The Conversations Every Manager Should Have With Their Junior Employees

by Stephen Ostrowski
March 20, 2020
All Campus Chicago
all campus

Unrelenting assignments, frenetic schedules and the ease of scribbling off a quick email are just a few reasons why managers might have difficulty carving out time for thoughtful conversations with their junior-level employees.

Clear, transparent communication can’t be discounted, however. A March 2020 Gallup article reported that “unclear” manager communications was one of the top five factors that contribute to employee burnout, a phenomenon 76 percent of surveyed workers reported experiencing.

There are benefits to managers taking a vested interest in their employees. A July 2019 Gallup article noted that workers are “nearly four times more likely to be engaged” when managers take part in their goal-setting. 

Getting to know employees personally and professionally is top of mind for Sara Nolte, VP of enrollment management at edtech platform All Campus.

“Understanding who my employees are, what their goals are and what motivates them helps me to determine the best way to be an effective leader and mentor,” said Nolte.

That’s just one type of conversation managers can have to be effective leaders. Whether sitting down to articulate expectations, share feedback or tackle a roadblock, thoughtful dialogue can function like a GPS for newer employees: it identifies a destination toward which they can strive, providing them the direction to get there so that they’re not left navigating in the dark. 

Jared Shay
Engineering Manager

Shay recognizes that junior-level engineering roles can be daunting. That’s why it’s critical to not only define expectations, but also to foster an environment that welcomes questions. 

 

What are the key conversations you should have with every junior employee? 

One of the most important conversations to have with junior engineers is setting clear expectations that learning is a first-class tenet of the role. When someone is starting out as an engineer, it is easy to become overwhelmed. To a certain extent, that is part of the process. The skills required to self-sufficiently and comfortably navigate the engineering landscape are acquired over time. Making learning a part of the conversation early on makes for a much more supportive and seamless experience. Ultimately, the goal for an engineer is to feel empowered to learn, with the confidence that learning adds value for their career, their team and the organization.

Ultimately, the goal for an engineer is to feel empowered to learn.”

 

How do you ensure you and your team members get value from these conversations?

Ask. I make asking questions part of an ongoing conversation with all the engineers I work with, not just those who are starting out. I place a lot of value on cultivating an environment where people feel supported and comfortable asking questions. I believe making learning and mentorship a topic of conversation is a key part  of creating a supportive environment.

 

Sara Nolte
VP of enrollment management

Adaptability, empathy and honesty are critical traits for managers, said Nolte, who likened the role to being a “chameleon.” By shirking a one-size-fits-all approach in favor of a tailored strategy for each direct report, managers can help drive performance and growth. 

 

What are the key conversations you should have with every junior employee? 

A successful manager is a chameleon, someone who can tailor their approach based on the needs of their employees. I’ve always felt it’s really important to get to know the people on my team. Managers who take the time to know what drives their team members are the best at not only engaging them effectively, but also knowing how to push them just enough out of their comfort zones so they develop as professionals. 

Understanding who my employees are, what their goals are and what motivates them helps me to determine the best way to be an effective leader and mentor.

I’ve always felt it’s really important to get to know the people on my team.”

 

How do you ensure you and your team members get value from these conversations?

I listen and I’m honest because I care about my employees’ success as much as they do. People can tell when you’re just going through the motions. It’s also important to follow up. If I have a conversation with an employee and provide some type of feedback or instruction, I make sure to check in, see how things are going and tweak plans as necessary.

 

Beth Coakley
Associate Creative Director

For Coakley, empowering junior-level colleagues means helping them understand how their work fits into the broader organizational framework. Why? 

“So they can build strong relationships with the people they work with day-to-day,” Coakley said. Of paramount importance, she added, is that communication is authentic and genuine.

 

What are the key conversations you should have with every junior employee? 

I always keep in mind that my direct reports are more junior not because of their potential, but because of their experience. Our conversations should focus on how to do the work and how to evaluate the work critically. We also talk a lot about how their role fits in as part of the whole team, so they can build strong relationships with the people they work with day to day. Conversations like these are important because they help build critical soft skills junior employees will need to progress in their careers.

Conversations like these are important because they help build critical soft skills.”

 

How do you ensure you and your team members get value from these conversations?

In my experience, direct reports get the most value out of these conversations when they happen as organically as possible, rather than me coming in with an agenda. That means I mostly let them set the pace and tone of our check-ins. Sometimes we talk about work; sometimes, we talk about Beyoncé, “Star Wars” or astrology.

I try and normalize their experiences by sharing times in my career when I experienced something similar, and how I worked through it. I also follow up consistently with them on whatever we talk about. In fact, I have a neon pink, fuzzy notebook dedicated just for our check-ins. When my direct reports see me with it, they know I genuinely care about what we talk about.

 

Stephanie Paras
VP of Operations

Setting goals, providing feedback and plotting a career path are the three pillars that drive conversations that Paras conducts with junior-level employees. One-on-ones in which she mostly listens help her build authentic relationships with direct reports.

 

What are the key conversations you should have with every junior employee? 

There are three key conversations that have helped me accelerate junior employees. Goal setting: providing context when aligning on priorities is critical, as it articulates how their work contributes to the overall business. This is a powerful motivator. Feedback: I encourage fluid performance management conversations, not only to quicken development, but also to coach employees to be proactive in their own advancement. Lastly, career pathing: since most junior employees don’t know what their career goals are yet, it’s important to collaborate on how to think about their future. This helps me know how to frame their growth path and set them up for success. 

Regularly cadenced one-on-one meetings are key.”

 

How do you ensure you and your team members get value from these conversations?

Regularly cadenced one-on-one meetings are key. They provide a forum that guarantees quality time for relationship-building, goal-setting, feedback and their career path. Typically, I prefer that my team members set the agenda and drive their one-on-one meeting.  This approach both empowers the employee and helps me understand what else I need to do to support them. I will also come prepared with questions, topics or feedback, when relevant, to add at the end of the meeting. However, I derive the most value from these conversations when I talk less and just listen.

 

Devin Kerr
Program Manager

At consumer feedback platform PowerReviews, weekly one-on-ones are critical to success, said Kerr. The conversations foster transparency and are a forum to celebrate success stories. 

 

What are the key conversations you should have with every junior employee? 

At a high level, the key conversations for both managers and employees to have revolve around driving mutual success for everyone. Managers use these conversations as a time to understand what our employees value, how they want to be perceived by the organization and where they want to be long term. This helps us effectively coach and motivate our team so we can hit our organizational goals.

Managers also have weekly one-on-one conversations where the agenda is driven by both the manager and the direct report. This ensures we have time set aside each week to check in with one another, maintain a transparent culture and also celebrate wins.

Managers use these conversations as a time to understand what our employees value.”

Todd Anderson
Director of technical support

How do you ensure you and your team members get value from these conversations?

To get the most value out of these conversations, managers do a couple of things. First, we host onboarding sessions for every new employee and make sure they have the proper tools and support to be successful. This enables employees to fully own their role, which, in turn, ensures that we are meeting and exceeding our goals as a company. This leads to our team feeling fulfilled when they come to work. 

We also work with our direct reports to outline a career roadmap. This combination leads to our employees ultimately advancing in their careers.

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