Thoughts on Early Career Employees: What They Know and What They Don’t

It’s the start of a program on personal brand and presence, and we’re expecting twenty participants who have been described as “early career.”  And as we often say, you can tell a lot about people by how they show up before the program begins.  Three seem earnest.  They arrive early with backpacks and laptops.  They settle in, plug in their devices and seem ready to go.  Half of the group walks in just on time.  Three will phone fifteen minutes after the program is underway because their GPS took them to the wrong location.  Two will show up…when they want to.  They don’t offer any explanation or apology.  It appears that they just came when they were ready.  And at least one person really wasn’t ready.  The untucked shirttail and glazed-over look suggests a late night and a much too early morning.  One or two will be no shows…with no explanation.

It doesn’t take long to form an impression of this new workforce, and we’re often asked to do that.  The instinct to form impressions and assumptions exist with any group and this young workforce isn’t exempt from how any of us take people in.

But, the more interesting question is this:  As smart as they are and as determined as they are to change the world, do they know that it starts with the simple impressions that they set every day?  Do they know that managers and leaders ask for those impressions and make assumptions based on how someone shows up for a meeting…or a training session?

We’ve had an opportunity to work with many groups of young career employees, and we’ve learned a lot from them.  And, you may say: Who hasn’t?  There has been more written about this group of employees than any other early career group in the last few decades.

As leaders, we know:

They don’t expect to stay for long.  88% say they will be in a job less than three years.

They think business technology is archaic.  They believe most work can be done more efficiently and most processes should be thrown out.

They aren’t very impressed by perks and benefits.  They want meaning and purpose to their jobs.

They will work harder if they can see the impact of what they’re doing.

We know they can do it faster.  We know they have ideas.  And, we know they want direct interaction with us almost daily.

We know, we know.  And, we’re trying.

Most companies are working very hard to embrace this new perspective and integrate their fresh ideas into the work stream.

But, there is also an air of entitlement that seems to show up more with this early career group than those who came before them, and I’m not sure why. I am sure it won’t be appreciated by any company culture…even if they change cultures every three years.

So, do we tell them this…and if so, how?

Every manager that I’ve talked to about early career employees has got a few that keep his head spinning.  That really isn’t a new challenge.  There have always been a few green employees who need a little “coaching” about how to work well with others and how to show up in a business setting if they want to be taken seriously.

In fact, it’s not their fault if they aren’t showing up well.  It’s ours because we seem to have stopped talking to them about it.  As managers, we’re a little intimidated by these new employees.  We keep hearing how special they are and how much they can do.  And, they can!  They are well-prepared with technical skills that businesses will value.  But, they are missing business skills.  How could they possibly have gotten them?  These are the skills that are coached day to day and mentored over time.  And if you’re avoiding the honest feedback about impressions, it will hurt all of us as they try to grow in the workplace.

What do they need to know?

Respect is earned, not granted.  No matter how much you know or what you can do, people earn respect over time.  It takes all of us time to settle in with someone new and believe in their brand.  You don’t earn respect by getting it right one time.  You earn respect by getting it right, getting it wrong and admitting the difference…over time.

Two ears, one mouth.  You don’t know everything, and you can’t learn everything overnight.  No one expects you to and you shouldn’t expect it of yourself.  Listen.  There are people who have good perspective and insight.  They may not have the best ideas or the newest ones.  But, they have perspective that will help you move faster.  There may not always be someone in the room who can advance your career, but there is always someone in the room who can stall it.

Listen actively and attentively.  When you aren’t engaged with someone, you aren’t listening.  People need non-verbal responses to know that they are being heard.  When you’re on your device, most people don’t view that as paying attention.  They view it as disrespectful and uninterested.

Go along to get along.  Since the first business opened, people have been learning how to collaborate and work together.  It isn’t easy.  Every culture has bullies, two-facers, over-achievers, under-performers, the meek and mild, the sincere and trustworthy, the outspoken and the insecure, the disillusioned and the compliant.  You will meet all of them and learn to work with all of them.  But, it won’t be easy.  In the corporate setting, you can’t move away or walk away from someone who isn’t just like you.

And, it isn’t always about you.  When you don’t get immediate feedback, when your email is ignored for two days or when someone cancels a meeting, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t important.  But, it does mean that something was more important on that day.  Be patient.  Managers make choices every day to keep things moving in the right direction.  Things won’t always make sense and they won’t always seem fair.  But it’s almost always because you don’t know the full story.

If you could meet the managers behind the 20 early career employees who came to our workshop, here’s what might surprise you.  The three who showed up early weren’t that different than the rest of the class.  Except that someone had taken the time to help them value development.  They explained what to expect, and they positioned training as a gift.  Those participants were eager for the learning and vested in getting feedback for themselves.

The managers with employees who arrived on time had coached the basics and at least got across the expectation of attendance and participation.  And sadly, the ones who didn’t show or who arrived late just assumed there weren’t consequences.  They didn’t give a second thought to impressions or impact of their behavior.  While one may have been defiant, I think the rest were just uninformed.  They had no idea that word of those actions would travel back to their employers.

We have to tell them…and we have to coach them.  They are the instant gratification generation.  Feedback on their brand and how to set the right impression will give them instant confidence and accelerate the responsibility that they are very eager to have.

This wasn’t a one-off observation for our team.  We’ve been watching this generation for a few years in workshops, and we see the need for coaching and developing around impressions, influence and impact. But, we also see a different learning style and we’re ready to respond to that.  This fall, we’ve added our early career program that coaches the concepts of how to “Show Up & Be Heard.”

So, if you have some newer members of your team who are eager to learn or may need a little added awareness, I hope you’ll encourage them to join us in September for our six-week evening program.  It will be a lot of discovery, a little coaching and a great way to learn the business “best practices” that we all need to succeed.

Call us when you need us.