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How To Manage Employees Who Need Extra Hand-Holding

Managers have to change up their own habits in order to make their neediest employees more independent.

How To Manage Employees Who Need Extra Hand-Holding
[Photo: Flickr user TheArches]

Every manager knows there are some employees who work well, both independently and collaboratively, with very little supervision. Then there are others who need extra help with seemingly every task and project. Those in the latter group might have interviewed really well and still have potential, but they just don’t show enough initiative once they’re brought on board.

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As a manager, it isn’t right or practical to fire anyone who disappoints you at first. You need to make sure your employees get what they need in order to live up to whatever you saw in them initially. Here are a few strategies that can help.

1. Listen More Actively

Stop and focus on what an employee is telling you so you can begin to understand their needs better. Chances are that at least part of the reason your direct report needs so much hand-holding is because they aren’t getting enough instruction from you. Don’t decide all on your own what you think your employee needs–take the time to find out. An informal approach usually works best, and sometimes getting out of the office for lunch or a cup of coffee can open up a more meaningful dialogue. That’s not just because your employee is more likely to feel comfortable, it’s also because you’ll have fewer work-related tasks distracting you from hearing what they have to say.

2. Be Patient

It can be difficult for employees to admit they need extra help or don’t understand something, and some team members who require added support don’t actually come to you asking for it. Whatever the case, it never helps things to show you’re frustrated. Stay calm and patient so your employee knows they can get support and advice from you or anyone else. The goal is to create an environment where all your employees feel safe and valued–regardless of their individual needs–leading them to do better work for you as you build those relationships. It doesn’t happen overnight.

3. Become A Mentor, Not Just A Manager

To that end, it’s important to mentor your employees. The truth is that no one can be expected to know everything from the beginning–not even the most talented and promising of your staff. Most managers and business owners have had mentors who have guided them through their own challenges, and it’s important to return that favor when you’re in a leadership position yourself. Helping someone improve their performance can make your own work more meaningful, to say nothing of adding to the value a team whose skills are constantly expanding adds to the company.

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4. Offer Skills Training

Managing employees who demand more of your time and attention doesn’t necessarily mean being personally hands-on all the time. Invest in training courses or other resources to get employees the information they need. Sometimes well-tailored professional development opportunities–like seminars, workshops, online courses, and conferences–can take the place of one-on-one consultation. What’s more, offering a range of training opportunities builds goodwill that pays dividends later; it shows you’re confident in your employee’s abilities over the long term.

5. Give Praise

Sometimes the issue isn’t about a skill deficit but a confidence issue. Many employees actually have what it takes to see a task through without any assistance but just don’t think they do. A little encouragement can go a long way–whether it’s with a few words of praise or a simple high-five in the hallway. Managers shouldn’t just cheer their teams after they’ve reached a goal, but while they’re working their way toward it, too.

6. Leave Room For Humor

Don’t be so serious all the time. The employees who sap the most of your attention sometimes do so because they’re concerned about the consequences of screwing up, and they want to make sure they meet your approval. In other words, you could be sending the wrong message.

As managers, when you laugh, you lead, showing it’s okay for employees to enjoy themselves at work. Once the mood is lighter, team members can look at the reality of the situation and might actually discover they need less assistance than they thought because they were just wound up and couldn’t see clearly. There’s nothing like a laugh to help everyone relax under pressure.

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7. Be A Little Less Available

One reason some employees are so depending on their managers’ advice is because it’s so readily available. You don’t want to deliberately withhold guidance, but putting some distance in between you and your team members’ work can compel them to make decisions more independently. Bosses who are around all the time tend to be micromanagers and seldom do their employees any favors. When employees need help, they sometimes just need to jump out of the plane on their own, then pull their own ripcord. When they do, even the most needy employees often end up flying. Letting your team members make choices–and sometimes fail–can build experience as well as the confidence that comes with it.

Dealing with employees who need extra help is about taking action–whether that means stepping up your involvement, dialing it back, or changing the type of help you offer. The goal is always to create movement and momentum that lead to independence.

Peter Daisyme is the cofounder of Palo Alto, California-based Hosting, a hosting company specializing in helping businesses host their websites for free, for life. He is a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs.