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I'm in the position of overseeing the work of several "interns" who perform to widely varying standards. While all do specific tasks assigned to them in a timely and high quality manner, some are a lot more useful than others. The good ones are capable of taking an abstract task and defining specific things they need to do in order for it to get done. These are also the ones who give their own opinions and improvements to the table, and show a lot more engagement.

Now, I'm trying to coax the "other half" to behave similarly, but am not quite sure what the best method is. Initially I have tried to set clear goals, and evaluation criteria which reflect this requirement. As best I can, given that requirements for projects change, some items turn out unfeasible and so forth.

Today I had a discussion with one of the ones whom I'd like improve directly addressing my concerns. He generally agreed and reminded me that this is his first real-world professional experience. However it is too early to say whether this discussion will bring about any behavioral change.

I'd like to know if this approach is OK (directly addressing the issue in a short meeting), and if there is a better way?

I believe it would be beneficial for everybody involved if these interns became more proactive and independent but short of challenging them and telling them where they are on the wrong path I don't have good ideas to bring about this behavioral change.

closed as too broad by Lilienthal, Kent A., Dawny33, Kate Gregory, gnat Jan 11 '16 at 16:58

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 6
    I'm voting to close this as too broad because your essential question is "how do I manage people?" about which entire books have been written. The web has more suitable resources on this than the Workplace given its Q&A format. Minor tips that I can give based on your description: regular feedback is ok and even critical to building a good team and it's vital for interns, you're telling them what they're doing wrong but are you telling them what they should be doing instead and do they know how they can get there? – Lilienthal Jan 11 '16 at 12:12
  • However it is too early to say whether this discussion will bring about any behavioral change. What structures did you put in place to ensure this? Did you agree on actions? – Jan Doggen Jan 11 '16 at 12:20
  • I'd like to know if this approach is OK (directly addressing the issue in a short meeting) Why not, however telling them where they are on the wrong path can backfire. Don't tell these people that they are doing things wrong, especially not inexperienced interns. Find your common goal (that seemed to work well with your specific example) and see where you can work together on that (which does not show from your question - see my other comment). – Jan Doggen Jan 11 '16 at 12:23
  • Are you sure you've observed everyone with a wide-variety and difficulty levels of tasks? Maybe the ones who are able to do more with an abstract task on their own just got lucky and were assigned something they're familiar with. What feedback do interns get when they try to do more and fail? If it's very negative, you're always going to have a smaller group willing to stick their neck out. – user8365 Jan 11 '16 at 16:47
  • @ Lilienthal, I'd hope the question is a bit more specific than "how do I manage people", i'd be glad to read any literature you can suggest on my specific issue. – Underdetermined Jan 11 '16 at 20:14
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Question is insanely broad, but I'll risk anyways.

  1. Don't expect success with everyone. Whatever your job, some people won't be fit for it, ever. But trying is worth it, as when it works, it"s really nice.
  2. Don't expect miracle progression. Some will do better, but to a limited level. Especially as they are interns, you don't have a lot of time for raising them up
  3. Give yourself a limited set of objectives. What do you want from them? More initiative? More technical knowledge? More internal communication? Choose one, and stick to it.
  4. Try to measure. Of course, it's tough to have a numeric measure of initiative, but still, try to get a week-per-week review of your trainee's progress.
  5. Don't blame those who don't seem to progress - or make mistakes. Taking initiative is something that some people hate because it's risky. If you blame them, they'll get even more defensive. And any hope of progress will be lost for them.
  6. To expand point 5, be positive. Keep your metrics for yourself. Metrics always sort people, and you don't want anyone to feel negatively. Some will need a long time before feeling confident enough to feel initiative. Any negative feedback can ruin several months of patient process.
  7. Not everyone excels at abstract thinking and not everyone feels their suggestions are worth bringing to the table. Those people often have other talents that are well worth encouraging (for example, they might be able to get every detail right of a tedious task that would bore the snot out of your abstract thinker)(Thanks to Amy for that one)
  • I'd add to this that not everyone excels at abstract thinking and not everyone feels their suggestions are worth bringing to the table. Those people often have other talents that are well worth encouraging (for example, they might be able to get every detail right of a tedious task that would bore the snot out of your abstract thinker). – Amy Blankenship Jan 11 '16 at 16:55
  • Thank you for the points! This does help me along, although its not the "trick" i'd hoped for. The question is more vague than I realized, but I wanted to keep out and specific gripes I have with specific individuals as it seems to be a recurring theme. – Underdetermined Jan 11 '16 at 20:17
  • @Amy Blankenship : thanks a lot. Can I add your remark to the answer? – gazzz0x2z Jan 12 '16 at 10:22
  • Sure. This is something I'm learning myself in my first gig as team lead over a pair of devs straight out of school. – Amy Blankenship Jan 12 '16 at 16:22

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