Have you ever been in a situation where a new person joins your team and you wonder what the best approach would be to direct them? If the person is more junior than you, you may not have thought so much about it. But when the new team member is senior and knows a great deal about the subject matter you may have considered how to interact with them a great deal more.
The truth is that you should pay equal attention to how you interact with people – and direct them – irrespective of whether they are more experienced than you or not. Everyone who joins your team will have a different set of strengths and weaknesses and you will have to take account of that if you want them to thrive and contribute with everything that they have. In other words, you need to adapt your leadership style to each individual. Every person and situation is different, and your behavior as a project manager must change accordingly.
Adapt your style to people’s level of motivation and experience
To adapt your style – and know how to effectively direct a new person on your team – first establish what the needs for support and direction are of the person you want to mange. Their need will depend on their job-related skills and experience on the one hand and on their personal motivation, drive and commitment on the other. Someone who is very experienced and motivated needs to be led and managed very differently to someone who is relatively inexperienced and who lacks motivation.
Consider the matrix below and where the individual is situated within it. How motivated are they and how much experience do they have with regards to the particular job they are being asked to do? Note that the same person can be placed in several sections of the matrix depending on the situation. In that case, you will need to use different leadership styles with the same person at different times.
When a new person joins your team there is a big chance that they are highly motivated to get on with the job. But at the same time they may also lack confidence, which means that they in some ways are holding themselves back and need your encouragement in order to perform at their best. In order to ascertain someone’s level of motivation, get a feel for how driven they are and how likely they are to be proactive and make things happen. The more driven and confident they are the less moral support and encouragement they will need from you.
In order to ascertain a new person’s level of experience, consider not just how competent they are overall, but also how much they know about the specific role they are taking on. Even if a person is very competent overall they can find themselves in the left hand side of the matrix – if only for a short duration – when they start a new job. The less experience someone has, the more direction they will need from you.
You now have a better idea of the level of motivation and experience of your new joiner. The next step is to use a mix of the following management and leadership styles to match their need.
When you nurture someone, you offer the individual a lot of support and praise in addition to precise direction. You should use this style with relatively inexperienced people – whether new to your team or not – who lack motivation and drive. These individuals may have low self-confidence and will need as much of your support as possible. Explain decisions, listen to their concerns, provide perspective, and praise progress. Involve them in decision-making and show them how to do things; this will help you restore their confidence and competence.
When you encourage someone, you offer a lot of support and praise without giving a lot of direction. This type of encouragement helps people who are competent and skillful, but who are also discouraged or lack confidence in their own abilities. You may find that, despite their skills and experience, these people are cautious or reluctant to contribute. They need a lot of support and recognition from you to improve their confidence; otherwise, they need hardly any direction.
When you instruct someone, you give precise direction and tell your team member what you want accomplished and produced. Instruction helps people who are relatively inexperienced and therefore need more direction. Instructing others is also effective when you have to quickly make a high-stakes decision. Don’t use this style when people are very competent or when someone lacks commitment. If they lack commitment they will need more support from you than this style offers.
When you delegate or use a self-governing style, you give relatively little support and direction and effectively turn over responsibility for decision-making and problem-solving to the team member. Use this style with people who are both competent and committed and who therefore need minimal support and direction. They are capable and willing to work on a project by themselves and will get frustrated and underperform if you micromanage them.
Be mindful of new joiners
When someone new joins your team your first job is to consider how much direction and support they need from you. In situations where you feel that your new joiner is both competent and committed you might be tempted to delegate straight away. But that might not be the best approach. As the team member is new in the job he is likely to need more support and direction than he might otherwise —if only for a short amount of time. It is far better to be over-attentive early on and to gradually take a step back as you see that he masters the assignment.
As time passes have regular or one-on-one catch-ups with your new joiner to discuss their level of motivation and experience and how much support and direction they need from you. If you don’t talk openly with people about their needs, they may not understand or appreciate why, over time, you will gradually start to spend less and less time with them as their confidence and competence increases.
Your goal should be to delegate
Irrespective of where in the matrix your team members are, your goal as a project manager and leader should be to gradually move them towards the top right hand corner. When the majority of your team is self-governing, you will spend less time instructing and supporting them but will still get quality results.
By delegating you free yourself up to focus on other important matters, and at the same time grow and develop the team. One of the most elegant ways to delegate is to provide a stretch for the person you are delegating to and to give people work that they genuinely find motivating. Ask yourself what’s in it for the individual. In which ways will this assignment contribute to his or her success and help them develop their skills? When you delegate in that way, and really consider what is in it for the individual, you will find that they quickly become self-directed.
How to delegate elegantly
In addition to providing a stretch for the individual you are delegating to, decide exactly what you want to delegate and which results you’re after. It’s important that you determine a set of measurable performance standards up front so that you can have a conversation about it with your new joiner. Many project managers go wrong as they are either over prescriptive or blindly trusts the team member to understand what needs doing without having discussed it in any depth.
In addition to agreeing what “good” looks like, discuss when the assignment will be completed and what support the team member will need along the way. Also consider how you will be monitoring progress. You want to avoid micromanaging people but still need some touch points. So discuss between you how you can do that so that it becomes helpful to both of you. Finally, you also need to clarify under what circumstances you expect the new joiner to escalate to you.
All that is left is to be patient and to not look for mistakes. We were all new joiners once and needed time and space to learn. It is your support and direction, more than anything, that determines how successfully that happens.