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Leading Rookie Talent: Helping New Recruits Hit the Target

Helping New Recruits Hit the Target

ARE your new employees loose canons or heat-seeking missiles?

In a rapidly changing world, experience can be a curse. Strategies can grow stale and innovation can stop. Being new, naïve, and even clueless, can be an asset.

Rookies – people of any age who are new to a task – aren’t weighed down with old assumptions and are more likely to explore new possibilities. Lacking knowledge of their own, they seek out and mobilize a network of experts – my research found they consult with five times more experts than experienced people do. Because they are unsure of themselves they take small, calculated steps and move fast, so they can get feedback. Their lean and agile way of working is extraordinarily valuable in dynamic environments where yesterday’s best practices don’t apply.

So, if rookies are really so valuable, should managers turn them loose and let them go?

Rookies work fast, but sometimes they run in the wrong direction and get to the wrong answer quickly. Too often a wide-open terrain can leave them wandering aimlessly. A commanding officer in the U.S. Navy said, “Rookies are all thrust and no vector.” They’re full of energy and willing to do the work, but they need to be pointed in the right direction.

To provide clear direction, start by doing what you would do for your more experienced staffers—clarify what needs to be accomplished and why it’s important. But, take it further, providing a clear target and the rules of engagement.

  1. Define the problem. Give them an intriguing puzzle to solve. Activate their hungry search for answers with a clearly defined question. For example: “How can we simplify our website so return customers can place an order in six clicks?”

  2. Define the completion criteria. Having never played this game before, they are at risk of undershooting or overshooting the goal line. Let them know what “done” looks like. For example, tell them, “Your job is complete when you’ve had a sample group of diverse clients purchase the product through a test site and received a positive evaluation from all of them.”

  3. Establish parameters. Studies by Patricia Stokes have shown that people tend to be more creative when they are given constraints. The lack of constraints makes it easy to rely on what worked in the past. Conversely, constraints increase the challenge level and force us to think in new ways. With the guardrails sets, let them know that they can go as fast as they want, as long as they don’t veer off course. For example, “You can change the layout of the pages, but stay within the company’s visual style guide.”

  4. Get them connected. Direct them to the experts who can provide guidance. Don’t just give them permission to consult, challenge them to talk with at least five experts before taking action.

While rookies need clear direction, they also need space to explore, experiment and even make mistakes. So once you’ve helped them lock onto a target, make sure they have a practice field to build their skills.

You can create a space for experimentation by defining two categories of work: 1) those tasks where success has to be ensured and 2) those where failure can be recovered from. This second realm becomes your safety range—a safe space for you, your team or newcomers to struggle and potentially fail without harming your stakeholders or their business. Within this space, identify a project where you or your colleagues can take a risk, and then in a series of small, calculated steps, iterate until the solution hits the mark. You might even offer the assurance, “In this space, if you totally blow it, I’ve got you covered.”

Not only are your rookies capable of doing amazing work themselves, they may just be the spark that unleashes a wave of rookie thinking across your entire team – even with your most experienced staff. But for them to make their mark, they need leaders who know when to rein them in and when to unleash them. So when you release these emerging titans, make sure they are charging for the right target.

Watch for my next guest post where we’ll explore how to provide your rookie talent both a tight rope to perform on and a safety net in case they stumble.

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Leading Forum
Liz Wiseman Liz Wiseman is a researcher and executive advisor who teaches leadership to executives around the world. She is the author of Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter and Impact Players: How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger, and Multiply Your Impact. You can connect with her at @LizWiseman.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:33 AM
| Comments (0) | This post is about Management



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