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Management of College Graduate Recruits
to Achieve Optimum Performance and Professional Growth

by Norman J. Smallwood
The Core Team ®

New college graduate recruits are managed poorly in many businesses. Mediocre to poor performance and great waste of human potential are the usual consequences.

It does not have to be that way. For the few businesses of excellence, the leadership knows how to do it right and everyone wins. The purpose of this presentation is to identify and compare the management assumptions and practices that yield both mediocre and outstanding results. From that base of understanding, the process for recruiting, training, challenging and developing young professionals is examined.

For businesses dominated by traditional thinking, the common assumptions about the role of new college recruits are:

  1. Several years are required to master a job.
  2. Training is accomplished by being an assistant to some experienced person or by being closely monitored on a step by step basis.
  3. Young professionals lack the wisdom and commitment to do much on their own.
  4. Mistakes are too threatening to allow much freedom; thus, it is too risky to place reliance upon unproven people.

With these assumptions, there is no recognition for the need to improve upon the management process -- "Why should we? That's the way we've always done it.”

A few businesses operate on much different assumptions. The management viewpoint includes the following:

  1. Properly selected new recruits are intelligent, highly energetic, anxious to get involved, quick learners, and ambitious.
  2. Motivation is achieved by providing responsibilities that are challenging and have a high sense of ownership (clearly defined responsibilities and accountabilities.
  3. With effective training, competence to carry out job responsibilities can be learned in about two months.
  4. Most starting-level jobs can be essentially mastered in six months.
  5. Significant achievement as reflected by hard-measure performance can be demonstrated in one to two years.
  6. Taking appropriate risks is good business, and making mistakes within prescribed limits is an essential part of the learning and developing process.
  7. All job responsibilities contain both a high level of individual autonomy and a high level of connectedness to the identified customers and suppliers.

In these organizations, there is the keen awareness that if young professionals are not managed properly the business suffers and individual careers are impaired.

With the most common business practice, a new recruit may spend five or more years in the first assignment, receive very little if any initial training, have poorly defined responsibilities, and not be held accountable for very much. This kind of management, lacking in motivation and intellectual stimulation, is likely to place the recruit on a path to develop the long-term behavior patters of narrow mindedness, provincialism, defensiveness, and inability to collaborate both within and across the functional boundaries. The outcome is a limited view of the possibilities, minimal contribution, and stifled growth.

For progressive businesses, the new recruit is immediately given the task to learn, take over, and be responsible for a specific part of the business. There are no titles or roles of assistant. Everyone has specific and autonomous job ownership. The expectations are clearly defined to master the job thoroughly, develop sound working relationships with everyone involved, and achieve a better level of hard-measure performance in the areas of responsibility within one to two years. Once these objectives have been conclusively achieved (one year for the best performers and two years for the average performers) it is time to change roles.

Lateral changes in assignment are usually appropriate during the first five to six years of professional life to gain perspective of the business from several functional positions. The difference in impact of this approach on professional contribution and development compared to the more traditional practice is remarkable.

Training to successfully take over and carry out every job assigned is critical to the success of this process. The training system is uncomplicated and is based on a self-­managed process for developing sufficient competence to handle the job.

The salient aspects of the training process include the following:

1. Defining and understanding the initial behavior and the results expected.

2. Working with both subordinates and peers to develop sound working relationships.

3 Achieving an understanding of and empathy for each job.

4. Gaining insight into the ability of each person.

5. Understanding and assessing the technical merits of the operating methods.

6. Using all of the resources available as a source of knowledge and support.

7. Demonstrating mastery and competence through a rigorous qualification process.

Every employee has a role in and responsibility for the training, and that is why it is robust.

Recruiting people to function and thrive within this management system requires careful attention. The selection criteria should include high personal standards, drive and initiative, ability and receptiveness to learn, ability to get along with people and function within a team, and relevant education and experience. A thorough process for assessing candidates against the selection criteria is needed. The selection process should involve several people who have been trained to make objective assessments.

Especially on the first assignment, the new recruit's performance should be evaluated thoroughly to assure that the integration and development process is working properly and the expectations are being achieved. If the young professional's performance does not meet expectations after providing sufficient and patient counseling to correct the problems, employment should be terminated. If there is incompatibility, termination of the employment relationship is best recourse for all parties.

If the process is thoroughly managed, spending only one to two years in each job assignment for the first five to six years of professional life is of great benefit to both the business and to the developing professional. On the other hand, if the process is allowed to deteriorate into a "musical chairs game" of only spending some time in each job, the value is lost. In each assignment, the young professional must perform to the proper standard and meet the carefully defined expectations. The next job opportunity is made available only after the "performance dues are paid."

© 1994 The Core Team ® Managing New College Recruits

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