Leadership

5 Words to Help You Master the Future of Work
5 Words to Help You Master the Future of Work 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Some of the best advice I ever got came almost 30 years ago. I was in high school. 

Being a bonafide band nerd, I was spending a week of my summer vacation at the Clark Terry Jazz Camp hoping to polish my trumpet skills enough to become king of nerds—First Chair Trumpet. (Not sure that’s how I would have described it at the time, but I digress). 

As a high school trumpet player, getting to spend the week hanging out around and learning from accomplished professional jazz musicians was a head trip. These musicians seemed like musical gods to me at the time. 

That might be why I can still vividly remember a piece of life advice offered to me by one of those musicians (not coincidentally, a trumpet player)  so many years ago. 

A few of us were standing around in the hallway talking. And while I don’t remember what specifically was said that sparked the offer of advice, it must have involved one of us youngsters making some bold declaration about our future. 

What this trumpet player said next has stuck with me ever since:

Never say what you ain’t gonna do.” 

I can still hear him saying it. 

He went on to share how when he was younger, he said he was never getting married. Then, he got married. He said he was never going to have kids, then he did. 

He had a whole list of things that he’d been certain about as a young man, but that had gone a completely different way later in life.  

The real wisdom has grown with me over the years as I’ve thought more about his words. 

Our human instinct is to try to bring certainty to the future. So we make declarations about what we’ll do or not do and who we’ll be. 

If the future were a person, she would likely smirk and think, “good luck with that.” 

What does this have to do with the future of work?

Most organizations and leaders have spent several months trying to sort out what to do with the workforce they sent home in March of 2020. 

Bring them back to the office? 

Make work from home permanent?

Or pursue the mystical third option, the “hybrid” arrangement (whatever that means). 

This feels like a big decision, particularly given the increasingly hot job market and threats of a looming “Great Resignation,” where hoards of people will quit their jobs to move on to new, more fulfilling adventures. 

It’s unclear what the future holds. It’s hard even to get clarity about what’s happening right now. 

One survey will tell you 85% of employees want to return to the office. Another will say it’s only 10%. So, which is it? 

In all of this uncertainty after a year defined by uncertainty, it’s our natural human tendency to grasp for clarity and make declarations (just like the young camper in my story). 

Twitter was among the first to declare they are going to a work-from-home-forever policy. And on the other end of the spectrum, Goldman Sachs is requiring everyone to come back to the office

This is where the advice I received about 30 years ago is worth considering:

Never say what you ain’t going to do.

We don’t know what the future holds. And, we don’t really know what our employees will want or need going forward. 

Instead of grasping for certainty and making declarations, we should instead learn to use these five words to help us navigate the path forward:

I don’t know. Let’s experiment.

The future is unknowable. It hasn’t been written yet, and we play a vital role in shaping what it will look like. 

Sorting out what is going to be best for your organization or team is going to be complicated.

Chances are you’ve got employees within your organization who have very different needs and preferences regarding how they’d like to work going forward. And, you probably also have business units and teams that have different needs and requirements based on what they do. 

You don’t know the right answer now. 

Making some declaration today about what your forever policy is around “where” your employees can work might feel good in the moment, but you’ll inevitably end up having to revisit and change that decision in the future. 

Instead, when attempting to answer the question of what to do next, try saying this:

“I don’t know. Let’s experiment.”  

Employees crave certainty, so they’re probably calling on you for a decision. But, they also crave trust and flexibility, which you may inadvertently diminish by rushing to a conclusion.

Let’s admit that we don’t know what’s coming or what will work best. Then, let’s invite our employees to experiment with us. Nothing says you have to solve this riddle today. You just need to be working on it. 

You just need to think like a scientist. 

How to Experiment at Work

If it’s been a while since you’ve been exposed to the scientific method, that’s okay. I’m here to help. (Fun fact: I have an undergrad degree in biology). Here are the basics you need to know to create a meaningful experiment.  

1. Start with a hypothesis.  

A hypothesis is simply a proposed explanation or theory that you can test. Creating your hypothesis is a critical first step of any experiment. The purpose of the experiment is to prove or disprove the hypothesis.  

You likely have some insight into your employee’s preferences regarding where and how they work. And you have some ideas about what’s needed to get work done the best way. Unfortunately, those two things may be at odds. 

A hypothesis is your best guess at how to create the best possible win-win solution given both sets of needs. 

An example of a hypothesis related to work location could be, “We think the best way to optimize employee performance and engagement is to work two days a week onsite and three days work-from-anywhere.” 

2. Test your hypothesis.  

This is what we typically think of when talking about experiments. You design a way to test if your hypothesis is correct. There are many ways to approach this at work. 

One popular way is to run a pilot. You might identify a division or two and ask those managers to implement the work plan you are testing (two days onsite, three anywhere). This allows you to test the approach with a smaller group to see how it goes.

If your organization is large enough, you might be able to run pilots testing multiple hypotheses at once. Every experiment gives you new information about what the right solution may be. So running several of them at once can be a way to accelerate towards a solution.

If your organization is smaller, another way to test is to deploy the solution to the entire organization for a fixed period of time. In this case, you’d communicate that as an organization or team, you were going to try out this approach for the next 60 days and then re-evaluate. 

3. Measure results and gather insights. 

The purpose of an experiment is to learn. So, it’s critical to determine upfront how you will measure the test outcomes against the hypothesis.  

In the example I’ve been using here, there would be two obvious ways to measure the test’s success. You could track measurable employee performance over the trial period. And, you’d want to gather employee feedback.  

