When the New Employee Tries Too Hard to Impress


Q: I’m at a loss on how to deal with a recent hire. He’s very eager to prove himself and do well, but instead of learning his job –which involves very specific functions, procedures and deadlines– he spends time trying to find efficiencies in other areas and coming up with improvement ideas unrelated to the job. Consequently, he’s not up to speed.

I DO like employees who show initiative, but I also need him to learn his job. So what’s the best way to let him know he needs to concentrate on the job first, without squelching his proactive spirit?

A: It’s hard being a newbie. All our lives, we’ve heard career advice telling us to “show initiative”; ”come up with solutions”; be proactive”; “wow them”. Unfortunately sometimes this is what “wowing” looks like.

That’s not to say that this is the only explanation for his behavior. Here are some other possible reasons:

He may not have enough guidance or training.

The training may be in a challenging format for him -such as having to read long procedure manuals.

He may feel he’s in-over-his-head, is afraid he’s failing at the job and wants some easy wins to distract from the problem.

In the past – in a different less-structured less-demanding environment—the “wowing” worked, and he may have been rewarded/praised for this behavior.

Regardless of the reason, however, the solution rests with you as his manager.

The way to help him learn his job and not squash his spirit is to have an honest, constructive, problem-solving meeting with him. Let him know you appreciate his ideas on efficiency but that his No. 1 priority must be achieving proficiency at the very specific, clearly defined job for which he was hired.

Fortunately, he’s clearly motivated and wants to please. Be helpful, offer ways to improve his training (i.e the buddy system, job shadowing or hands-on practice) and provide a timeline with expected milestones and frequent check-ups.

Worst case scenario, if he IS in-over-his-head, this remedial process will uncover that fact in a non-punitive way. So, even if you must part ways later, you’ll both know that each of you gave it your best try.



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