Addressing Behavioural Skills at Work

Davina Greene is The Personal Strategy Coach – a coach, trainer, and People consultant based in Dublin, Ireland. This column was first published in Irish Tatler magazine. 

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Last year, I hired a promising young manager to look after my teams, 22 people in total. He’s from a company known for its very tough culture, but at interview he promised he was very adaptable. A few months in, it  is clear that he is not adapting, but  I would really like to avoid admitting that I hired the wrong person. What should I do?

Skill, will and fit are critical considerations when you are hiring someone, and your question touches on all of them. It sounds like this manager lacks the behavioural skills you were anticipating. At the moment, this is causing a lack of fit with the organisation and its existing staff. You are now relying on an exploration of whether he has the will to adapt. And explore, you must!

What we forget in these situations is that we are dealing with a real human being, deserving of feedback, your effort, and a prompt and fair process. We also tend to assume the worst possible outcomes – tension, escalation, even legal repercussions. Rein in those thoughts. In reality, he should appreciate this new feedback (even if he doesn’t love it). You mention that he’s young. Perhaps he has only experienced tough organisational cultures, and has no real experience of something a little more ‘humane’. If he is clever, he will want to expand his managerial repertoire. Put yourself in his shoes: wouldn’t you want to be told if there was some key career skill you needed to improve upon?

IMPACT

Do not shy away from this situation, it is unlikely to resolve itself. Your teams will not thank you for such an approach. If it turns out that he was the wrong choice, you will need to admit it – this cannot only be about you. This is about the morale, and perhaps even wellbeing, of the 22 people to which you refer, of you yourself, and likely of others, too.

Now, you must put tangible effort into showing him what you think he needs to know, mindful that it could end up with him staying or going – same effort, different outcomes. You brought him into the company knowing that he was coming from a different culture, and made the assumption that he could adapt. Only time and effort will tell if this assumption was incorrect.

ACTION

Grit your teeth and start targetted discussions, and talk in-depth at least weekly. If he comes from a very tough business culture, he should certainly be able to take your polite, constructive inputs with very good grace. Mentor him, or find a coach. Don’t just dictate changes – let him think through why it might not be working, put himself in others’ shoes and employ some empathy. Keep it fair but, in the end, he must adapt to fit better with the company; the company cannot change to suit his style. Of course, you must maintain contact with your HR Dept. during this process, to ensure company policy is being followed.

If dissatisfaction is genuinely widespread at this point, I would suggest that you run a ‘360 degree’  assessment, allowing his peers and staff to (anonymously, if preferred) provide inputs. This can be very useful in aiding understanding of traits and perceptions, and also serves to make it less about you versus him.

I believe 8 weeks to be a healthy initial timeframe for addressing behavioural skills – that’s plenty of time for re-education, and for a demonstration of his willingness and ability to change.

Good luck!