The Value of Self-Confident Employees

Last week, a friend shared with me that a new position had opened at her company, and though she might like the job, she wasn’t going to apply because she assumed she wasn’t qualified. I tried to encourage her to apply anyway, but she demurred.

I’ve been “unqualified” for most of my jobs, and that goes for most of us in trade journalism, because we were trained as journalists and editors, rather than as practitioners of the fields we are writing about. But we take the jobs anyway because we’re confident we can learn on the job.

Editors writing about trades they never were trained in themselves need to be confident they can learn after they take the job. What if all of your employees had that same confidence? When a job isn’t life-and-death, it’s OK that the majority—or at least a significant amount—of the learning occurs after the job has been taken, right?

I saw an article online, “7 Ways to Build Your Employees’ Self-Confidence,” by Karin Hurt, which makes me think we all should be thinking about how to build employee self-confidence. Internal promotion is a great way to incentivize employees to stay long term at your company, and it can be more efficient than hiring from the outside. While employees moving into new roles nearly always require additional training, and the aforementioned on-the-job learning, candidates who are already employees can be assimilated to the job faster. They are already a part of your company’s culture, understand your company’s mission, have a network of colleagues inside the company, and a track record of being a person people like to work with. Outside candidates can have a track record, via references, of being a good person to work with, but you typically don’t know those references the way you know the references of an internal candidate.

The goal of increasing internal promotions—which also helps with succession planning—won’t work, though, if employees don’t have the confidence to push themselves forward when new positions open. Hurt writes that there are easy ways you can train managers to build the self-confidence of employees. These tips, in some cases, are just good manners and ethics, such as treating employees with respect. She says you can do that by taking the time to connect with them one-on-one, and to listen to their perspective. It builds self-confidence when you see that your manager, and maybe even your manager’s manager, thinks you’re smart and worthwhile to listen to. I know from personal experience how it feels when your e-mails to your work group, including your boss and boss’ boss, go ignored, while e-mails from others receive replies. Be sure your managers understand that even entry-level employees should get responses to e-mails expressing opinions and offering ideas.

When I was in college, my professor in a political theory class asked me to help a Russian exchange student, and I remember how it made me feel about myself. I was insecure and confused about why he had asked me, but now when I look back on it, I’m proud, and can see it helped me feel better about my intelligence and ability to be of service. I also was able to interact with the class material more powerfully by trying to explain it to a person outside of our culture. If you have a smart entry- or mid-level employee who has proven him or herself, you could do the same—have him or her mentor a new employee. The new employee probably will be grateful for the help, and the employee you tap to help will strengthen his or her own skills in the process. Do you have a mentoring program that allows proven entry- and mid-level employees to mentor others? Or are mentors only senior-level executives?

An idea Hurt doesn’t touch on that I would recommend is encouraging managers to bring those working under them into meetings to present their own ideas. For years, the manager I have now would take my ideas and present them on my behalf in meetings. I speculated that he did this because he didn’t want to give me a platform because he knew that if I could present the ideas myself, there was a greater chance the ideas would find a receptive audience. In addition to possibly limiting the power of the ideas, managers who prefer to speak on behalf of their employees, rather than invite the employees into the meetings themselves, also miss an opportunity to build their employees’ presentation skills and confidence. You can help create more confident employees earlier in their careers by having a culture that welcomes input from entry- and mid-level employees in executive meetings.

What is the Learning professional’s role in helping to create more confident employees who are more likely to push themselves forward when new opportunities arise at your company?


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