Improve Employee Engagement, Right Now, with One Free Trick
I can now cross “write a blog post with a clickbait title” off my bucket list. If you viewed this blog post because you’re a manager who is interested in learning about a magical way to improve engagement with little effort and no money, then you’ve come for the right reason. The good news is, you can do it right away, you don’t have to request any budget for it, and you don’t even have to be that good at it— you just need to do it.
So, what exactly is “it?” Meet with each of your direct reports on a regular basis and give them your undivided attention during these one-on-one meetings. Let's take a closer look at how you can use one-on-ones to positively impact their professional and personal lives by paying attention to their accomplishments, acknowledging their contributions, and providing them with authentic feedback.
I recall a job I had long ago where I met my manager once when I started and once again when I turned in my notice. Work requests came from analysts, and my work was reviewed by architects. To this day, I’m unsure what my manager at that company did and why they were there but I know something they could have done. If they had, I might have stuck with that company for more than a year.
It is important not to micromanage your team, but don’t shift so far in the opposite direction that employees don’t know who or where you are or what you do for them. Regular one-on-ones, where one employee has your undivided attention, are a great way to make sure you have planned time with each individual direct report.
I recently explained to a manager on my team that, as a manager, a large portion of his job is to be a multiplier. This is something many new leaders struggle with. They’ve spent years developing their craft as contributors. They’ve decided to make a career shift into management, and then they struggle with how they are supposed to contribute. It’s a certainty there will still be some things they contribute, but they will undoubtedly feel like they should be contributing more. The reality, however, is that leaders are not contributors. They are multipliers.
One-on-one discussions are a great example. Let’s say you have five direct reports and assume they each work about 40 hours per week on average. If a one-on-one gives you 30 minutes with each of them, then you have devoted 2.5 hours of your undivided attention to your team members per week. They will work a combined 200 hours during the week. Do you see the value in spending 2.5 hours of focused time with your employees to positively influence 200+ hours of their time? That is how you become a multiplier. Your team accomplishes more because you are constantly providing them with a steady stream of information, removing obstacles, and encouraging them along the way.
I first discovered this management habit when I was a new team leader myself. Incidentally, the discovery was made after I started having regular one-on-ones. It took some time for people to get comfortable telling me this, but I started hearing from my one-on-one talks that people would like to hear what I thought of their work. This came as a shock to me because I had assumed we all knew that “No news is good news.” I mean, if I don’t ask you to change anything, then you did great and you know it, right? Wrong.
There are all types of people in the world. Throughout your career you will work with some “no news is good news” type people. You will also work with people who are the opposite. Believe it or not, there are people in the world who would rather hear you sincerely say “great job” or “thank you” than receive a raise or stock options. As the leader, you should expect to spend time building relationships with each team member. Through those relationships, you gain understanding of what kind of acknowledgment each person will respond to. And, back to our first point, that time is ensured for each team member by actively planning regular one-on-ones.
Provide Authentic Feedback
Providing praise that feels manufactured just because you know you should is disingenuous. I’m sure you worked very hard to hire extremely smart people. If you can feel that the praise isn't authentic, don’t you think the team can, too?
On the same note, constructive feedback is also very important. None of us can improve if we are unaware of what needs improvement. A team can’t read its leader’s mind, so you have to tell people if an outcome isn’t what you expected.
I learned a lesson about feedback in 2018 at the Center for Creative Leadership during one of those awkward group training exercises. Feedback needs to be delivered as close to a situation or event as possible. It needs to clearly point out the action or behavior in question. And, it needs to paint a picture of any damage left behind as a result. If you can deliver feedback this way, it removes ambiguity to help your team members make targeted improvements.
If you want to know when a great time to provide feedback is, you can probably guess by now—it’s during your one-on-ones.
Pay attention to, acknowledge accomplishments of, and provide authentic feedback to everyone that reports to you. This is the magic solution to team engagement you are looking for, and it all starts by scheduling regular one-on-one talks with each team member. Remember that a leader is a multiplier, and you can’t multiply the impact of your team if you don’t truly know what they are capable of or they don’t know or trust you well enough to be moved by your efforts.
In a future blog post, I’ll discuss the importance of skip level meetings for leaders serving multiple teams in a more complex organizational structure.
Jason has worked in technology for over 20 years. He joined SentryOne in 2006 having held positions in network administration, database administration, and software engineering. During his tenure at SentryOne, Jason has served as senior software developer and founded both Client Services and Product Management. His diverse background with relevant technologies made him the perfect choice to build out both of these functions. As SentryOne experienced explosive growth, Jason returned to lead SentryOne Client Services, where he ensures that SentryOne customers receive the best possible end to end experience in the ever-changing world of database performance and productivity.