If performance holds steady or goes up and employees are happy and engaged at the end of the test, then it seems like your hypothesis has proven correct. If one of these indicators goes the wrong way (i.e., employees hate it), your hypothesis fails. It’s back to the drawing board.

4. Go back to step 1 and begin again. 

Experimentation is a process used to solve problems and find truth. One experiment informs the next, and so on. It frees us from a need for certainty and gives us the means to explore our way to an answer.  

Master the Future of Work

By learning to embrace and use these five words, “I don’t know. Let’s experiment,” you equip yourself to successfully navigate forward into a wildly disrupted future of work. 

When you let go of the need to know the future and instead use what you know about the present to shape informed hypotheses that can be tested through experiments, you will find your way to success regardless of what the future holds.

 

Related Reading:

The Simple Way to Avoid Being a Bad Boss

No. The Future of Work is NOT Work From Home

3 Big Things You’re Getting Wrong about Post-Pandemic Work

The Simple Way to Avoid Being a Bad Boss
The Simple Way to Avoid Being a Bad Boss 1080 608 Jason Lauritsen

While it’s been a long time since it first happened, I still remember the gravity of the responsibility I felt when first asked to supervise people at work. 

A manager has a profound impact not just on our experience at work but also on our life. When you get it wrong, there are real consequences for your people. 

How many times have you sat with friends and either complained or listened to someone complain about their boss? 

Nobody wants to be that boss. 

But the fear of being “that boss” can make it feel like you have to be perfect and not make any mistakes. And when you do make mistakes, it can feel risky to admit them.    

You are a complicated, emotional human being trying to manage other complicated, emotional human beings. That’s no easy task. 

You will make mistakes. 

One of the hardest things about being a manager is learning to balance that desire to avoid being a bad boss with the reality that mistakes are inevitable. 

The truth is that how we show up as a manager when we don’t get it right is just as important as getting it right in the first place.   

You Will Make Mistakes

After my burnout wake-up call last summer, one of the things I committed myself to as part of my well-being ritual was a daily meditation practice. 

One of the most powerful things you learn through meditation is to cultivate awareness. Awareness of the moment; awareness of how you feel; awareness of your thoughts. 

It sounds simple, but ask anyone who has tried—it’s much more challenging than it sounds. 

The benefit of cultivating this skill of awareness is that it allows you to be more present in your day-to-day experiences, allowing you to be more mindful of what you do and how you show up with others.  

One thing I learned right away about meditation is that you must let go of judgment in your practice. Mindful awareness isn’t natural for most of us, so meditation is a practice of trying and failing over and over again.

It can be easy to get frustrated if you don’t recognize that trying and failing is part of the learning. 

In nearly every guided meditation I’ve done, early on you will hear something like this:

“You may notice at some point that your mind has wandered and you’re lost in thought. That’s okay. It’s normal. Once you notice, just return to where you started and begin again.”

No judgment. 

Just validation that it happens and an invitation to return to your intentions and give it another shot. That’s the practice. 

Begin Again

As a manager, if your goal is to help others to do their best at work, support their well-being, and advance in their career, it will be challenging work. 

Managing is only easy when you’re doing it wrong. 

Becoming a good manager is like learning meditation. It’s not natural for most of us, so it requires lots of practice. And as you practice, you’re going to make mistakes.  

The list of mistakes I’ve made in my management career is long enough to be a book of its own. The goal isn’t to eliminate mistakes. They’re inevitable.

The goal is to cultivate an awareness of your actions as a manager so that you recognize when you’ve made a mistake.  

When you say the wrong thing. Or you shut down an idea before you’ve heard the person out. Or you avoid a hard conversation. Or you fail to set clear expectations.  

It’s what you do when you make mistakes that matters. This is where meditation guidance is valuable. 

  1. Recognize you’ve made a mistake. 
  2. Don’t judge yourself for making a mistake. It’s a natural part of the job. 
  3. Acknowledge your mistake. Apologize to the person if it’s warranted. 
  4. Remind yourself of your intention to be a good manager and what you learned through this mistake. 
  5. Begin again. 

Every time you do this, you’re not only becoming more skilled as a manager, but you’re also building trust with your team. When people know you will own up to your mistakes and make things right, it amplifies trust. 

Mistakes are part of the process. Don’t be afraid of them; embrace them and turn them into progress.

 

Related Reading:

Managing Through Love

The Other Side of Burnout – What’s Working for Me

How Much Should a Manager Know About Their Employees’ Personal Lives

Managing Through Love
Managing Through Love 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the United States Surgeon General, recently gave the commencement address to the UC Berkeley School of Public Health graduates. 

In his comments, he provided some interesting and compelling advice to these graduates, most of whom are entering into a life of service through public health. Among his closing remarks, he said something that struck me:

“Love is the world’s oldest medicine. Your ability to give and receive love is your greatest gift and your greatest power. It is what will sustain you on every step of your journey ahead.”

Love is your greatest gift. 

Love is your greatest power. 

Not medicine, math, or science. 

Love. 

While he was speaking to newly-minted public health professionals, these words also ring true for anyone who takes up the mantle of “manager” of other human beings.

The Pandemic’s Reality-Check for Management

One of the silver linings of the painful journey we’ve been on has been that many managers were confronted with an uncomfortable reality check. They discovered that their people are actual human beings with lives outside of work that dramatically impact how they show up for their jobs.  

This is particularly true for managers who were abruptly forced to move from working in the office to working from home.  

Like it or not, they had to become aware of all the challenges and issues people were facing because these “life” issues were interfering with their ability to do their best at work. And, perhaps most inconveniently, managers had to face the reality that there is no real separation between work and life, regardless of how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise.

