How (and Why) to Check in With Your Employees Now More Than Ever

How (and Why) to Check in With Your Employees Now More Than Ever 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

If you are like most people, you are concerned about how the current situation is going to affect those closest to you.

My two youngest are out of school and are trying to make sense of everything that’s happening. It must feel strange and out of balance to them. My priority is making sure they feel safe and loved.

My oldest son is experiencing disruptions with both his college schedule and his job. He’s stuck here in a house for long periods of time with his parents and younger siblings. Regardless of how cool his parents are, it’s not exactly how he imagined spending spring.

My grandparents are confined to an apartment in a small assisted-living facility without being able to have coffee with their friends who live in the neighboring apartment. I know they are struggling with the isolation.

Every single person we know right now is worried about something that’s happening. That includes every single one of your employees.

We need to stay connected to one another. We need to talk about things. We need to ask for help. We need to laugh together.

We need to check in on one another.

Talk to Your Employees

For anyone who supervises others at work, it’s important that you take the time to talk to your people about what really matters right now. Call it a check-in, a one-on-one, or a video chat, but just do it. Frequently.

With all of the chaos and uncertainty around us and the pervasive talk of economic challenges ahead, employees will be looking to you for reassurance and support as their manager. It’s in moments like these that it’s valuable to remind ourselves that work is a relationship for employees. And with all this uncertainty, it’s natural that they may be worried about the status of that relationship.

It’s on us as leaders to step up in this moment to create as much clarity and stability as we can.

Now is a good time to remember the relationship test. If you aren’t a regular reader of the blog or you want a refresher, here’s a longer post about the relationship test. In short, the relationship test is a reminder to treat the people we work with with the same care and intention as we would anyone in our life who is important to us.

For example, let’s say your employee is also your daughter. When you check in with her, you’d ask “How are you feeling?” or “Is everything going okay?” If she were struggling with something, you’d dedicate your time and attention to figuring out how to help her through it. Only once you’d gotten through that and felt confident that she’s okay would you even inquire about work.

If she’s feeling scared or facing a personal crisis, a question like “How are you coming on that deliverable?” or “How much time were you able to work today?” seems pretty shallow and insignificant.

The relationship test challenges you to mentally replace the person on the other end of any interaction you have with your team with someone you really love and care about. If you find that it makes you pause, then you probably need to reconsider your approach or intentions.

The bottom line is that we need to be checking in frequently with everyone right now. Your employees should be a priority.

What a Good Check-In Looks Like

When you are checking with people right now, focus on three simple things.

1. How is the human?

When you check in with your daughter or best friend, you start with something like, “How are you doing?” You want to know first that they are okay. And if not, that’s where you spend your time.

With employees, it might be helpful to use a bit more structure to the question than “How are you?” I’ve been experimenting with 3H check-in lately, and it has opened up some excellent conversations.

The 3H Check-in

  • How’s your head? How are you holding up mentally? What is most worrisome or distracting to you?
  • How’s your heart? How are feeling? What emotions are you experiencing? Where are you finding positive emotions right now?
  • How’s your health? Have you been taking care of yourself? Are you moving your body each day? Are you caring for your (and your families) wellness?

If you haven’t had conversations like this with your people in the past, have some patience as this might take some getting used to.

As you get better at it and it becomes more comfortable, you might want to consider using a 1-10 scale when you do a quick check-in. Saying your head is “4” is far more powerful than simply saying “I’m okay.”

Once you’ve talked about the human side of the experience right now, it’s appropriate to talk about work.

2. Is the work you are doing aligned with what’s needed most?

In most organizations, it feels like everything has gotten tossed upside down in the past two weeks. This has been confusing and disorienting for many employees and managers. What mattered most a few weeks ago, might not matter as much today. And something that didn’t matter much is now very important.

This means that as leaders, we need to help our employees recalibrate their work. Just this week, I’ve talked to a few people who have said that their biggest challenge right now is that they don’t know what to be working on.

Performance Check-In

  • What are the top three priorities/projects you are working on? In other words, what are you working on and how are you deciding what to work on? Find out if a person is clear on what to work on and what matters the most.
  • What are you most uncertain about right now? Where do you have the biggest questions related to what’s happening at work right now? It’s likely that some of their questions might be the same as yours, and you may not have answers. But it’s better to call those out and talk about them, admitting that you don’t know, than to leave those questions unaddressed.

Through this conversation, your goal is to help the employee find greater clarity about what he or she should be focused on in the day-to-day. It should also help the employee to understand how to make decisions about what to work on next if unsure.

In this conversation, it’s also important to acknowledge the challenges that newly remote workers are likely facing, particularly if they are tackling the schooling of their children at the same time. These employees might be struggling with the demands on their time and how to prioritize.

Keep in mind, particularly now, that the goal of performance management is the work output, not the number or quality of hours worked. By helping employees focus on what matters most in terms of work output, they can use the hours they have for greatest impact. If they can get 80 percent of their work done in half the time right now, that’s a win–particularly if they are working on what matters the most first.

3. Do you have the resources and support you need?

No employee check-in is complete without asking the employee what he or she needs to be successful. This is particularly important now.

In the past week, you have changed where people work, how they work, with whom they work, and maybe even when they work. That’s a lot for anyone to adjust to in such a short period of time. In my own experience, learning to work in a home office effectively took months, if not years, to figure out. That was in much less stressful times.

The process requires a lot of adjustment and adaptation. During that process, employees will need increased leadership and support from you. Below are a few questions to help you check in with the employees on what they need.

Resource and Support Check-In

  • What is your biggest work challenge right now? This single question should help you zero in on what issue needs the most attention. Pay close attention to the answer because it will tell you a lot about where the person needs the most support.
  • What tools or resources would make work easier right now? Depending on the situation, the answer to this question may range from protective gear to technology tools. You may not be able to fix or address their needs immediately, but by understanding the request, you can work on a solution.
  • How can I be most supportive to you? How often do they want to hear from you? What kind of information and feedback do they need? What kind of flexibility can you create for them?

The point here isn’t that you can magically fix everything. But you need to know where the issues and challenges are so that you can fix those you can and help them navigate around those you can’t.  Just having the conversation will create a sense of progress and control for both you and the employee.

Final Guidance

Stay close to your people. Use these questions to create meaningful conversations. When the chaos passes, you will emerge from this a stronger leader with a team that is loyal to and trusts you at an entirely new level.

A reminder: This is new terrain for all of us. It’s something none of us has seen or managed before.

I’m struggling to find the balance between working from home and managing my kids’ school day at the same time. I’m doing okay, but I’ve also worked from a home office for years, so I had that advantage going in. It’s still tough.

Every person you encounter is trying to figure out how to adapt in their own way. Some are struggling, some are managing it well, some are in denial that any of this is happening. As a leader, this is our moment to practice patience, grace, and forgiveness.

This is going to be messy as we find our way through it together. Be quick to forgive when others make mistakes or fall down; they are doing their best. Help them recover and then ask how you can help them going forward. This is not a time for judgment.

Your people need the best of you right now. Be there for them. Support them. Give them your time.

You can get your people through this.

 

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