Managing An Employee Who Doesn’t Listen


I had a conversation with a colleague recently who is a mentor to a newer employee at her company. The company has a well-developed training program, as well as having established mentors in place for each new hire. I’ll share a conversation between Alice and Mel.

Rewind to 90 days ago…

Mel: Since I started here, the workload has been up and down. Sometimes, I get through all of my tasks by noon, and other times, I’m working 60 hours a week to stay on track. How do I balance my workload?

Alice: You’re right, our workload does ebb and flow! That’s why it’s important to be aware of your renewals that are coming due. If you find yourself lacking in new business submissions, that’s a great opportunity to get ahead of the game on renewals. Even if they haven’t “dropped” yet, you have your renewal report you can work from to start your documentation so that part’s done when the renewal does drop from processing. Doing this makes the process go much more quickly.

Fast forward to last week…

Mel: Since I started here, the workload has been up and down. Sometimes, I get through all of my tasks by noon, and other days, I’m working 60 hours a week. How do I balance my workload?

Alice: I’m sorry you’re still struggling with time management. Do you remember when I told you a while back that your workload would not be consistent, and if you were light on new business, to get ahead of the game on renewals?

Mel: Yeah, I remember, but sometimes those renewals aren’t set up yet, or I haven’t gotten applications from the agents, so then I just go find something to study, but then if what I’m studying doesn’t have an immediate impact on my job, I end up forgetting what I studied, so then I feel like I’m wasting my time.

Alice: You don’t have to wait for your renewal to drop into your task list, or for applications from the agent. Every month, you get a report of renewals coming up in the next 120 days. You can just look at that report and start working on your documentation. That’s what takes the most time – not the rating. Gosh Mel, we talked about this in detail. Is there something that’s confusing you?

Mel: No, I guess I just don’t like working things “out of order.”

Fast forward to today…

Alice explained the above conversation to me, and she admitted, “I didn’t know what to say! I gave him instructions – which he chose to ignore – and he just wants to complain about the inconsistency instead of doing what I said. What do I say to that?”

What do we say to that?

This is a difficult situation, and with a new employee who doesn’t have an established routine yet, it’s probably not productive to say, “Well, I told you what to do, it’s up to you if you want to follow my advice.” Since Alice can’t travel back in time, let’s consider what we can do as leaders to be prepared for the next time this happens (and it will happen again).

Some employees are going to need more structured guidance, and their manager or mentor should take time to identify who those are. It won’t be very difficult. The employees who need more hand-holding are usually the ones who may seem shy or hesitant during the training process. They may second guess their answers to questions or their decisions when prompted for a contribution because they are not confident yet. They may have been rock stars at their last job, but now that they have come to your company, they need to – to take a page from Marvelless Mark Kamp’s book – learn new chords. They know how to play, now they need to learn your company’s song. But on day one, they’re standing there holding the guitar like they’ve never seen one before. It’s going to take time to build their confidence.

Mel fits those parameters. He knows what to do, he just isn’t confident in his abilities with his new job. Maybe he feels a little job-changer’s remorse and that is coming out as complaining. He would benefit from a regular touchpoint which focuses on organization and routine, during which Alice will ask specific questions. Such as:

  • What’s been the highlight of your week?
    • Where have you excelled?
    • What task that was frustrating you finally clicked?
    • What was your favorite thing you accomplished this week?
  • What has given you the most trouble?
    • What’s holding you back?
    • What do you need to learn to lessen your frustration?
    • Where do you need additional guidance?
  • What are you looking forward to next week?
    • How’s your workload transitioning from this week to next?
    • Do you know what is important to get done next week?
    • Do you have something coming up that you’re excited about?
  • What is one specific goal you want to set and accomplish?
    • Task oriented?
    • Soft skills?
    • Time management?

Each of these questions are strategic in leading him down the path to developing confidence in what he has learned, identifying specific areas where additional training is needed, increasing his awareness of the necessity of taking ownership of his workload, and beginning to set specific goals for further development.

When scheduling your mentoring sessions, there are a few things to keep in mind to help them stay on track.

Set expectations

When mentoring newer employees, ask them what would make them comfortable when you have your one-on-one meetings. Maybe they want to present you with specific questions that came up during the week. Perhaps they want to go over specific training you have already completed to use repetition to reinforce the process, or to be sure they have proper notes. Maybe they want guidance on structuring their routine. People will generally tell you exactly what they need. It is rare for someone to say, “I need help”, but then not say what they need help with.

Find opportunities for empowerment

Share a memory from when you were the trainee, what frustrated you, and how you felt when you finally got over it, got used to it, or understood it. Letting them know that you stood in their shoes at one time will make them feel more like they will be able to get where you are standing now. When they master a skill, ask them if they believe they could teach it to someone else. If they seem excited about this prospect (and you are confident in their ability), try to make it happen in the future.

Remind them that they can trust themselves

Learning a new position can be daunting, but they wouldn’t have been hired if someone didn’t see their potential. Remind them to trust but verify. For example, if they are learning your company’s appetite, and they know that you are a market for Beauty Shops for all lines, have them still go out to the appetite guide and confirm. When they see that they were right, this will help to confirm their trust in themselves is warranted.

Set realistic boundaries

You want to be supportive and available for guidance, but at some point, they need to be able to use their resources on their own. This means that if you are going to have structured, recurring mentoring appointments, you establish the number at the outset and set an end date. On the final mentoring appointment, you let them know that you are available for random questions, but they need to work more independently going forward. It would also be beneficial to start mentioning the dwindling time as you get nearer to the end. They may think that your Friday visits are going to continue indefinitely. Reminding them a few times before the last time will make the last time less “scary”.

Hiring and retaining talent is one of the most pressing issues in the workplace today. It’s important that each employee feel secure in their new position and happy about the choice they made to come work for your company. By following these guidelines, you will confront potential issues up front, make the new hire feel more comfortable, and create a sense of camaraderie you both will appreciate.

Keri Herlong is a Commercial Underwriting Consultant for Acuity. She has been a member of IAIP for over ten years and is a Nevada MAL. Since joining the association, she has served at the local level as Secretary, President-Elect, and President. She is Education Director for Region VII and serves on the International Education Task Force.

Keri has earned several awards from IAIP, including International Risk Manager of the Year 2021 and International Confidence While Communicating Speak-Off Winner 2020. She also chairs or serves on numerous committees within IAIP at the regional and international levels.

Keri earned an AS in Psychology (Summa Cum Laude) from California Coast University.

In 2021, she published her first book, Hindsight 2020, under the pen name Jessie Jericho.

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