Managers were forced to care about their people’s lives beyond what they could produce at work. And, in many cases, they were forced to engage with their people in conversations about issues that stretched far beyond the traditional employee-manager relationship. 

What Happens When We Love Our People?

Of course, not everyone successfully managed this transition. Many did not, choosing instead to keep their head down and wait until things went “back to normal.” Then they could go back to ignoring employees’ real needs and pretending everybody’s fine. 

But for those managers who did make the transition, they discovered something powerful. When you invest in understanding and caring for your people and their needs, they will rise to the occasion, and performance will elevate.

To echo Dr. Murthy’s words, they used their power to give the gift of love to their people. 

When we love our people, we commit to understanding who they are and what they need to thrive. We listen to them more deeply. We prioritize their success above our own.  

When we love our people, we give them the gift of believing in them, often at a level beyond which they even believe in themselves. 

As a manager, love is your superpower—if only you chose to use it.  

4 Ways to Love your People as a Manager

If you’re still reading this, kudos. Talk of love at work is scary for a lot of people. Think of how many people you know who can’t even muster the words “I love you” for the people in their lives who mean the most to them. If that’s you, the good news is that you can fix it today. Right this moment. 

Tell your kids, spouse, best friend, significant other, family members—whomever you love—that you love them. And keep showing them too. Every day.  

Love is a renewable and endless resource. Giving your love to others will never deplete you. In fact, when you give love to others, it multiplies. It makes them feel more worthy of love and capable of loving. 

I think that’s likely part of the “power” of love that Dr. Murthy referenced, although I can’t speak for him. Our capacity to love is boundless once we learn to tap into it.  

Now, don’t get the wrong message here. It’s probably not a great idea to start telling your direct reports you love them—at least not right away. Freaking people out isn’t very productive. We’ll get back to this in a minute. 

What’s most important is that you show them love through your actions. If you aren’t sure exactly what that looks like, I’ve got you covered. Below are a few examples of what it looks like to demonstrate love for your people as a manager. 

Give people the benefit of the doubt and forgive quickly. 

I once had a member of my team who’d gotten tangled up in some office drama. She’d created some tension and hard feelings in the office to the point that some senior leaders were calling for her to lose her job.

When we sat down to talk about it, I tried to really listen to her experience of what happened. I asked some pretty hard questions about why she had chosen to behave the way she had. It became clear to me in our conversation that she clearly had no ill intentions and had just gotten carried away. 

She was heartbroken by the impact her actions had on others in the office. At one point, she broke down in tears. We talked through what had happened and where it went wrong. She understood and committed to learning from it in the future. 

Then, I gave her my commitment that I had her back and would support her 100% moving forward as long as she learned from this. She never got caught up in anything like that again and proved herself to be perhaps the most loyal team member in the office.  

Make sure they know that you love them.  

Okay, back to saying “I love you” out loud. You should definitely do this in your relationships with those you love. At work, it is probably a good idea to use different words (at least at first).  

Instead of directly saying “love,” use language to reinforce that you care about them and that you are committed to them. You can and should say “I care about you” and “I’m committed to your success here” and mean it. Yes, some people may be a little uncomfortable with those words on the surface, but deep down, it’s exactly what all of us want to hear from our manager. 

Saying this out loud to your people (or putting it in writing) does two things. First, it reinforces to your people that you love them. And, it creates accountability for you to show up for them in a way that strengthens these commitments. 

Invest your time in them. 

If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you’ve likely heard me talk about the lesson my daughter taught me when she was seven years old. I’d asked her one day how she knows if someone loves her. One of the first things she said was, “they spend time with me.” 

Time is the currency of relationships. Time is our most precious and fleeting resource. What we do with our time says everything about what we value and what truly matters to us. 

My daughter understood this truth even at such a young age. People who love you will invest their precious time to be with you. There is perhaps no more powerful way to show people you care about them than this. 

As a manager, if your calendar isn’t full of appointments to spend time with your people doing things that matter or are helpful to them, you should fix that.  

This doesn’t mean that you should smother your folks by micro-managing and constantly being up in their business. What it means is that you should have regular, dedicated time on your calendar for them individually each week. And, when they need time with you, you find it for them.  

Model Accountability

The most significant thing people misunderstand about loving your people at work is that they think it means avoiding the hard stuff, like having tough conversations or providing feedback when things aren’t going well.

It’s exactly the opposite. 

When our teenage son took actions that endangered himself and his future, as his parents, we had to take hard and heavy steps to hold him accountable for that behavior BECAUSE we loved him, not in spite of it.  

In any meaningful relationship, accountability goes in both directions. That means we must do the hard work to ensure our expectations of one another are clear and be willing to do hard things when things go off track. It also means that as managers, we’re accountable to each person we manage and that we accept that they should hold us accountable when we don’t live up to our end of the deal as well. 

Love requires mutual accountability. That accountability is the necessary fuel of healthy, trusting, and lasting relationships. 

Good Management Requires Love

We are entering a new era of work. 

We will be more distributed and separated by time and space than ever before. Trust can not be assumed—it must be earned. And, a new generation of employees will continue to rightfully demand a different kind of work experience; one defined by equity, inclusion, and community.  

This will require a different approach and mindset about managing and what it means to be a manager. If you want to thrive in this new era, start with love. If you can learn to love your people, you’ll be well equipped for the changes that lie ahead.

 

Related Reading:

Management, Parenting, and Love

Work is a Relationship, Not a Contract

How Much Should a Manager Know About Their Employees’ Personal Lives?

