What I Learned From Managing Junior Staff in a Firm without Formal Training or a Culture of Mentorship

At a firm at which I once worked, my boss fired one junior analyst and welcomed the self-initiated departure of several more due to performance issues. My boss and I routinely discussed the calculus of letting the junior analyst and interns go versus keeping them on.  We estimated the number of hours I spent fixing their mistakes, the number of times a mistake had been repeated after it had been pointed out, and the times that support staff got blamed for the whole thing. 

Looking back, I believe the firm had no real formal training for new hires, as the senior analysts and team leaders were not incentivized to mentor junior staff as management tracked days on planner and overages more than anything else. Be careful about what you measure because that will get managed. I think that my department head felt justified in the occasional dismissal and the routine departure of junior staff in that they had not performed at a level that would result in a full time offer or promotion. In my eyes, there is some kind of circular logic going on here.

Without training and with little mentorship, the fates of underperforming staff became predictable.  They became discouraged.  Many became disengaged from the work, feeling as if their effort was undervalued or simply unnoticed.  As I took over or reassigned their work for efficiency purposes, I think many began to resent me.  Several of my former co-workers have told me of a liquored intern at a holiday party that referred to me in the colloquial as that asshole. The juniors began to routinely show up late, left early, took long lunches, and ignored emails.  I began to look at managing junior staff as a burden that lead to hurt feelings, longer hours, and stress.  I came to believe that institutionally, the firm failed the hires more than hires failed the firm.

In my opinion an underinvestment in onboarding led to the firm’s lost in efficiency, a decrease in moral, and helped to spawn an “us versus them” culture. Short term efficiencies measured by individual projects ruled the day, when a longer time horizon and a focus on training and mentorship would have likely both created operational gains for the firm, and improved moral.

It has been my experience that when a failure in process and organizational structure occurs, individual employees find the personal hack for themselves.  For the more senior analysts and team leads, it was cutting out the junior staff.  For underperforming junior staff, it became small acts of rebellion and on the job searches for other employment.

Training takes time. Mentorship is on-going. In an age when one time use is the norm for products and employees change firms every two years, it can be easy to skimp on training and mentorship, while focusing on a single metric of efficiency.  Before you blame an underperforming employee for their poor performance, ask yourself, did the firm fail them or did the employee fail the firm?  Loyalty and accountability has to start somewhere and the role of management is to solve for co-operation.

Maybe better efforts, better attitudes, greater efficiency, and longer tenures start with the investment of training and mentorship in employees.  We humans lived in bans for tens of thousands of years and fostered co-operation through resource sharing.  Training and mentorship are about inclusion.  Train to include and include to perform.

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*Note:  This post is one individual’s opinions, beliefs, and interpretation of events.  As such, kindly read them as beliefs surrounding events rather than a definitive recitation of facts.