Are you struggling with team members who lack professionalism? Have you found this to be a regular occurrence with cross-functional teams that you work with? Or are you the client and find that the agency working on your business lacks professionalism?

Recently, I was conducting a corporate training and several managers in the group confessed that they are challenged with a lack of professionalism from their direct reports – specifically employees who were hired during the pandemic and had only worked remotely thus far. When coming into the office, as hybrid situations came to fruition, their managers were shocked at their lack of basic business acuity.

I thought to myself, “Whoa, I did not see that one coming.” A few days later I read an article in Fast Company entitled “Gen Z would rather talk about their sexual experiences than their finances.” Intrigued, I read on, to find out that 73% of Gen Zers say they feel behind in accomplishing their life goals and only 25% are comfortable talking about their salary and savings.

We have now identified the gap. There is a lack knowledge and experience in this area, so they fall back on talking about what is familiar and comfortable to them – things like dating, sexual life, social media, friends, etc. But when it comes to their corporate experiences, they need education and refinement. Most importantly, let’s not judge, or make harsh assumptions; rather, help them to get what they need to be successful in your organization.

Several things are attributing to this issue:

  • Organizations have been needing “bodies” to fill roles while the landscape has a dearth of talent and, in turn, probably made some less than perfect hiring decisions.
  • Companies were rapidly growing and people were getting promoted too quickly.
  • Businesses were quick to give into entitled demands by employees who were not ready for roles, because they didn’t want to lose them to another company.

Since we know the specific challenge, it is easy to get from the “current state” which is perceived as a “lack of professionalism” to the future state of “polished business acumen” which basically translates to “leadership development.”

As a manager and a leader, it is your responsibility to help get your team members up to speed. We weren’t born professional, we all learned somewhere. It is up to you to help others to get there, too.

Here are 8 easy steps you can take to help your team members get up to speed with their business professionalism:

1. Have regular 1:1 meetings with your team members
How will you know if a team member is struggling or needing help unless you are meeting with them on a regular basis to find out how they are doing? In today’s remote landscape employees can feel very disconnected and may be afraid to ask questions. They may fear that asking things may make them look dumb. Having 1:1 meetings opens the communication up so they can ask for help if necessary.

2. Give candid feedback & create safe spaces for people to make mistakes and learn from them
Most people find it difficult to give constructive feedback; however, when feedback is normalized and given on a regular basis in a more conversational way, it becomes quite easy. Create safe spaces for your team members to receive feedback and also allow them to give you feedback. A two-way street makes it much easier to navigate.

3. Ask your team about their individual career goals
Tie what needs to be adjusted and improved to an employee’s future career goals, give them a motivational reason to change and improve. If they want to be a people manager in the future, point out which behaviors might hurt their chances and which behaviors a leader of others embodies. It becomes something they can model.

4. Have them put a plan in place
After giving feedback to your team member, ask them to come up with a plan on how they will begin to change behaviors and increase their skill sets. It is also important to have it in writing with deadlines along the way.

5. Coach your team member
Ask powerful questions. Guiding your employee will help them to get on the right track without feeling judged. Think of yourself as that coach who will get them the winning gold medal at the Olympics. It’s a balance of kindness, cheerleading and tough love.

6. Set up a Buddy System
Seek out a fellow team member or someone on another team with the professionalism you desire and have your employee work with them so they can learn from their best practices.

7. Have frequent check ins
Check in on a regular basis to see how they are doing. Ask others for feedback on their professionalism goals, as well. How are other’s observing their improvements or lack of improvements? Ask what they need to be and feel more successful.  Continue to provide honest feedback, even if it might feel uncomfortable

8. Reward changed behaviors
Most importantly, celebrate their wins. Let them know that their improvements are being noticed and do something that motivates them to keep going in the right direction.

I’m sure if we all think back on our careers, we can remember a time when we needed some gentle guidance in order to be more professional. I have a really vivid and specific memory in mind that was quite embarrassing and a big wake up call for me. (If you would like to hear it, let’s connect!)  So, in closing, I will ask that you have compassion rather than making assumptions about “THAT generation” or harshly judging someone you think needs improving. If you notice this on a colleague’s team, do the stand-up thing – let them know how they can help that person, now that you are armed with solutions to this challenge!

joanne newborn
Joanne Newborn is CEO & Founder of Newborn Evolution LLC. She is an Executive Leadership Coach and Consultant working with Organizations and Dental Practices around the globe. Her Superpower: Interpreting Senior Leadership’s vision and strategy and translating it to achievable goals to ALL levels of an organization from C-Suite to Middle Management to Individual Contributors. She and her team are Transforming Organizations’ Visions into Results through Leadership Coaching,Training and Consulting. Using a unique blend of Eastern & Western Methodologies in her Coaching practice – she combines hardcore Business Strategy with Jungian Theory and Eastern Philosophy. She has Coached clients on every continent with the exception of Antarctica and has her MBA from Penn State, her ACC from the International Coaching Federation, is a DiSC Certified Practitioner and a DEI Certified Coach. She can be seen speaking at conferences on Leadership around the US and at Universities and Colleges. You can connect with Joanne on LinkedIn or visit her website.

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