WorkWise: New co-worker not up to speed?

December 9, 2013 

Paul Genato (center), attorney at Archer & Greiner P.C. in Princeton, N.J., advocates “shadowing” to help new hires settle in. Stephen Torok (right), an attorney new to the firm, shadows him during this discussion about a case with Lisa Farino (left), a junior paralegal.

Your co-worker is new on the job and isn’t productive. That lack of productivity will undermine your work. Your objective, stabilizing the workflow, will require some effort. Consider a range of tactics to create impact as quickly as possible.

Attorney Paul Genato uses “shadowing,” bringing the new co-worker along, at Archer & Greiner PC in Princeton, N.J. He views it as productive for both of you without draining your time. “Shadowing, attending meetings with me and sitting in on conference calls is very helpful,” he comments. “The person sees and experiences first-hand the nuances of the work without interrupting my work.” He advises the co-worker of the status of a case prior to a meeting or call, introduces the person to conference-call or meeting attendees and debriefs the co-worker at the end.

Like Genato, Laurie Battaglia endorses shadowing, among other tactics. She’s co-owner and career coach at Living the Dream Coaches LLC in Scottsdale, Ariz. “Think like a newbie,” she advises. “When you walked into your role, what tripped you up or was difficult to find or understand? Focus on those things.”

She further advocates functioning as “a buddy to follow around or sit with to learn the new role.” Have the co-worker take notes, which you’ll both have for the next new hire.

At Seattle, Wash.’s 9Slides Inc., marketing manager Alonso Chehade indicates that he’d go to the supervisor for help, if the supervisor were open to such discussions. Otherwise, he’d help the co-worker directly as a friend or mentor, first by establishing a connection.

“I’d find out their process for getting the job done,” Chehade says, “and come up with a different process or give the person a tool to do it without criticizing. Be sure that everything you say is constructive.” He also mentions to listen for personal problems that might be getting in the way. Keep in mind that the new person may be feeling vulnerable.

Chehade also recommends you bring an outline of topics to discuss so you cover everything and pace your delivery to avoid overwhelming the person. He maintains that creating anxiety will reduce productivity.” Avoiding negative communication, such as, ‘By the way, make sure you don't push this button, or you could delete all the accounts,’” he adds, “when the task doesn't even involve pushing that button in the first place.”

Peppering the conversation with comments about how you appreciate the person and are happy to be working together will facilitate the process, according to Chehade. He further points out that mentioning the person’s strength relevant to the task will provide a boost. You could say, for example, “You're an amazing writer. I can't wait to see the new dripping campaign!” Establish dates for completion to establish accountability and recap the training prior to that time to alleviate misunderstanding.

If, in this process, “you’re trying unsuccessfully to help,” Battaglia says, “ask yourself first if your teaching style might be clashing with the person’s learning style. Generational differences can also come into play.”

Is the co-worker just not qualified for the job? Battaglia says this occurs frequently, because interviewing is one thing; the lack of hands-on experience, another. Notify the boss only when you’re certain this is the case and work with him to see if skills training will solve the problem. “Many places have a short period of time during training where they can let someone go without a lot of drama,” she observes.

Try several tactics to see what builds productivity rapidly. Then do more.

Mildred L. Culp of WorkWise® welcomes your questions at culp@workwise.net.

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