Q: I have a new direct report. Mostly I think it’s going to work fine, but he’s a bit high maintenance. Right off the bat he is overdoing it on jokes that I’m not in the mood for. What’s the best way to get him settled in without coming off as no fun? — Cecile, 48, director, operations
A: Be welcoming and express your expectations clearly. If you are fair, you need not worry too much about being liked.
Focus on what needs to be accomplished as you onboard your new team member. If you hire regularly, you likely have a process you follow. Keep that on track so that you don’t get distracted by his neediness.
If you don’t bring on new team members often, make a list of ramp-up items you need to cover. Address all the HR topics as well.
Then reflect back on the hiring process when you selected this individual. Did you see signs of this temperament when you interviewed him? And if not, consider why it may be showing up now. Hint: think startup jitters.
Perhaps you didn’t actually select this person; he may have moved to your team as part of an internal reorganization or other shift.
You won’t then have had some of the discussions about interests, preferred environment and goals that you may have had with a hire you selected.
Plus, he may be feeling even more uncertain about his new environment or be feeling like a pawn if he was moved without his input. After all, when looking for a job, candidates are also screening their new bosses for fit.
In this case, it’s appropriate to include some “getting to know each other” time in your launch plan. Set aside tasks and bureaucracy for an hour for relaxed conversation about your respective backgrounds, values, preferences and styles.
Regardless of the hiring process, you will need him to adapt to the team dynamic. If you expect independence, let him know that. And then be very careful not to enable dependence by answering questions that he should be thinking through on his own.
If this pattern continues, explore directly with him why he isn’t taking more initiative. He may have been burned in the past or feel underprepared for this role.
As far as the jokiness goes, ignore it at first. It’s probably just nerves. If it persists, a phase-two approach could be, “let’s just stay focused,” delivered with a smile. Phase three would be to point out directly that there is a time and place for humor that he needs to figure out. My hunch is that you won’t need to go that far, though.
How is it going for him and your other team members? It might be helpful to give him a team mentor to help him get comfortable faster. Also pay attention if the mentor is raising concerns.
Accommodating individual differences is important to building a strong team. Just be clear in your own mind about how much time and effort are appropriate while being creative and compassionate about helping him adjust.
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