If you are in a leadership or management position, ask yourself this question: “how much quality one-on-one time do I spend with my staff?” If you are like most managers, the answer is probably “not enough”. In which case, you are missing out on a valuable resource and opportunity.
A well-respected leader I know once told me: “Every person I work with knows something better than I. My job is to listen long enough to find it and use it.” If that sounds like good advice, then it makes sense to create a communication environment beyond the usual staff meetings and employee reviews.
So how do you create this kind of business culture? The first step is to begin to schedule time with your employees on a regular basis. Meet with them in a neutral territory such as sharing a cup of coffee in the break room or conference room, and keep it as informal as possible so that everyone is relaxed. One manager I know makes it point to take a walk with one employee every week-- just a simple stroll around the plant while they talk. The point is to do it regularly so that your employees know what to expect and maintain it as a conversation rather than a meeting.
During these conversations, you need to ask the right questions to keep the dialog flowing in a positive manner. Vague questions like “how is it going?” is likely to get equally vague answers like “fine”. What is needed are more probing questions that keep your employees thinking and give them the opportunity to share what they know.
Here is a list of five questions you can use to better engage your employees, find out what they know, and learn how to use their knowledge.
1. “What are the three major things you are focusing on this week?” – This question is great for getting your people focused and working smarter by prioritizing their efforts.
2. “Are there any red flags or potential problems that you see?” –This gets your people focused on the problems and can also give you clues as to what the issues are. You may even discover some problems or situations that you did not know existed.
3. “What's working for you?” – This is a great question for surfacing best practices and learning what is working and what is not.
4. “What can you doing differently?” – This question helps to foster a culture of innovation and thinking outside the box. When you ask this question consistently, your employees will feel compelled to start thinking of new ideas.
5. “What information, resources, authority, or support do you need from me to get your job done?” –This question will help empower your people because you are there to support their efforts
How often you have these discussions is obviously based on the size of your staff. The important thing is to do it on a regular basis and maintain a consistent schedule. Plan on each conversation being at least 30 minutes long. Some employees will have much to contribute, others not so much, but allow for everyone to have an equal opportunity.
Taking the time to meet with people this way in a one-on-one session gives everyone a chance to be heard. It is also an easy way to increase employee engagement and involvement. It allows your staff to contribute ideas and provide feedback without the fear of criticism that can come from a group meeting, or the intimidation that can arise from being called into the boss’s office. More importantly, it gives you an ideal method to learn what is really happening within your organization.
Understand that at first, this may feel uncomfortable, both for you and your employees, especially if you have never done anything like this before. But by following these simple steps, you will soon find a wealth of information and ideas flowing. And that is exactly what good leaders want from their staff.