my boss joined my Toastmasters club, why hiring managers look at LinkedIn profiles, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My boss joined my Toastmasters club

I am a junior accountant, and one area that my boss would like me to work on is speaking up more in meetings. I am by nature shy, and this is something I have always struggled with. It is something that is extremely difficult for me, and I have a particularly hard time speaking up around authority figures. However, I am actively working on improving in this area and one thing I have done is join our company’s Toastmasters club. Almost immediately, my boss decided to join also because he said he wants to work on his public speaking skills also (I was confused by this because he is an excellent speaker). He asked me if I would mind, and I said “No” because Toastmasters is supposed to be a really supportive environment, and I thought it would be okay.

Well, it’s been a few months, and I dread going to the club meetings because it is so anxiety-provoking. My boss is a very outgoing person who doesn’t have a lot of problems with public speaking. And although he is not a terrible boss, he can be very judgmental about employees’ abilities. For example, he will often make statements about other employees’ weak areas, e.g. “He really needs to work on his organizational skills, etc.” For that reason, I am afraid of making mistakes around him. Consequently, Toastmasters meetings have become more like work meetings than a place where I can safely practice public speaking. I am extremely nervous before the meetings, and I don’t think I am getting much out of them.

I’d like to quit the club and find another place to practice my public speaking that does not feel so threatening, but I don’t want my boss to think I am flaky. Do you have any advice on how to handle this? One thought I had was to offer a replacement, e.g. tell him that I found a different club/class in which to practice my public speaking. But I think he may wonder why I am doing this.

Why not join a different Toastmasters group in your area if this one isn’t serving its purpose for you anymore? There should be some near you that aren’t affiliated with your company. As for what to say to him about why you’re switching, it depends on how comfortable you are telling him the truth. Ideally, it would be great if you could explain that you’ve found it harder to practice and make mistakes when you know your boss is observing you. But if you’re not comfortable doing that or think it won’t go over well, then you could explain to him that you found the other group was a better fit for you because of ___ (could be hours, mix of people, number of people, the overall feel of the group, you have contacts there, or whatever).

That said, there could be advantages to staying in the group your boss is in; since your public speaking fears are tied to speaking in front of authority figures, this could be a way to work on that — as long as your boss isn’t penalizing you for how you do there. But if you’re dreading the meetings and your anxiety is getting in the way of you improving your skills, then I agree that trumps the advantages of practicing with your boss, at least for now. (Although it could be interesting to improve your speaking skills in a different group and then return to this one when you’re feeling more comfortable, as a sort of “201″ class — working specifically on your ability to speak in front of intimidating people.)

2. Should I tell my employee that I can’t promote her because of her poor interpersonal skills?

I have an employee who is absolutely great at what she does, skill-wise. She takes initiative, she gets her job done well and she’s very clever with what she does. The problem is, she has incredibly poor “soft skills” and we’re in a company culture and in a department that demands those types of skills.

She constantly puts people on the defensive, frequently focuses on overly technical details with people who don’t want them and just generally doesn’t know how to read a room. She’s been at the company just over a year and I’ve given her immediate feedback following each episode. I’ve seen no change or growth in this area and now she’s pressuring me for a promotion.

I think she’s great at what she does and would be happy having her on my team doing what she does. By constantly asking for a promotion though, she just shows me even more clearly that she’s both not ready for it and can’t read a situation properly. My question is — should I be very upfront with her and tell her she’s not in line for a promotion this year? Or should I continue to coach her along hoping she picks up the skills?

You should do both. First, you should absolutely be direct with her! Explain to her why and how these issues are holding her back, that she needs to tackle them before you can think about promoting her, and specifically what you need to see change. But you should also continue to coach her on the issues as well.

3. Will recognizing super stars make others feel left out?

We’re working hard on building a positive and cohesive team, and we seem to be on the right track. We want to start rewarding employees to show our appreciation when they go above and beyond to help out the team, like participating in optional overtime or changing their shift to meet company needs. Gifts and thank-yous sound like a good thing, but some team members have expressed guilt (or concern that others will “feel bad”) when we recognize our superstars, even just with donuts or team emails. If all staff are given equal opportunity to go above and beyond, but only a few actually do, should we even feel bad for those who are “left out” of the thank-you tokens? What’s the best approach here?

No. It’s completely reasonable (and normal) to reward higher performance with additional recognition, perks, and compensation. That’s what things like merit raises, promotions, public praise for a job well done, and other forms of recognition are about.

That said, you should tailor how you recognize people to what makes them feel good. If you have particular people on your team who are uncomfortable with public recognition, you should find another way to reward those people. But that’s about making your recognition individual to the people you’re recognizing; it’s not because there’s something wrong with public recognition in general.

4. Company wants me to repay professional membership fees since I’m leaving

You helped me a month or so ago with a question about a job offer. I took risk and landed the job with the bigger pay raise, more challenges and I am ecstatic. I am going to start next month, but my question is about professional development and my department demanding that I pay it back.

In January, my department purchased my membership to two educational guilds (about $350 total). I did not start to look for another position until late February. My department manager states that I need to reimburse them the total cost for my membership as they paid for it and it is theirs not mine.

I am totally fine reimbursing them (as I don’t know if they can just transfer the membership to my coworker instead), but I am wondering if they are wrong here. At the time I accepted the memberships/professional development, I was fully intending to stay at my current organization and using that knowledge to help my department. However, an opportunity came up that was closer to my family, paid more, better benefits, offered challenging work, etc. I haven’t said anything to my manager as this happened yesterday afternoon and I said I would get back to them this week.

Yes, they’re totally wrong. This was a business expense that they agreed to pay. Sometimes people leave after their employer invests in them; that’s a cost of doing business. You have no legal or ethical obligation to repay these membership fees.

I’d say something like this to them: “I understand the timing is bad, but this was a business expense that we incurred while I had no plans to leave. It’s not an expense I would have taken on myself, had I needed to pay for it personally at the time, and I’m not comfortable paying for it now simply because I’m moving on, just like I wouldn’t expect to have to reimburse the company for, say, a business trip that was booked but doesn’t fall until after I’m gone.”

5. Why do hiring managers look at LinkedIn profiles?

Maybe this is a stupid question, but I don’t understand why hiring managers look at LinkedIn profiles when they already have my resume since they say the same thing. Am I missing something?

Well, not everyone’s LinkedIn profiles are identical to their resumes. Some people craft a different (often less formal) profile than what’s on their resume. Some people have recommendations and other interests listed. Some people write articles and send out news items through their LinkedIn account. You might also have connections in common with the hiring manager, who might be people the hiring manager potentially asks about you. And hell, sometimes hiring managers are just interested in seeing your photo, because they are human and people like knowing who they’re talking to and they know it might be there.

This entry was posted in HR, Leadership. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.