up front that you expect them to accept work
willingly, to pitch in as needed and to develop a team
I’ve seen many a smart cookie’s career crumble
because he or she complained, whined or played the martyr. Even
more negative is an entry-level employee who feels certain work
is beneath him or not acceptable because it’s not listed
in the job description. Let new employees know that a helpful
attitude is a critical component of success.
Initiative. Many young
employees step up to the plate without a moment’s
hesitation. Others can be led to water but can’t be
forced to drink. Most organizations value an innate eagerness
to learn and to make a contribution. For example, Karen had
been on the job less than a month when her manager called from
the road with an obscure research request. No instructions were
given or resources identified, but, when asked if she would do
the job, Karen gamely said, “Sure, no problem.”
Left to her own devices, Karen consulted with others in the
office, dug into files, searched the Internet and made phone
calls. Within a short period of time, she was able to give her
manager the requested information. Much praise and accolades
ensued, and Karen quickly became the go-to person when a
project without precedent needed to be completed.
By stepping up to the plate with a positive attitude,
pushing aside fears, networking with colleagues, and being
resourceful, Karen was able to make a place for herself in the
ranks of successful young employees. Tell your employees a
similar story to teach them the importance of a “just do
Observation. New employees may observe others at work
but don’t always pick up on what could be valuable career
information. For example, many young people wear clothes that
are more suitable for campus life. Senior staff understand that
it might take a while for new employees to develop a work
wardrobe and may not say anything right away. But before long,
those Uggs, low-rise corduroys and sundresses look out of
place. Help young colleagues dress for success by advising them
to learn from their colleagues. Urge them to develop a
professional style that melds their personal sense of fashion
with that of the organization. Recommend that they look around
and synthesize the information gathered as a way of identifying
other firm norms, from communication preferences (email vs.
face-to-face) to decision-making processes (large group vs.
Risky Business. In addition to
teaching the basic “how tos,” teach the basic
“please don’ts.” Tell newbies up front if
your firm is intolerant of lateness in any form or has a more
relaxed approach to schedules, enjoys intracompany emails that
contain harmless jokes and inspirational phrases or considers
these spam, or prefers boisterous brainstorming or quiet
thought. New employees typically figure these things out
themselves, but why waste their time and yours? Make sure you
also teach them important legal or ethical standards regarding
harassment, conflicts of interest, misuse of company property
and other rules that govern conduct.
Your freshmen employees are still in student
mode—eager to listen and learn. While they are open to
new ideas and experiences, introduce them to success. Teach
them the right way to proceed. Provide the prerequisites now to
ensure that later they’ll be ready and able to become
your firm’s upperclassmen.
Kramer is The Council’s senior vice president, Office
of the President.