I was recently facilitating a class for executives teaching them how to hold potentially difficult conversations. One of the attendees asked me, “With all that we already have to do, is this really all that important?” I walked to the whiteboard and drew a picture with the word “manager” written vertically on the right, then I listed words like productivity, profitability, accountability, retention, job satisfaction, personal engagement, customer satisfaction, culture change, motivation, collaboration, and innovation in a column on the left. I then explained that a manager is the gateway to the accomplishment of the issues I had listed. If any of these areas are lacking, then the manager is essentially missing the opportunity to manage as effectively as he or she could. That was the end of our conversation.
Whatever issue you may currently be encountering, those are the opportunities for individuals to grow and develop. I like to say that “your distress is the key to your success.” In other words, whatever or whoever frustrates you the most at work is probably in need of your attention; your negative emotion becomes the cue to where you need to place that attention. I also hope that you recognize that the key to improving any of the eleven areas listed above, is dependent on your ability to talk about and work through such issues in a respectful and meaningful way. A manager’s inability to effectively manage can be tied back to the way they communicate and interact with their people.
What follows is a list of questions that you might find helpful to ask and candidly answer yourself. Hopefully your answers will provide some insight about where you might give your full attention.
How productive are your people? I believe that you get what you measure. If you don’t have specific measurements about who is performing well and who isn’t, then it is difficult to know who needs your encouragement and who needs your further assistance to improve their performance.
How does your group contribute to the profitability of your organization? If you are not sure, then I would bet that your people probably don’t know either. You need to understand how you are using your resources and whether the use of those resources is providing the expected return on the investment. If the return does not match the effort, then something needs to change quickly.
Do your people meet the goals, deadlines, and expectations you provide? If not, then you must first take a look at how specific you are in the directions you are providing. If you feel that their lack of performance is at fault, then you must ask yourself if you are talking to those people and providing the necessary information and ongoing feedback so that they can meet your expectations. You need to take a look at yourself first before you take a look at them.
Are you losing people to other companies or departments? That should be evidence enough that something is not as it should or could be. People want to do well, and they will stay where there are opportunities to grow, learn, and make a meaningful contribution. When people are not getting what they need, they will search for other opportunities. You want to make sure that you are providing them with meaningful opportunities and that they know that you value their contribution.
Are people satisfied with their jobs? This is closely tied to the previous question; however, if you haven’t asked this question of anyone, then you need to recognize that you are missing the opportunity to learn how people view you and your leadership. If you don’t have a more realistic view of yourself, then you won’t know what you need to work on. You can’t fix what you don’t see or understand.
Are your people personally engaged? This seems to be the current hot topic in the management field today. When you stop to consider that a recent  Gallup survey suggests that only 30% of the workforce is engaged, you have to wonder what the other 70% of the folks are doing. You will not know unless you ask. You must begin to hold the types of conversations that will help you understand the hearts and minds of your people if you expect them to be engaged in what they are doing.
When was the last time you asked your customers how you are doing? This is the type of information you should actively seek. What your customers think of the services you provide will determine whether or not they will continue to be your customers. Most people have a choice in where they do business. You want to make their business your business. You can do that by talking with them and determining if you are meeting or exceeding their expectations. What you learn from holding these types of conversations will help you make the needed changes that contribute to the success of your company.
How does your culture impact performance? Culture includes the general atmosphere in which people work. That atmosphere is created by the values that the organization endorses and what people actually believe and experience in relationship to those values. For example, if your company espouses work life balance, but management demands that everyone work 60+ hour per week or that they work six days a week, then something is out of alignment. The culture will impact how people view themselves within the organization and how they do their work. Learning about the cultural nuances that may be impacting performance is well worth your time.
Are your people motivated? You might answer this question by assessing whether or not people take the initiative to do work that might normally be part of their job description or whether they go out of their way to help and support others. Asking yourself these questions and then observing performance through that lens may help you learn some things about your people that you didn’t know before.
Do people work and play well together? This question is intended to address collaboration. So much of the work we do requires that we rely upon one another. If individuals have difficulty working with one another, then the quality of the work is usually negatively impacted. If you manage a team that doesn’t collaborate well together, then it is time to find out why and help those individuals figure out what needs to change about the way they think and work together.
What could be improved in the way your people do their work? Your people know what works and doesn’t work or what could be improved to save time and money. If you are not taking the time to learn from them, then you are missing the opportunity to make some changes that will increase their work efficiency and will make them appreciate you for helping them to be more successful. Innovation should be part of what every manager does to help their team to be more successful.
I believe that it is vitally important that every manager realize that they are the gateway to the success that they expect to achieve. Taking advantage of the opportunity to hold these important conversations will contribute to increased success in your workplace while expanding your capacity as a manager.
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