Management Success Tip #185: The Non-Rocket Science Art of Listening

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You know how irritating it is when someone you’re talking to, usually a close friend or family member, is texting while you’re trying to get across something really important to you? Or maybe they’re not looking at you, but at something else? Or when they give you that blank stare as in “Whatever you’re saying it’s just so much blabla”?

Now with that close friend or family member, you have the freedom to say “Hey, listen up! This is important!” But when you are texting, looking at something or someone other than the person in front of you, or thinking about something totally unrelated which causes that blank stare, while your employee is trying to get across something really important to them—that employee does not have the freedom to say “Hey, listen up! This is important!” All your employee can do is stand there, feeling disrespected, dismissed and in general, devalued.

Not a great way to manage your peeps! Back in 1957, Ralph G. Nichols and Leonard A. Stevens wrote in a 1957 HBR article (yes, Harvard Business Review existed even waaaay back then); “It can be stated, with practically no qualification, that people in general do not know how to listen. They have ears that hear very well, but seldom have they acquired the necessary aural skills which would allow those ears to be used effectively for what is called listening.” Nichols and Stevens studied thousands of students and hundreds of business people, and what they found was that most retained only 50% of what they had heard—immediately after they’d heard it! And only 25% some six months later.

What does listening involve? Basically, your attention. Your 100% attention on what the person is saying to you, on looking at them, preferably engaging good eye contact, and acknowledging that you are listening by either nodding your head from time to time or saying something like “Uh-huh.”

Not rocket science. But it does mean you can’t be formulating your response while they are talking, nor can you text, daydream, tune out or otherwise withdraw your attention from the individual in front of you.

Accord your employees the basic respect of really listening to them, and they will respect you in turn.

Advertisements

Management Success Tip #181: Give First What You Want to Get from Your Employees

#181 kibsri

Image courtesy of kibsri / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Recently, The Conference Board came up with a practical, down to earth, and—more importantly—useful definition of “employee engagement.” Because frankly, half the time, when you ask managers how they define “employee engagement,” all you get is a blank stare and a “Uh, well, it’s when employees are engaged” type response, which means virtually nothing.

Here’s the definition: “A heightened emotional connection that an employee feels for his or her organization, that influences him or her to exert greater discretionary effort to his or her work.”

Now to the practical part. The Conference Board’s first “key driver” of employee engagement is “Trust and integrity: how well managers communicate and ‘walk the talk.’

Ah yes, there it is. Where the rubber meets the road. How well do you walk your talk? For example, if you want employees to work well together, to collaborate seamlessly on projects—do you listen to employees when they communicate to you? Or is your mind on 100 other things, so you’re following their thoughts with but a fraction of your attention? Are you appreciative of their opinions, ideas and innovations? Or do you dismiss employee ideas as ‘not good enough’ or ‘yeah, yeah, heard that already’ without even giving them credit for the desire to improve things?

You can’t get what you aren’t willing to give. It’s just as true in the workplace as it is in your other relationships. Be willing to give to your employees in spades what you want them to contribute to your company’s success.

Management Success Tip #178: Turn Your Boring Meeting Notes into a Powerful Action Plan

Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If there’s anything you find more annoying than meetings, it’s having to take meeting notes. Why have to repeat everything that was said? It seems a monumental waste of time.

Indeed, if that’s how you look at it, meeting notes are a waste of time.

But, if instead, you think of meeting notes as a powerful way to get things done . . . well, that changes everything!

Think of meeting notes not as an historical rendering of what happened, but rather as a succinct series of bullet points which captures the key points, lays out the specific commitments for each topic discussed, and reminds all concerned of who’s responsible for what and by when.

In other words, an action plan! Where is it writ that meeting notes should be useless? On the contrary, make your meeting notes strong, solid and purposeful. Make sure your notes define in clear, actionable terms, who is to do what, where, how, when and with whom.

Which is how you can insure that the critical follow-up occurs. Because, as you well know, nothing happens without follow-up. If your meeting notes form the action plan, follow-up becomes a piece of cake.

Management Success Tip #177: Encourage Your Employees’ Best Work: Adopt Employee-Friendly Body Language

Image courtesy of nenetus / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You’re in a tough spot as a boss. On the one hand, you have to exude sufficient authority that your employees accept your directives, on the other hand, you have to be sufficiently user-friendly that employees are willing to tell you the truth of what they see and how they see it.

