Do Your Employees Know Exactly What You Think of Their Work?


Janice’s manager said to her, “You seem frustrated.  Are you OK?”

“I’m not always sure where I stand,” Janice responded.

“How so?”

“I turn in my work and I get another assignment.  If something is unacceptable, I get it back; but I don’t know if accepted work barely made the cutoff or set a new standard.”

“Janice, your work consistently meets and even exceeds my expectations.  I guess I assumed that you knew how much we value your contributions.”

I ask workshop participants, “How did management evaluate your work product last week?’’    Most have a general idea such as “OK, I guess,” or “not a good week.”  But few can respond with precise confidence.

I think most managers can increase employee engagement by giving frequent and precise feedback.  Look for opportunities daily or weekly to report to employees exactly what you think about their work.  Offer more than a simple “thank you.”  And avoid willy-nilly phrases like “good work,” or “not quite what I expected.”

Try cutting the deck a little deeper with more precision language such as, “top ten percent,” “that’s about a six,” “bottom half,” and the like.  All employees should know at all times how their work product is valued.

Do You Talk First or Listen First?


“In meetings, I ask for suggestions before I present my view,” a manager said to me.

“Why?” I asked.

“If I present my ideas first, others may be reluctant to express views that differ.  I get fewer opinions.”

Team members tell me that free-flowing discussions do not depend on who goes first.  Rather, the critical factor is how leaders react to opposing views.

One member reported, “Our leader always begins by asking our opinions.  However, he quickly attacks ideas that he disagrees with.”  The member continued to explain that participants tried to guess their leader’s view.  Those who agreed with what they believed to be the leader’s position spoke up.  Those who opposed remained quiet.

A member of a different team reported, “Our leader likes a good argument.  He tells you what he thinks and he encourages push back.  We have rancorous debates but there are no hard feelings.”

Leaders who create a climate conducive to openness are respectful of all suggestions.  They value opposing views.  Differences are never personal.  Honesty and freedom prevail.  There is no guessing what others think.  Passionate discussions are the norm.  The result is improved decisions and greater commitment.  Who talks first is not an issue.

Do Your Staff Members Know Your Preferences?


Two employees were discussing their new manager and one said, “He sure takes a long time to respond.”

The other said, “Really?  I got a quick response from him.”

“How did you do it?”

“I just emailed him and he responded in a few minutes.”

“Well, I called and left a voice message.  It was two days before I got a reply.”

News flash:  managers have unique peculiarities about how they prefer to interact with staff.  This manager obviously preferred email and text to the phone.   Most employees eventually learn to read their managers, but why should they have to play detective to ferret out their leader’s idiosyncrasies?

Are you comfortable with staff drop-ins or would you prefer appointments?

When staff reports, do you want a lot of details or would you prefer just the headlines?

When an unexpected challenge erupts, do you want staff to simply report or offer options for dealing with the issue?

Do you like to wander around the premises or do you homestead your work place?

Do you like data to back up suggestions or will opinions suffice?

Most staff can respond to a wide variety of leader behaviors, but they can do so more effectively when the leader clearly lays them out.

 

 

Do You Value Politeness More than Truth?


Adonai was feeling badly.  “I felt good about my proposal,” she said.  “I had worked really hard on it.  There were a few questions, but I got the impression the team supported my recommendations.”

Adonai commented that, although six weeks had passed, she still did not have an official go-ahead for her project.  “The team leader,” she said, “keeps giving me excuses for delaying approval.”

When I asked the team leader about Adonai’s proposal, he responded, “Some members thought it was pretty weak.”

“Were they critical of her presentation?”

“Not really.  Several told me later that they thought the proposal was flawed.”

“Why didn’t they tell her in the meeting?”

“Adonai is new.  Everyone likes her.  I don’t think they wanted to embarrass her.”

Dr. Harvey, in his Abilene Paradox Concept, explains that team members frequently avoid expressing their true thoughts during meetings.  Peers are reluctant to shoot-down another’s blue ribbon idea.  Some say it shows disrespect.  Others believe they are the only ones who were unimpressed.  Some just don’t like conflict.

In effective teams, members raucously challenge each other.  Questions, what if’s and alternate options spontaneously erupt.  Communication transparency clarifies ideas, spots weaknesses and builds commitment to the ultimate decision.

 

 

Leaders Show Up and Speak Up


In describing his approach to problem-solving discussions, Felix said, “I like to sit back and listen to what others are thinking.”

“Not me,” countered Marilyn.  “I get my ideas on the table first and then I encourage others to challenge my views.  The give-and-take helps me clarify, and often improve, my suggestions.”

“Aren’t you afraid you will suppress others’ thoughts by speaking so quickly?” asked Flex.

Marilyn answered, “No.  I encourage others to chime in.  In short order, we get our adrenaline flowing with rapid-fire comments and counter points.  We get more creative suggestions.”

“I see it differently,” Felix said.  “I’m very cautious about putting forth suggestions.  I want my team to own the solution.  I don’t get that if I talk too much.”

Most of us can recall verbal colleagues who express views on everything–including topics they know nothing about.  These people do lose influence because they eventually expose their lack of preparation.

Still, leaders do talk more than most during meetings.  Managers overlook some very capable people because they are reluctant to express their opinions.  To increase your influence and your value to your company, prepare well for your next meeting then show up and speak up.

 

Quality Face-to-Face Time is the Secret Sauce of Good Communications


(Reprinted from November, 2015)

“I was becoming frustrated,” explained a manager, “with my communications with staff at distant sites.  Several times I thought we had agreed on a way forward only to discover they misinterpreted my intentions.”

The manager began backing up his electronic messages with phone calls and while that helped, misunderstandings continued.  Later, the manager added video conferencing which helped but did not eliminate missteps.

“Eventually,” the manager said, “I started visiting the sites on a regular basis to talk personally with staff.  I was amazed at how much better we got at resolving and preventing customer-related issues.  Even though the site visits required considerable time and energy, they were well worth the effort.”

To communicate effectively, visit staff members at their work stations when there is no reason to be there.  Travel to your customer’s locations; invite your customers to your facilities. If you perceive conflicts with colleagues, drag your physical self to their offices and talk with them.

Consider town-hall meeting with large groups of employees.  Encourage them to ask questions and respond to all.  Deliver the bad news as well as the good.

I recall asking a group of employees if their managers ever visited their work areas.  “Yes,” said one.  “But when work is going smoothly, we never see them.  We make one mistake and they come out of the wood work.”

Do not wait until problems arise.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Engage others, preferably at their work stations, on a regular basis.  Face-to-face communication does not guarantee perfect understanding but it vastly improves your odds.

When the Voice in Your Head Says “Retreat,” You Should Probably “Charge”


“As I was walking into the office,” commented a manager, “out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Cade (a long-time team member) entering through another door.  I’m sure Cade saw me, but I pretended that I didn’t see him and hurried off.”

The manager feared that Cade was frustrated and communication would likely be unpleasant.

At the end of the previous day, a customer and Cade got into a snit about a delivery issue.  After the encounter, Cade criticized his manager to several peers.  “I should never have had to deal with this.  The boss misled the customer and I’m expected to clean it up.”

The manager admitted, “I was concerned about the customer but I had other commitments and just did not want to deal with Cade at that moment.”

Awkward encounters are challenges for most us.  We know we need to have a candid conversation.  We rationalize our decision to postpone as in, “I had other things to deal with.”  “That’s not how I wanted to start my day.”  “I thought I should let things cool down a bit.”

So when the voice in your head shouts, “retreat,” it is likely a signal that you should charge into the fray.