The #1 Management Imperative for 2021

How Much Should a Manager Know About Their Employees’ Personal Lives? 
How Much Should a Manager Know About Their Employees’ Personal Lives?  1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Over the past several months, I’ve been working hard to spread the message that what managers need to successfully navigate this new future of work is compassion. 

Compassion connects an awareness of the struggles and suffering of employees with caring actions to help them through it. It’s a big and important step beyond empathy, and I believe it’s imperative to support the well-being of others (and ourselves). 

Since compassion isn’t something you typically find in the standard deck of management advice, I’ve been getting some fascinating questions from people who are intrigued but slightly uncertain about its application in their organization.  

Recently, after a presentation I made about compassion as a new core competency of management, I received a question from an audience member that cuts to the core of why compassion in management feels uncomfortable for many. It also helps illuminate how we got to a place where so many employees are suffering through work experiences that more often harm their well-being and performance than help it. 

So, I’m going to share the question that was posed to me, along with my response. After you read both, I hope you’ll join the conversation and share your thoughts. 

The Question

While I agree that compassion ought to be front and center these days, and it’s important for managers to know what’s going on in their people’s lives, I guess I’m still struggling with how far that should go and would love to hear more from you about it. 

There are so many factors involved. From the comfort level of the manager and how experienced they are managing, to how comfortable people are sharing personal info with their manager (and all the baggage people tend to have from previous jobs when that didn’t go well), to keeping a level of professionalism and accountability to the work that needs to be done, to managers not overstepping scope to take on what should be another professional’s role (like a therapist). 

So, I’m curious what your thoughts might be on how to think about where to draw the line, or if you would suggest that there shouldn’t be one at all. 

My Response

Your concerns are the same ones that HR has been concerned with for as long as managers have existed. Where’s the line between knowing enough about your people and knowing too much?

In the way I approach this work, I start with the foundation that work is a relationship and that everything that happens at work should be seen through the context of relationship. When you frame your question through that lens, the answer to the question about how much a manager should know or how much an employee should share is…it depends. 

If it’s important to cultivating the relationship with that employee in a way that makes it easier and more fulfilling to do the work effectively, then it’s probably okay even if it goes past the traditional lines we’ve drawn (or what the manager is comfortable with). 

The heart of this issue is teaching people, both managers and employees, better relationship skills—compassion being key among those skills. 

When we teach people how to communicate more clearly, how to articulate expectations and demonstrate accountability, how to listen more actively, how to establish boundaries, how to trust and be vulnerable—then we don’t have to spend so much time worrying about how far is too far. The individuals will sort that out. 

They will disclose as much as is appropriate to make the relationship work in a way that meets both their needs. 

What do you think? How much do managers need to know? 

My argument is that we are due for an overcorrection. The past 100 years of management practice have been designed around what makes life easiest for the manager. As a result, we wrote policies and created norms about keeping the “personal stuff” outside of work boundaries. 

And despite how ridiculous that is in actual practice, we all played along. But then along came a global pandemic, and the charade was up. The fake walls between personal and professional came crashing down, and we realized that humans don’t compartmentalize like that. 

So, the old rules about what’s “work related” and how much a manager should know about an employee’s life outside of work are no longer relevant. It’s time to recalibrate.

If we equip managers and leaders with better relationship skills and give them permission to be compassionate and genuinely care about their employees, they will figure out the right balance.

When we start caring more about employee well-being than we do about managing risk, we’ll finally see the path to unleashing employee potential fully. 

And, if we over-correct a little and care too much, that’s probably not a bad thing. 

Do you agree?

 

Related Reading:

Relationships and Accountability

The #1 Management Imperative for 2021

Work is a Relationship, Not a Contract

Management Needs an Upgrade: The Cultivation Mindset

 

 

work-from-home post-pandemic work - group of colleagues walking in an office with masks on
3 Big Things You’re Getting Wrong about Post-Pandemic Work
3 Big Things You’re Getting Wrong about Post-Pandemic Work 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

We’ve officially entered the part of our pandemic journey where we can start planning for how our teams or organizations will work once this virus is under control. To wrestle through sorting out what changes to keep and which to discard as we try to find a new equilibrium.  

This is particularly true for teams whose employees have been working from home for the past year or more. The debate over whether to bring people back to the office or continue a distributed work-from-home strategy will only grow more urgent and heated over the coming months. 

As I’ve had discussions with people about this, I’m worried that there are a few things decision-makers are overlooking. Here are the big ones.

1. You aren’t really in control of this decision.

In the pre-pandemic world, organizations and managers might have been able to get away with requiring people to work in an office to satisfy their need to “see” people working or based on some misguided idea about how ineffective people are when working from home. That lie has been revealed.

People now know what is possible. They know they can work effectively from their homes, often even more effectively than in the office. They know that many of the limitations placed on where they worked pre-pandemic were not based on any real reasons beyond leadership preference or a lack of desire to satisfy employee preferences.  

If organizations force people into working in ways they don’t prefer, they will vote with their feet (or laptops) and leave. Your work-from-home employees have more job options today than before because they can work for anyone, anywhere—from their home. These same people are frequently some of your valuable and expensive as well. 

If you aren’t putting them at the center of the decision-making process about how you move forward, you are putting your team and organization at great risk. 

2. Put an asterisk next to any feedback where employees tell you that they love or hate “working from home.” 

I’ve been working out of a home office on and off for over a decade now. 

Pre-pandemic, working from home meant having an office or space in my house that served as my primary place to store my work stuff, take video meetings, or make virtual presentations. But, I also spent much of my week working from coffee shops or meeting people in person for coffee or lunch.  

