Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Managers: Time to Talk Turkey

As we go into the holiday season, consider talking turkey with your employees.

If you're a typical manager I'm guessing you don't do this too much. Other stuff gets in the way. You have your agenda and work schedule and meetings. Your employees seem reasonably happy and productive. You probably assume things are fine.

And maybe they are. But extrapolating from recent studies about employee engagement, they probably aren't. Very likely, there's an undercurrent of resentment from employees who feel undervalued, primarily by you.

No, I'm not psychic. But I do know people and organizations. When managers assign work without talking to people first - or fail to publicly recognize work - or talk more than they listen - people feel unappreciated.

And most managers do exactly that. So, I'm guessing you do that, too.

Don't get me wrong: you do a lot of things right. You're a nice person. You share information. You try to look out for your team and share the workload fairly.

But at some point, if it's all about the work and never about the person, people start feeling resentful.

So let me tell you about the best manager I ever had, who ended up leaving corporate life to have a third child and start her own business.

Some of you may know who I'm talking about...

First of all, she made time to sit down with everyone on her team and discuss their interests and career goals. This conversation included honest brainstorming about how she could - and couldn't - help them.

It's important to note here that this wasn't a one-time conversation. Circumstances change. People change. She didn't assume she knew everything about a person's aspirations from talking to them once. Helping people clarify and realize their goals is an iterative process.

You're busy, I get that, but this is your most important job as a manager. If your other work is more important or interesting you should be an individual contributor.

After the initial conversation it was less straightforward, which is probably why most managers never get around to it or only do it once. Obviously you can't hand your employees everything they want on a golden platter just because they want it. They get that, too.

What you can do is assign work to them that starts them in the right direction. You can mentor and sponsor them. You can bring their achievements in those areas that bring them closer to their goals to the attention of upper management.

She did all this and one other thing that really made her stand out in my memory: When she assigned work she positioned it in terms of MY goals.

She was amazing at this. She could send me to make copies and make it sound like I was really moving up in the world.

She didn't give me what I wanted all the time. In fact, looking back I think she gave me the work she would have given me anyway but she framed the request in the context of my own goals.

I don't know you or your situation. You may be a fantastic manager with an egaged team. I hope so.

But even if that's true, making time to talk to people about them and framing work requests in terms of their goals can't hurt.

Someone might even blog about you some day. In a good way.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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