Claire Lew, CEO of Know Your Team, talked to OETC about the small changes for directors and managers that can make a huge difference when it comes to the day-to-day satisfaction of employees.
Lew helms Know Your Team, a software tool that helps managers become better at running more effective one-on-ones and meetings, getting honest feedback, sharing progress, and building team rapport. She spoke at OETC’s CIO Summit in 2019.
1. Get specific with your questions
“I think the biggest mistake that people make when they’re interacting with their employees is that they ask really vague questions like ‘How are things going?’ or ‘What’s going on?’ instead of asking more specific, meaningful questions,” she said.
These questions, she said, can put employees on the spot, struggling to discern what information might actually be useful, and how they can phrase it well.
“As a result, nine times out of ten, the employee will say something like, ‘Oh, I can’t think of anything right now,’ or ‘It’s all good,’” she said.
“Instead of asking, ‘How can I help you?’ you could ask a question like, ‘What about my management style can I improve?’, ‘What have been your biggest time-wasters?’, ‘What’s something that’s frustrated you the past few weeks?’ or ‘How do you feel about the direction we’re heading as a team?’ Those questions … are about vision and direction, about feedback and work, and you’re going to learn so much more asking questions like that.”
2. Don’t ask for feedback — ask for advice
“’Feedback’ is such a loaded word,” Lew said. “So instead of asking for feedback, you ask for advice … and who doesn’t love to give advice? You feel valued, you feel like you’re being helpful, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had CEOs and managers tell me that when they swapped out the word feedback for advice … all of a sudden everyone in the room starts talking, and what was crickets is now a cacophony of people speaking up to offer their two cents. It’s night and day.”
3. Start off on the right foot
One of the most important things any manager can do, Lew said, is to make sure that an environment of open communication is established right from the beginning, since the first 90 days are incredibly instrumental in how an employee will perform in their job.
“The statistics of how many people leave in the first 90 days is pretty astounding,” she said. “I believe there was a survey done with over 1,500 people where 30 percent of the employees leave in their first three months.”
Besides doing things to make them feel welcome and comfortable — a document that explains processes, a seating chart with everyone’s name, a welcome note, having a project ready to go and perhaps a gift like headphones — it’s important to introduce them in a thoughtful way.
Having an introverted employee stand up in front of everyone and introduce themself, she said, could be torturous.
“At Know Your Team, we actually have something called Icebreakers, and it’s five fun questions to send to everyone in the organization, and everyone fills it out, including the new person,” she said.
The questions are fun, and designed to convey lots of information while also not feeling overly personal or high-stakes; think ‘What’s your favorite place you’ve visited?’ or ‘Ever met anyone famous?’
“So everyone gets to know each other, and it’s this nice rapport that is building across the entire company welcoming this new person,” Lew said.
4. Never underestimate the power of one-on-ones
It’s critical, she said, to have one-on-ones weekly at least during the first month, striving for biweekly or monthly after that. You need to know your new employee well in order to be able to tailor your communication to them.
Particularly with those who might be new to the workforce or industry, Lew said, these meetings will give you an incredible amount of information on their strengths and what they’ll need to get up to speed with the team.
“It’s less about trying to figure out how to get them to do anything and more about understanding what their preferences are, and the gaps you’re going to have to help coach them on. And that only happens when having those one-on-one meetings.
5. Understand preferences for feedback
“Managers rarely ask, ‘What is your preferred way to receive feedback — in email, in chat, in person, over the phone, via video? What’s your preference for timing — do you want me to tell you right away, do you want me to wait a day so you can cool off, do you want a week?’”
Also, she said, it’s important to remember that different people are comfortable with different levels of conflict.
“Finding out what their orientation is toward conflict — ‘Are you someone who is super conflict averse or do you thrive and feel that conflict means you’re having a healthy discussion?’”
6. Never underestimate the power of inexperience
Sometimes, the youngest and least experienced employees can bring a wealth of knowledge to the table.
Lew reinforced the need for frequent one-on-ones, but also said that you should be clear with them that their newness can be a strength.
“Let them know that their perceived ‘lack of experience’ is a huge advantage to the team and to the organization,” she said. “People who first join an organization and have nothing to compare it to, they have fresh eyes. Instead of chiding the person for the fact that they don’t have the experience, see it as an advantage, and say, ‘We need your fresh eyes. If you see something that doesn’t make sense, tell us.’”
Those new ideas, she said, “that’s how things become better and that’s where innovation happens. Communicating that to the person gives them credence, and makes them want to improve and contribute further.”
While some of this may sound like a lot of effort, Lew said that in the end, each of these practices will help you stay focused on the most important job of any manager or director.
“The entire practice of being a great leader,” she said, “Is understanding what motivates each person and letting that motivation drive them … your true role as a manager isn’t to force or influence anyone, but rather to create an environment where everyone can do their best work.”
View Claire Lew’s Summit 2019 presentation “The Feedback Loop: How to Get + Give Honest Feedback”