I would get up early to do some writing or other focus work for a few hours before helping get the kids ready and off to school. Somedays, I’d head to the gym after that. Others, I’d move to a different couch to do more writing.  

I didn’t like working from home for the first few years because I was still approaching it using habits and mindsets I’d picked up working in offices my entire career. It took a few years to learn how to make WFH work for me. 

And when the pandemic hit, even I had some pretty significant disruptions to how I “work from home.” No more coffee shops. No more gyms. No more in-person coffees or lunches. And, no more travel to provide a change of scenery.  

Here’s my point. Those employees who were forced into working from home for the first time during the pandemic don’t have a complete picture of what working from home could look like without the shackles of pandemic restrictions. 

If you ask employees to provide feedback right now on whether they want to work from home or return to the office, you’re probably getting tainted data. What they’re reacting to is working from home during a pandemic versus working from the office before a pandemic. It’s choosing between two unequal options. 

Instead of obsessing about where people are going to work, it would be far more productive to investigate what people found valuable and satisfying about working from home, what they missed or craved about working from the office, and then marrying that up with the needs of the work and employee.  

3. Face-to-face interaction is important, but it’s not a justification for requiring people to work in an office. 

Just this week, I reconnected with a friend who was sharing with me how she’s desperate to get back into the office. She craves the face-to-face connections and random chats that only happen when we share a space. 

She hates working from home (during a pandemic) because she’s been stripped of all her face-to-face interaction. In her mind, working from home equates to isolation and loss of relationships. 

Years ago, when I was an executive recruiter, most of my clients and candidates were people I’d never meet face to face. I’d spend hours with them on the phone, but because of geography and the way my employer viewed this work, I didn’t have the opportunity to go see them in person. 

But once in a while, I’d have a project or a client in Omaha, where I lived. And I would try to meet with those people in person. What I learned was that even a short meeting in person completely transformed the relationship. It was as if our relationship got a trust injection. In fact, 20 years later, I’m still in touch with some of these people, which is not something I can say about the phone-only relationships I had. 

In his book, The Year without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work, Scott Berkun describes how he took on managing a global team that had no office. One of the things that stuck with me about his journey was the importance and power he described of bringing that team to a common location for a week to work and play together. 

According to his account, that one week of face-to-face time together provided the foundation for them to work together exceptionally well the rest of the time despite being spread across geographies and timezones. 

Face-to-face time together matters. But that should not be a justification for requiring people to return to an office every day where they know they don’t do their best work (or that requires hours of commute time). 

Instead, in-person facetime together should be carefully and intentionally designed into the work experience for every employee and team, regardless of where they work. If we aren’t going to pay for as much office space, we can reinvest that money into opportunities for distributed employees to come together with a purpose.  

Also, for employees like my friend who equate working from home with isolation, we need to encourage and design social connections into how we work. I used to spend many of my lunches with colleagues even when we worked together in an office. Why wouldn’t we meet for lunch or coffee now? 

It’s not about Work From Home or Return-to-Office. 

We are getting trapped into debating and choosing between false choices. If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that our lack of imagination and courage constrained the way we were working pre-pandemic. These cannot be our excuses moving forward.

Instead of wringing our hands over whether to bring people back to the office or let them work from home, dig into what we’ve learned about how and where work can happen. Spend time with your people finding out what’s working, what’s not working, and together, envision what an optimal future might look like. 

The only thing limiting us today in reinventing work for the better is our ability to let go of the past and embrace that the future must be different. If we can be brave enough to keep exploring and trust our people, the possibilities are endless. 

 

Related Reading:

The #1 Management Imperative for 2021

How Has Employee Experience Changed?

Why Employee Well-Being is Vital to Work Performance

Management Needs an Upgrade: The Cultivation Mindset

 

 

The #1 Management Imperative for 2021
The #1 Management Imperative for 2021 1080 540 Jason Lauritsen




Well, we made it. We’ve turned the page from 2020. After last year, surviving the year feels like a milestone to celebrate. We certainly toasted the end of the year at our house.

Now a new year begins with at least the promise that the end of this pandemic-fueled era of disruption is on the horizon. There might be a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel.

However…

Many of the problems that plagued us in 2020 did not vanish at the stroke of midnight on December 31. COVID is still ravaging the planet, and our lives are far from any vague memory of what “normal” used to mean.

The experts tell us we are closer to the end than the beginning, but the toughest stretch is likely still ahead of us. Not only will it be months before vaccines are distributed broadly enough to have any dramatic impact, but there’s also this issue of a trailing mental health catastrophe that’s likely to unfold like a slow-motion train wreck.

Depressing, I know. But as leaders and managers of people, we need to step into this year with our eyes wide open to what’s happening around us.

Many of us are now entering the long dark winter that will confine us to our homes as the snow, wind, and frigid temperatures amplify our isolation from others. No socially-distanced driveway gatherings for a while now. The post-holiday months are going to be hard on us all.

That’s why it’s imperative that for 2021 (starting right now), we focus on cultivating and expanding our capacity for compassion.

Resilience and Compassion

As I wrote about in my 2020 reflections post, compassion was a key ingredient for me to beat my burnout last year. Learning about compassion and how it differs from empathy opened my eyes to how important and valuable it is for the road ahead, particularly as managers of others.

There’s been a lot of focus lately on resilience—specifically on helping our employees be more resilient in facing challenges and crises. While I think there is an enormous benefit to learning the skills of resilience long term, I don’t think it’s enough.

