Engaging and mobilizing employees can feel like a daunting challenge. However, a few simple management behaviors can make a huge difference to improve engagement.
For instance, many employees are frustrated because they feel like they have to read their manager’s mind. They don’t know how they are doing or how they can do better. The annual performance evaluation is sometimes an employee’s only chance to find out. Yet, that event is so stressful and formal that the interaction between employee and manager usually is not conducive to meaningful improvements.
Spans of control contribute to the problem
This situation is not completely the fault of management. In some organizations, spans of control have become so large that managers have to complete formal performance reviews every three or four days.
The solutions are simpler than you might think
There are many simple, inexpensive strategies to engage and mobilize employees. They can be put into place immediately and have huge impact.
For instance, one opportunity that many leaders fail to take advantage of – even at the C-level – is to give more frequent, informal feedback about how each employee is doing. By doing so, everyone in an organization knows what is expected of them and how they can get better.
The seven questions
At bottom, there are seven simple questions every leader must answer and communicate to employees. Frequency counts. Having small, informal conversations with employees about performance at common sense junctures goes a long way – especially when these conversations include teachable moments about different situations and details.
The questions every manager should reflect on for each employee include:
1. What do I expect from you?
We all know that setting expectations is a basic supervisory skill, yet many managers still don’t do it well. They take for granted that employees have the same work knowledge and work standards in mind as they do. You’ll be surprised at how much you will learn about employee perceptions when you discuss your expectations with them.
2. What are you doing well?
Managers know, too, that they should acknowledge and thank employees for the things they are doing well. However, with the hectic pace of today’s workplace, many managers don’t take the time to do this.
3. What, if anything, can you be doing better?
Good employees want to know how they can continue to improve their contribution to the organization. Marginal employees need to know this. Be prepared to use work examples that help illustrate the difference between what the employee is doing now and what it would look like if they were doing even better.
4. What, if anything, do I want you to do better?
Similar to the previous question, this request gives the employee more information about your perception of where they must apply their energy and focus to be more successful. After all, if the manager is the one with making the decision about how well the employee is doing, know what you as manager think is required is good insight for the employee to have.
5. (If appropriate): What will happen if you improve (e.g., more responsibility, more time with leadership, more desirable assignments)?
For your high potentials and superstars, this question leads to the discussion of career paths and opportunity.
6. (If appropriate): What will happen if you don’t improve?
For marginal and low-performing employees, this question can lead to a candid and transparent discussion of what is at stake and in store for them if they don’t bring their performance up to snuff. This lets the employee “see the freight train coming”, so if they don’t improve, they will be less likely to be surprised if they are demoted or let go down the road.
7. How can I help?
Offering reasonable assistance to an employee – whether a low- or high-performer — to meet or exceed your expectations lets them know that you are not simple the judge and jury. You are there to help them succeed if they are willing to go for it.
While all of these questions are important, the last question is especially important. It shows the employee that the leader cares, and is not merely abdicating responsibility or shifting blame.
And remember: These questions should come up throughout the year – not just when you do the formal performance review.
WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman is the advisor for senior leaders who want to get clear and focused and see better results in productivity and profitability in their organizations. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: bethstrathman.com.