How to Deal
Words of Advice for a New Manager
Wednesday, January 7, 2009; 9:33 PM
I just received my performance review for the year. I had rave reviews for my productivity and the quality of my work, however I received a less than shining report on my style. The report particularly recommend that I focus on "finishing and polishing skills" -- both in terms of packaging my work and presenting it to clients, and in leading meetings and interacting with other staff. In short, I was recently thrown temporarily into a management position that highlighted some of the areas I could improve on in my life. I'm not a particularly unpleasant person, however I don't have a lot of experience with professional etiquette.
The assessment used the words "blunt," "grate on," and "informality," and "escalated into a shouting match," so I think I should take this recommendation seriously.
Can you recommend a modern-day finishing school near D.C. for young women?
Your openness to feedback about your professional style bodes well for your ability to turn the situation around. However, it seems like you do not have a clear idea of exactly what it is that you need to change. It sounds to me like your problem stems not from some inherent personality flaw, but rather from having been placed in a professional role for which experience has not prepared you.
Much of what you appear to be lacking -- a sense of tact and diplomacy, the ability to present your ideas in a sophisticated manner, a mature approach to conflict -- are skills typically acquired over time through years of experience working in a professional environment. Because you have progressed so quickly in your level of responsibility, you have not had the luxury of developing the interpersonal skills to match your job title. Now you must find a way to get up to speed fast.
Start by asking the author of your annual review for more detailed feedback. Ask for specific examples of incidents that you could have handled better. Ask follow up questions and gather data until you can confidently say that you understand why you are perceived this way. Then, decide upon a plan for getting the help you need.
You asked whether I could recommend any finishing schools for young women near D.C. Although I am certain that the affluent D.C. metropolitan area has no shortage of such programs, I don't think that is what you need. If you want to seek formal instruction, you should register for seminars on professional or business etiquette as well as client relationship management. The American Management Association (www.amanet.org) is a popular resource, but you can also find quality cost-effective live and online seminars through other training Web sites or by word of mouth.
A more personalized solution would be to hire an executive coach who can help you to analyze and overcome your professional challenges. Good executive coaches are hard to find and their value is largely determined by your willingness to engage in the coaching process openly and earnestly. If the conditions are right, however, such relationships can yield astonishing results. The catch is that price tag for executive coaches runs from about $100 to $250 per hour, so the investment is out of reach for most people unless their organization is willing to contribute.
Talk to your boss and your human resources department about your training and coaching options. Your organization might be willing to pay for some of all of this through a professional development program, especially since you have received such a clear directive to work on your style.
Even if you do nothing else, you can make great progress toward your goal of becoming more professional by establishing a mentoring relationship with a seasoned executive. By sharing his or her wisdom and serving as a sounding board for your concerns, a good mentor can combine the learning of a professional seminar with the personalized attention of an executive coach. You might be able to connect with a mentor through your organization's mentoring program, or you can reach out informally to someone you admire. Your mentor can be someone, like your boss, with whom you work closely, or it can be an employee of a different department or organization. The key ingredients are focus and commitment. Have a frank discussion with your prospective mentor about what you hope to accomplish through the relationship, talk about how much time you are both willing to commit to the process, and establish ground rules and objectives to ensure that you stay on track.
Join Lily Garcia on Tuesday, Jan. 20, at 11 a.m. ET for How to Deal Live.
Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for more than 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail HRadvice@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.