Resilience is simply defined as “the ability of a person to adjust to or recover readily from illness, adversity, major life changes, etc.” In more crude terms, it’s the ability to take a punch in life and stay in the fight.

This is an essential quality to possess as a human being. The more resilient you are, the more capable you’ve proven yourself to navigate and survive the challenges of 2020.

We could probably all benefit from developing more resilience. That said, I have concerns with organization’s current obsession with employee resilience.

First, it reflects the organizational bias to “fix employees.” We have a legacy in management to assume that when things don’t go well with an employee, it’s the employee’s fault. They don’t have the work ethic, discipline, or self-motivation. If we can fix what’s missing or broken in the employee, the problem will be solved.

The conversation about developing resilience feels similar. If we teach employees how to take a punch more effectively, we don’t have to worry about how often or how hard they’re getting punched.

I know—that’s a pretty cynical take on it. But, I don’t think it’s too far off for many organizations. And that’s not the only challenge.

It’s also really challenging to learn how to take a punch when you are under a constant barrage of punches. Building resilience isn’t easy or straightforward. It requires time and space for learning, reflection, and practice—things hard to come by when you are overworked, burnt out, or just stressed to the max as many of our employees are right now.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach our employees the skills and mindsets they need to become more resilient. This is absolutely a good thing to do that can have significant long-term benefits. But, it’s not nearly enough or fast enough. Particularly for those who are struggling the most.

Compassion is The Key

What people need more than resilience when they are facing difficulty is help. When someone is getting repeatedly punched in the face, encouraging them to keep fighting isn’t nearly as useful as making the punches stop or helping them get out of the way.

As managers and leaders (or even peers), the best way to support our people during turmoil and chaos is by cultivating compassion.

According to Hooria Jazaieri, Ph.D., compassion is a mental state or orientation toward suffering that includes four components:

  1. Bringing attention or awareness to recognizing that there is suffering
  2. Feeling emotionally moved by that suffering
  3. Wishing there to be relief from that suffering
  4. A readiness to take action to relieve that suffering

In other words, compassion is recognizing when someone else is struggling, caring that it is happening, wanting it to stop, and doing something about it. As managers, particularly right now, this is what we are called to do for our people.

“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
-Theodore Roosevelt

How to Be More Compassionate

As described by Dr. Jazaieri, compassion is a muscle that can be developed and strengthened with practice but which can also atrophy with lack of use. This has definitely been true for me.

I’m no expert on compassion; it’s a journey I’m on personally and professionally. But through my journey, there are insights I’ve gained that may be beneficial to you. In addition, there are a plethora of resources and training available to find and tap into if you go looking for them.

1. See beyond the behavior

For me, one of the things that I’ve learned is to practice a mindset of curiosity about others—particularly when their behavior doesn’t make sense to me. I’ve learned to remind myself that everyone is dealing with a great deal of uncertainty in their lives right now, regardless of who they are.

Uncertainty can be scary, and fear causes people to behave in various ways, some of which aren’t helpful. My challenge is to see beyond the behavior to recognize the suffering or struggle of the person. It helps me find a deeper feeling of care for them and a concern about what I can do to help their world feel less uncertain.

In general practice, this requires us to be more mindful of how we respond to other people’s behavior, particularly those who rely on us for leadership. It’s tempting to blame and judge an employee for their behavior (e.g., joining meetings late and unprepared). This leads us to show up in a way that isn’t helpful and likely to make matters worse.

Instead, lean into curiosity. Engage with the employee to ask questions about why they are late for meetings. You might discover that the meeting time coincides with when their three children are all supposed to log in to school in the morning, making it nearly impossible to make the meeting on time.

Your judgment or criticism won’t help them resolve this tension. But, your help and coaching might. Seeing beyond the behavior isn’t always easy, particularly when you’re under a lot of pressure and stressed yourself. But, it’s what your people need from you.

2. Get to know your people

When a close friend or family member behaves in a way that doesn’t make sense or is inconsistent with who they are, we don’t rush to judgment and blame them for their behavior. Instead, we ask, “what’s wrong?” or “what’s going on?”

Because we know them and have a bond with them, we assume that if they’re behaving in a way that seems counter to what we would expect, there must be something happening around them that’s causing them to act this way. We don’t assume a flaw in them as a person.

The better we know our people and the more we build a strong and trusting relationship with them, the more likely we are to show compassion when they’re struggling. It’s easier to ignore the suffering of a stranger than someone close to us.

To do this will require the investment of time. Time is the currency of relationships, and there is no shortcut. To build a better connection with your people will require that you make more time to be with them both formally and informally. When you’re together, ask questions to learn what’s most important to them and what they care about most.

3. Help until it hurts

One of the most critical parts of compassion is that it requires action. Not only must we recognize the pain and struggle in others, but we must care enough to want to take action to make it stop.

Today and for the indefinite future, we exist in a sort of limbo at work between the way we used to do things and how we’ll do things once the pandemic ends. In this limbo, people are being asked to work in circumstances they have no control over (e.g., at home while schooling children or dealing with layers and layers of safety precautions that make everything harder and slower).

They weren’t prepared for this. Neither were you. And, it’s not permanent.

Helping your people survive and make it to the other side of this limbo is probably calling on you to do things you feel you “shouldn’t have to do.” As managers, if you’re doing it right, you are more deeply involved in people’s lives than ever before, and that may be uncomfortable for you. Here’s my advice:

Get over it.

What we “should” have to do went out the window when COVID showed up. There is only what our people need right now. What they need is our help and support to get through an unprecedented time of disruption.

