Do you remember what it was like to learn to drive?

Do you remember what it was like to learn to drive? Each step was deliberate and specific. You read every sign and were aware of how fast you were going and how close you were to other cars. Your eyes were glued to the road in front of you.

How does that memory compare to the way you drive now? I suspect it’s almost like breathing. It’s a seamless experience, which sometimes feels like remote control, while you’re doing other things like eating a burger and talking to a passenger.

This analogy came to mind recently while I was talking with a new manager who was frustrated with one of his employees. "Geez, I used to do his job and I was ten times faster. I didn’t need all the handholding I have to do for him. He has to think through everything and he plods along. And the mistakes he makes are so obviously avoided." When I asked him how long his employee had been in his job, he replied, "Six months."

Starting a new job or learning a new job skill can be like learning to drive. Unfortunately, with lean staffs and pressure to produce, managers don’t often have the time they once had to train new employees.

Here are some techniques that will help you avoid trouble with your new employee:

  • When assigning a new project or work task, spend a few minutes up front describing the outcome you want.

One of the most common mistakes managers make with new employees is to assume they know what they are doing. Managers—especially those who are busy or have done the job before—are particularly guilty of managing by assumption.

  • Ask the new employee how he or she plans to approach the project.

New employees are usually reluctant to admit ignorance, so they don’t ask enough questions. What results is a lot of trial and error and unnecessary steps to get the job done…or worse, a lot of mistakes. By asking the person to describe the steps he or she will take, you will discover the gaps in the person’s understanding.

  • Feed the employee only as much information as he or she can use at one time.

Managers sometimes flood their new employees with detail; they feel that they must tell new employees everything. The fire hose approach is a lousy method for people at both ends. The manager spends endless hours giving the employee details and the employee feigns understanding about things that he will never remember.

If you discover that a new employee will need close guidance, discuss the desired outcome and outline the main steps. Only describe the first step in detail and ask the employee to come back to you once that step is done.

  • Use job aids to guide your employee when you aren’t there.

Develop a little "cheat sheet" that the employee can refer to as they do the task. For instance, let’s say that the employee will be writing a lot of correspondence and he or she isn’t skilled in punctuation. You can write some punctuation rules that he can refer to as he writes. Or perhaps something has to be done in a certain order and people have to be notified accordingly. A brief list of who gets notified about what will save you repeated questions and potential mistakes.

  • Schedule monitoring meetings at regular intervals, as an employee works through a new project.

If you don’t like nasty surprises, don’t wait until the end to check the work. An employee will also feel more supported if he or she knows you will be there to help along the way. The employee can save up questions for the meetings, instead of interrupting you throughout the day.

  • Assign a "buddy" to help the new employee or answer questions.

This simple step can be a great way to introduce a new employee to the team. They will have someone to learn from and connect to. In some cases, there may be several different "buddies" assigned to cover different parts of the job.

When you’ve done a job by remote control, it’s easy to forget what it was like when you learned it for the first time. Slowing down and breaking it into steps is especially difficult if you’ve done the job for a long time. If you have any doubt, try teaching your teenager to drive.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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