We have a colleague (we’ll call her Sara) who says that her stomach clenched every time she saw her supervisor’s name come up on caller ID. It was bound to be bad news; her manager never called to tell her what a great job she was doing. She was too busy for that. Her boss only called to tell her when and how she’d screwed up. It’s no surprise Sara left as soon as she got a better offer.
It’s time we fixed the manager check-in.
Executive coaches recommend that managers make time for connection and conversation with their team members at least monthly. These informal discussions can cover more than performance: ask them to share stress levels, goals, and satisfaction with their role. Writing for Inc. online, Claire Lew, CEO of the collaboration tool Know Your Team, suggests questions that get to the heart of feeling valued, appreciated, and challenged on the job. Here are some conversation starters she recommends.
- Is it clear why the work you do matters to the organization?
- Which skills do you feel are not being used in your current role?
- Is there any part of the team you wish you could interact with more?
The value of these questions is immediately apparent. Most employees have never had any employer ask these questions, perhaps because the answers might create expectations. They get to the essence of why people work: to feel that they are creating value and to be able to use the skills they’ve worked hard to develop.
The questions are effective for employees at all levels. Top performers can give managers notice that they don’t feel appreciated for the effort they’re making; they might also point out work they’re doing behind the scenes (such as mentoring, coaching, or propping up a struggling teammate) that you might not be aware of. You might also hear that a one size fits all appreciation policy leaves top performers feeling undervalued.
Your “good enough” performers may let you know how to motivate them to give more of themselves at work. They may be yearning to take on new responsibilities, use skills that aren’t currently part of their job, or interact more with other team members. They may be bored and hoping for more challenging work. The only way to know is to ask – and be open to hearing what they think.
Being open to hearing what your team has to say may also help you reclaim struggling staff members. Many managers (like Sara’s) don’t reach out to workers unless they deliver bad news or criticism. That puts workers on the defensive, making those interactions less productive. Regular check-ins to ask questions and forge stronger connections will certainly be more effective. (Deliver performance correction separately.) You may find that your staff member feels brave enough to ask a question they’d never ask in a team meeting. They may feel empowered to ask for coaching or more training.
Claire Lew suggests these questions to learn how well workers understand the organization and its mission.
- Is there any aspect of the organization that you wish you knew more about?
- What’s felt confusing or frustrating for you lately?
- To what degree is the vision of the organization clear?
The answers you receive can give you early insight into what’s not working, not being communicated clearly, and what could help employees feel connected to the big picture. A recent people management platform Lattice survey found that nearly 43 percent of workers felt their careers had slowed or stalled. You can head off problems – and eventually resignations – by taking action on the feedback you get. (Listening without acting on what you hear may cause more problems.)
Writer Linda Lam said, “One good conversation can shift the direction of change forever.” In an increasingly complex management environment, it’s good to know that your most powerful tool is also the simplest one you have.
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