Among the most critical things within your control is to ensure your people know exactly what’s expected of them in terms of work performance. By making that crystal clear, you remove uncertainty so your conversations with your team can focus on what they need or are struggling with to meet those expectations.

Compassion is The Key

Let’s all hope that by the end of 2021, we are living in a post-pandemic world once again. Until then, we still exist in what could be thought of as overtime for 2020. None of the problems that existed at the end of last year have gone anywhere.

While we wait on the vaccine to do its thing, we can focus on injecting our teams and lives with a different sort of remedy. Becoming a more compassionate human and manager will help us see each other more fully and reach out to help when we need it.

3 Simple Tips for Managing Remote Employees
3 Simple Tips for Managing Remote Employees 1000 668 Jason Lauritsen

Regardless of when this pandemic ends (which feels like never to me right now), the way we work will never go back to how it was before.

Sure, offices will open and some people will return to their cubicles, but many won’t.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about work over the past several months, it’s that work can be done successfully well beyond the walls of the office—sometimes even better.

What this means for how organizations and leaders decide to change policies and reshape office environments is yet to be sorted out. But there is one thing for certain.

We are going to be managing employees who we can’t “see” in the office every day for the indefinite future. Remote work is never going away. In fact, as remote work expert Laurel Farrer put it this week as we discussed this topic as part of a panel, “soon we won’t even call it ‘remote’ work anymore. It will just be ‘work’.”

So, while it may take a while to sort out what this all means in the big picture, there is one thing we can focus on right now that will have an enormous impact on our teams and their ability to perform: We need to get really good at managing remote employees.

Why Do We wonder?

Over the past week, I fielded a survey of several hundred managers asking about their biggest challenges or questions related to managing virtual teams. There were a lot of great insights in the responses (more on that to come).

One group of responders took me back to the days when we used to gather around conference room tables to discuss employee engagement concerns. The challenge they raised sounds something like this:

“It’s hard to know how my team is doing/feeling/working when we are all remote.”

I get it. If you’ve only managed people in person at a traditional work environment throughout your career, you’ve likely come to rely on your ability to observe people around the office as a way to get a “feel” for how they were doing.

So, when you can’t see your people every day, it feels like you are somehow powerless to know what’s going on.
Ironically, this same conversation used to happen around that nostalgic board room table long before “pandemic” was a common word in our vocabulary. Even when we could see our people every day, leaders would find themselves together wondering about how employees were really doing, how they felt about what was happening at work.

My guidance to them then is the same as it is today.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees

Feeling like we don’t have a good handle on how our employees are feeling isn’t a new problem. Remote working arrangements have just made it feel more acute and painful.

Not knowing is definitely problematic. It leads us to make assumptions, and that’s never good because we rarely assume the right things.

If we remember that work is a relationship for employees, then perhaps we can learn from other relationships in our lives where this same issue arises. I’ll use my wife as an example.

On top of trying to survive a pandemic, my wife is running a campaign to be mayor of the suburban community where we live. She’s got a lot going on. Running for office is the equivalent of a giant popularity contest. Being in it requires thick skin and an ability to keep things in perspective.

Angie does a pretty good job of this, but I know there are times when it’s hard and she’s struggling with the stress. But, I don’t always know exactly when. And despite knowing her better than any other human on the planet, when I make any assumption about how she’s feeling, I’m almost always wrong.

When I act on those wrong assumptions, it has sometimes even made things worse. Piling more stress on top of what is already a big pile. So, I try not to assume.

Instead, I do what we should all be doing more often. That brings me to my first tip.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees #1: ASK

When we are wondering about how someone else is doing, we don’t need to make assumptions. We can ask.

This is true for our personal relationships—our significant others, parents, children, friends, neighbors, etc. It’s also true for our employees.

It used to drive me insane when I’d meet with my executive teams and they’d start to speculate about what employees thought about certain things or how they were feeling about others. I am sure they got sick of me saying it, but I used to point to a wall where employees were working on the other side and say, “We don’t need to spend time wondering about this, we can go ask them. They are right over there.”

Perhaps the most fundamental skill we need right now as we try to adjust and adapt to managing in this new distributed and virtual environment is the ability to ask meaningful questions.

Consider questions like:

  • On a scale from 1 to 10, how’s your stress level right now?
  • What makes work hardest for you right now?
  • How do you feel about your work from home set up?
  • What was your biggest win this week—with work or just in general?
  • How can I help make your work day less stressful?

The key is to ask questions that get the employee to reflect and talk about what’s really happening for them. One of my friends shared with me that her boss’s boss recently asked her, “Are you having any fun?” This unexpected question caused her to really pause and reflect on how she’d been approaching her work.

Asking good questions is vital, but it’s not enough by itself. Hence, my next tip.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees #2: LISTEN

Sounds pretty simple, but don’t be fooled.

In the survey results from last week, a number of people lamented about the inability to observe body language when interacting with direct reports and others in the office.

This is certainly a real issue when working remotely. It makes it that much more critical that we pay attention to people and listen to what they are (and aren’t) saying.

I’m not going to give you a lesson on active listening because you’ve likely heard it before (if not, Google it and you’ll find loads of great resources). But, I will offer up a few key suggestions.

  1. Do not multitask. It’s so tempting to check emails while on a video call or meeting. Don’t do it. Shut down any other open windows, applications, or tasks and focus on the person in front of you.
  2. Take notes. Write down what you are hearing and any questions that arise in your mind. When you ask good questions, you should get interesting responses. Writing down important details means you don’t have to try to remember them or hold them in your mind. This frees you to pay attention to not only what’s being said but how it’s being said. Is there trepidation or anxiety behind those words?
  3. Ask the follow-up question. The first response is often the least helpful. Learn to say things like, “tell me more about that” or, “why do you think that is?” The second (or third) question is often when you get to the most important insights.

