You post an entry-level sales position and sort through an avalanche of resumes to find a few that seem worthy of face time. After hours of boring interviews with candidates you know don’t have what it takes to make it in your organization, you suddenly encounter your next rock star.
He makes a dazzling first impression, is quick on his feet to give all the right answers, looks you in the eyes and convinces you that he’ll work tirelessly to drum up all kinds of new business for you. Reminiscent of yourself when you were in your 20s, you extend your hand and welcome him to your team.
Six weeks later, your rock star shows up late for the third time, has already asked for next Friday off to serve as the best man for his buddy’s wedding in Vegas, and he texts throughout your weekly sales meeting.
Why that potential rock star is struggling
He’s now going a few days between shaves, and you’ve overheard him telling an associate that he’s found a way to survive on his base salary by moving back home with his folks. He managed to close a few sales and seemed disappointed when you didn’t throw a ticker tape parade to celebrate.
Put down the gun, padre. You’re not alone.
Pull any sales manager to the side and ask them to describe, in general, the work ethic that they see represented throughout their ranks and your apt to hear some colorful language. Even the eternally optimistic warm and fuzzy managers wince a bit when the term work ethic enters the dialogue.
I interact with thousands of leaders, managers, business owners and execs each year and I’ve yet to find any who believe that the work ethic represented in the current labor pool stands up to that of the labor pool 20, 10 — or even five years ago. These same employers, however, will openly lament the prevailing entitlement mentality of the emerging workforce that many decry is contagious, now rampant among X’ers and even Baby Boomers.
Your rock star has the raw talent to be a top performer in your organization. Sure, he’s going to need sales training like everyone else, but to achieve the potential you saw in him during that first interview, he’s also going to require your help in developing his work ethic. And yes, this is well worth the investment of your time.
Lessons you need to learn
First, stop assuming he’s simply a younger version of you. He’s not.
Your parents made sure you knew the value of hard work, rode you like a Brahma bull when you messed up, and showed you the door at 18. His parents told him daily that he was “special” to build his self-esteem, did his homework for him and got in his teacher’s face if he didn’t get an A, and have made an apartment in their basement for him to live in at age 26. Times have changed.
- Lesson: Let go of the anger.
Second, be very clear about your expectations.
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Many managers tell their young associates to “act like a professional” and think that’s enough. But your definition of a professional is different than theirs, so spell it out. “Here’s what I expect from you in the way of personal hygiene and dress.” “I need you to be here at 8:50 each morning so you can be at your desk ready to crank at 9 am.” “We are serious about reports and need them to be turned in before you leave on Friday.”
- Lesson: Leave nothing up to personal interpretation.
You need to go beyond training
Third, be a mentor.
Your prospective rock star has spent the majority of his waking hours in front of a screen and is a dynamo with anything that’s got an on/off switch. Unfortunately, he hasn’t had the face time you got from your parents, teachers, and former employers when you first came into the workplace.
So go beyond sales training to give him what he really needs. And don’t simply bark commands at him. Explain the why behind the what. Tell him why you need him to submit the report on Friday. Explain why the Baby Boomers he calls on tend to doubt sales people who aren’t clean-shaven and why they get extremely agitated when a smart phone goes off during an appointment. Explain why he’ll be perceived negatively by coworkers if he discloses too many details of his personal life.
- Lesson: Help him understand the critical rules of success that aren’t written in your sales manual.
Have you had enough of hiring future rock stars only to find out they aren’t? Maybe they are and it’s time you change your approach to develop the core values, attitudes and behaviors they should have learned at home, but didn’t.
Stop complaining about the lack of work ethic among your new trainees and take steps to revive it. The payoff for taking on the responsibility is huge. The downside for neglecting it is catastrophic.
This was originally published on Eric Chester’s Reviving Work Ethic blog. His new book is Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce. For copies, visit revivingworkethic.com.