5 Tactics to Manage Entry-Level Associates Who Have Low Ambition

It’s a rewarding feeling for HR professionals and mid-level managers when they attract rock star entry-level employees.  It’s equally deflating when a new hire isn’t working out or is lacking ambition. Questions then begin to come up between the hiring manager and recruiting staff. Why isn’t this associate working out? What could we do better to motivate? There could be many reasons a frontline employee is showing low ambition. It could be communication issues, skills gaps that weren’t apparent at first, poor onboarding, or a culture clash. Here are some tactics to help manage an entry-level associate with low ambition or who is struggling.

Consider connecting the associate to a Coach/Mentor
A coach can help associates adapt to a new work environment and offer advice on how to grow and succeed. Coaching, which comes from someone trusted other than a direct manager, can be an opportunity for employees to share their concerns or issues without feeling like it will be used against them. A coach/mentor can help make introductions across an organization, show employees opportunities available, and help with a development plan. A coach/mentor may also help an associate see the “unwritten rules” of a hospital’s work environment and can help speed up the worker acclimation process.

Prioritize Areas for Improvement
Short-term, achievable improvement goals can help keep employees motivated. It can also help employees from feeling overwhelmed. Prioritizing with an employee also gives the employer the opportunity to course correct without having wasted too much time if improvements aren’t happening quickly enough.  Make sure your workers know what their top priorities are, what needs to be done, and any applicable deadlines. Vagueness can really hurt an associate’s motivation or direction.

Built Trust, Check-in, and Praise Accomplishments
Workers strive harder for managers and organizations they believe in. Teach managers to build trust with their team and show empathy for associates’ concerns. Have check-ins on a weekly or bi-weekly basis with employees who are struggling to revisit how things are going and revise performance plans as needed. Making time for this step in the short-term will save time and effort in the long-term. Check-ins can provide an opportunity to acknowledge worker accomplishments and make plans for the next improvement priority. It can be difficult for entry-level associates to understand how they contribute to the hospital’s success. Show them that their work is helping the organization be successful. Nothing is more motivating in the workplace than a sense of ownership.

Of course, supervisors need to strike a balance. Supervisors do not need to be a helicopter parent—employees at any level need to be able to stand on their own two feet—but need to be prepared to answer questions about why work needs to get done, the workplace culture, or the health system at large.

Manage how an Unmotivated Employee Affects the Group/Team
Within work teams, if a peer gets away with something multiple times, other associates begin to think they should also start getting away with a performance issue (tardiness for example). Explain to teams how this affects team cohesion as well as the work, and have supervisors address individual associate issues quickly. This will help keep an unmotivated coworker from affecting their entire team’s performance and dynamic.

Don’t assume an unmotivated associate is out to “take advantage” of coworkers. It could be a case of misunderstanding an original request, but make sure to address it. If an associate is bringing down the team, consider removing that person from the team or finding a new role to utilize their skills that is a better match.

Encourage Employees to Develop Themselves
Let employees know of any HR or performance building tools available in the organization. Don’t just assume associates will know about these tools. Instead, promote and use them proactively, and encourage managers to use them as a coaching tool.  For examples of coaching tips, see our related article, “Frontline Employees: Coaching For Success.”

An example of a self-development program is the CLiMB® online library of focused microlearnings. CLiMB provides actionable training for frontline employees. This training teaches key entry-level work concepts such as basic professionalism, communication, using time wisely, managing stress, and providing exceptional customer service.  CLiMB offers lessons in real-world healthcare-specific settings, using scenarios created based on input from customers and subject matter experts. Courses like Providing an Exceptional Patient Experience help show employees how to engage with customers/families. CLiMB provides basic skills training for employees that result in practical behavioral skill gains and allows for self-directed learning and the opportunity to explore solutions. CLiMB also prepares your managers/supervisors to coach by showing how supervisors can provide efficient one-on-one “teachable moments.”

For more information on CLiMB, click here and one of our team members will promptly get back to you.

Chances are, if a manager feels an entry-level employee is struggling or not meeting expectations, the employee likely also has concerns. But many entry-level employees are too timid to admit they need help. As an employer, supervisor, manager, or HR professional, use these tips to address performance concerns, and help turn that struggling entry-level employee into the rock star employee you hoped you were originally hiring.

SOURCES:
“Coach’s Corner: Keys to being an effective manager for entry-level workers” Star Tribune Business Magazine, Liz Reyer, January 21 2018
“10 ways employers can turn struggling new hires into rock star employees,” Recruiter magazine, Matt Krumrie, June 22 2017
“7 Ways to Get your Unmotivated Workers Off Their Butts,” Entrepreneur magazine, Carol Tice, February 24 2012
“How to Motivate and Manage Entry-Level Employees,” Washington Post, Kate Johanns, August 27 2018
“7 Dos and Don’ts for Dealing With an Unmotivated Employee,” Huffington Post, Diane Gottsman, July 8 2014

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