Trainee’s success is yours

Dear Joan:
I have been working in the corporate Information Systems Group for a major manufacturing company for five years. I have worked my way up to a senior staff member and hold a master’s degree. I have been involved in many team technical projects, which have been successful.

What I would like to accomplish now is to obtain some supervisory experience and eventually a supervisor title. How do I do this?

Last week, my supervisor and a manager from another department decided that "Shirley," a technician from that other department, would spend three days a week learning "what it is we do" in my department. I jumped at the opportunity to train her. But how do I get credit for training her and doing the rest of my work too? Shirley is not entirely thrilled about this three day arrangement. If this training does not work out I fear that my boss may think that I am unfit in a supervisory role. But yet, I also think that if Shirley does work out, then she will just become another staff member that reports to my boss as well.

Congratulations on a solid career track record! Your past technical and educational accomplishments should give you excellent leverage from which to move to a supervisory job. Your next step is to demonstrate good interpersonal and leadership skills. You were smart to volunteer for this opportunity to train the newcomer. Handle it wisely.

Before you begin, let's reframe the idea that if Shirley fails you'll be seen as a failure. I suspect that if you do everything in your power to help her succeed, no one will point any fingers. If you demonstrate the ability to plan a tailored training program, prove that you can give performance feedback and coaching, assimilate her into the work group and handle some administrative follow up, your supervisory stock will go up. If Shirley does poorly, you can look even better if you are able to confront her performance problems and find ways to help her improve. If her attitude is a problem, you may be able to provide some advice and counseling.

The key to your success is your boss, however. He or she needs to know what you are doing with this employee at all stages, why you are willing to do it and how it might impact your current job performance. Before you begin to work with this Shirley, schedule a meeting with your boss to find out what he or she wants to accomplish with this three day arrangement. Explain your career goals to your supervisor and ask if they're realistic. Next, talk about the supervisory skills you want to develop during this assignment and ask for feedback on your current skill level in these areas. Finally, discuss Shirley's reluctance and what impact that could have on the overall situation.

It's important to discuss how much time your boss wants you to spend, exactly what Shirley is expected to be able to do (and by when), and how your role will be handled in the group. If you think the time commitment could negatively impact your ability to get your own job done, try to negotiate a temporary reassignment of duties or at least an understanding that you won't suffer any negative consequences.

The fact that your supervisor has agreed to have you represent the department in this project is a very good sign. Your boss wants the department to look good to the other manager and knows that Shirley will be filling him in as she learns the ropes. Because of this, she will probably take a personal interest in helping you to succeed.

Assuming the meeting with your boss goes well and you're ready to begin, here are some ideas for a training strategy:

1.      Ask your supervisor to communicate this arrangement and your role to your co-workers, to avoid conflicts.

2.      Ask your co-workers for input on your training plan so they begin to feel some ownership for Shirley's success.

3.      In the training plan, include informal and formal meetings with clients and other key non-departmental people to help her understand their expectations.

4.      Document the level of performance that is expected in key areas. Ask your boss and your peers for input and target dates at which point she should be able to demonstrate proficiency. Although this will only be a guideline, it will be a useful tool to evaluate her progress.

5.      Use this to develop specific learning objectives that she is expected to achieve. For example, "By one month, Shirley will be able to do x, in y amount of time, with z quality."

6.      Schedule update meetings with your boss so you can report on your progress and discuss any problems as you go. Consider submitting brief, written reports. If all goes well, you may want the training plan and the reports to go in your personnel file.

7.      In your plan, indicate how you will gradually wean her from your supervision and how you will "test" her skills at various stages.

No matter what happens to Shirley, you are likely to learn a few things about what it means to be a supervisor and how well suited you are to the job. If she becomes a permanent part of your peer group, she will always remember the good start you gave her...and so will everyone else.

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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