There’s a reason why there are couches and chairs in the Oval Office, in addition to the President’s desk. The President sitting behind his (or one day, her?) desk conveys a message of relative separateness: “I’m over here, you’re over there.” When the President sits at a couch or chair, with the guest sitting similarly, the message is one of working things out together.

When it’s important that your employees experience you as in “together” mode, make sure your body language is congruent with that message. For example, Detert and Burris suggest: “Keeping your arms at your side (rather than crossing them in front of you), lowering your voice, dressing less formally, and even smiling can make people more likely to share their thoughts with you. So can behavioral cues, such as sitting at the same tables as everyone else at lunch and not being the first to articulate a point of view at meetings.”

Gone are the days of “He/She Who Must Be Obeyed”! For all you may regret that, adopting an employee-friendly manner will go a long way towards gaining your employees’ trust, and with that, their best work.

Management Success Tip #172: Engage Employee Cooperation By Asking Open-Ended Questions

#172 Ambro

Image courtesy of Ambro/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Even as children, most of us didn’t like to be told what to do. And although a certain amount of “Here’s what you must do” is obligatory in any business, there are many times when “What” or “How” open-ended questions are more effective.

For example, “How do you think your task could best be accomplished?” “What resources do you think you might require?” invite consideration by your employee as to just with what and how they might meet a desired goal. More importantly, open-ended questions invite dialogue, and dialogue, in turn, is how positive relationships are born.

Successful managers foster positive relationships between themselves and those who report to them: not necessarily friendships, but certainly relationships of mutual respect and appreciation.

You can, of course, lead by commanding, but that has proven to be an increasingly less effective strategy. Leading by engaging is far more powerful, and inviting dialogue is a prime way of engaging.

People always cooperate better with a decision they’ve had a hand in creating. Asking open-ended questions that invite dialogue is a sure way of facilitating your employees’ role in making, and then adhering to, those decisions that apply to them.

Management Success Tip #171: Fix Your Attitude Towards Your Employees Before You Try to Fix Poor Performance

Image courtesy of stockimages/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pop quiz: what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your employees?

Pain-in-the-neck? Burdensome? Constant source of aggravation? Bunch of whiners? Lazy? Unmotivated?

Or: Pleasure to work with. Eager beavers. Full of good ideas. Helpful, cooperative.

Probably a mix of both. Hopefully with more of the “pleasure to work with” thoughts than the “pain-in-the-neck” variety.

But here’s the thing: people can sense what your attitude is towards them. And when you look at an employee and think “pain-in-the-neck,” that employee may not know precisely what you’re thinking, but he or she can indeed feel that they are somehow disapproved of. Which in turn greatly diminishes their desire to do a good job, or improve present performance.

Does this mean you have to like all your employees? Heavens, no! But it does mean that your focus on whatever you can appreciate, what you can value, about each and every one of your employees, will have significant impact on how they respond to you.

Make the effort to find one thing you can value about every single one of your employees. Then focus your attention more on that attribute, skill or quality, than on whatever it is you don’t appreciate.

You’ll find that even your “pain-in-the-neck” employees will begin to show improvement, and your “pleasure to work with” ones will positively shine.

Management Success Tip #170: Agree Upon Goals, Expectations and Standards for Maximum Employee Productivity and Company Success

Image courtesy of Ambro/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Your employees want to perform well. They want to be productive. Yes, they really do, despite the fact that it sometimes (often?) may not seem that way.

Or at least employees want to do well when they actually know what they’re supposed to be doing! Too often, managers assume that workers should know what they’re supposed to do, how to do it, how often, and by when (and you know what the informal definition of “assume” is). All this because the employees were told once or twice. Or it’s in the job description. Or worse–in the employee manual (updated every decade or so).

That’s mistreatment of a potentially great employee! Instead, take the time to set agreed-upon goals and expectations. Not just your goals, your expectations, but those you sat down with your employee and together, figured out the hows, whys, whats and wherefores thereof. Fancy talk for if you don’t spend the time to make sure you and your employee are on the same page with what is needed, it won’t happen.

Similarly, don’t leave your employees in the dark as to what are the standards set to earn a bonus or other reward. An employee may think he or she has done stellar work, and fully (and rightfully) expects some sort of recognition, only to find out that whatever-it-was had to be completed during the first quarter of the year to qualify for a bonus. Aargh! Major disappointment, unhappy employee–their performance tanks, no big surprise.

Clarify goals and standards. Discuss these with your employees. Write down whatever you’ve agreed on. Both your company and your employees will benefit tremendously.