If you really listen to your people, they will share with you what’s working and what’s not. They will share their challenges with you. They will tell you where they need help.

Which brings us to the last tip.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees #3: ACT

When you ask good questions and really listen to the answers, you should end up with a list of things that you can help. But, that list only matters if you take action.

You don’t have to solve every problem or address every need in the moment. But, you do need to do something to help.

When you take action to support your employees after they’ve shared a problem with you, it builds trust. The more often and consistently you do it, the stronger your relationship will become. They will begin sharing more important concerns with you.

Over time, you won’t have to work as hard at drawing out the issues because your people will know that you care and will help whenever they have a challenge in front of them.

Remote Management Impact in Three Words

This isn’t a new idea, just a refresher of a tried and true approach. Managing and engaging people remotely requires that we get the fundamentals right. There’s nothing more fundamental to fostering a positive relationship with your people than these three words:

Ask. Listen. Act.

These three steps taken regularly and with good intention will help you keep your people engaged and productive through the uncertain and changing times ahead.

P.S. One of the biggest challenges managers identified for managing remote employees is keeping them connected–to each other, to the organization, and to them as their manager. So, with my friends at Waggl, we decided to crowdsource some solutions.  If you click this link, you’ll be asked to share what’s been working for you to keep you feeling connected as a remote worker. You’ll also be able to see and vote for the best ideas submitted by others. Check it out now.  

Please Don’t Fake It (The Authentic You is Worth the Work)
Please Don’t Fake It (The Authentic You is Worth the Work) 700 468 Jason Lauritsen

Last week, I opened the weekly email from a thought leader I really admire, Marc Effron. Marc is probably best known for writing the genius book, One Page Talent Management.

I first crossed paths with Marc in 2006 when we were both speaking at the same event. We were both corporate HR execs at the time. From the beginning, I knew this guy was the real deal. 

And, I’ve been following his work ever since. His company, Talent Strategy Group, consistently publishes great content—much of it oriented towards blowing up status-quo thinking and replacing it with what really works.  

I’m a fan. Clearly. Which is why I was so disappointed to find an article in his newsletter titled, “Why the Fake You will Outperform the Authentic You (and how to fake it).” As I read it, I just sighed and thought to myself, “not you too, Marc.” 

For some reason, it’s become popular over the past few years to push back against the idea that we should bring our authentic selves to work. Adam Grant, another person I admire greatly, wrote in 2016, “Unless You’re Oprah, ‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice.” Thankfully, his view of authenticity seems to be evolving

My colleague Joe Gerstandt and I have been researching, writing about, and teaching authenticity for over a decade now, which is why I’m so baffled that we continue to get the concept of authenticity so wrong. 

Here’s an excerpt from Marc’s article: 

“At least once a month, I show a decidedly fake version of myself to very important people who have paid handsomely for my services. The fake me may show up in a client meeting, an executive education session or during an important speech. My clients don’t know that it’s the fake me and they don’t care. They simply want a great outcome for their organization.”

I bristled at the use of the word “fake” here. In 2020, we live in a time when literal “fake news” floods our social media accounts daily. Fake in today’s world means “intentionally misleading” or “lies.” 

As authors and thought leaders, we often use words that trigger emotional reactions that we hope will get you to click our email or read our post. That’s part of the marketing game. But, in this case, Marc’s use of the word fake here goes beyond a marketing stunt. It’s harmful. More on that later. 

More for the article: 

“You might consider yourself to be a genuine leader and can’t, or find it fundamentally distasteful to, imagine not being your “authentic” self at work. This is because many people like to believe that their authentic self is a carefully thought-through, practiced and shaped version of who they want to be. In reality, the authentic or genuine you is likely an artificial construct your brain has created – a big bundle of confirmation bias based on your intelligence and core personality and how both have interpreted your past experiences.

The genuine you is a constraint on your success if you believe that your success is derived from it. Once you stop worrying about being the genuine or authentic you, the more you can be the adaptable chameleon that succeeds in more situations. That sometimes fake you (if done well) is guaranteed to be a higher performer.”

Ugh. This almost reads like a moralistic argument for “the ends always justify the means.” And, maybe that’s the point. If you aren’t reading this carefully and thinking it through, this section could easily be interpreted in a lot of harmful ways:

  • Do whatever it takes to get ahead, even if it makes you feel like a fraud. 
  • As long as you succeed, then “faking it” is worth it.
  • It’s okay to make things up and pretend to be someone you aren’t, so long as it gets better results. 
  • You will never have an authentic sense of self, so why both looking for or protecting it? Just make it up as you go and become something new in every situation. 

I hope that’s not what is being argued here because that would be a deeply sad and troubling reflection on what gets rewarded and promoted in business and society today. And maybe that’s the point of the article, to shine a light on how the entire system is designed to reward faking it. 

When I peel back the packaging of Marc’s suggestions as “faking it” and just look at the meat of his recommendations, I am not arguing that it’s bad advice. But, I’m suggesting that regardless of what’s comfortable for you or what’s in your natural style, you can learn skills to better promote your ideas, make friends, and show ambition without having to feel like you faking it. 

That’s why this article bothers me so much. At the very least, it reveals how poorly we understand and have defined authenticity. And that’s too important for me to let it slide.

Based on the work Joe and I have done over the past decade on authenticity, here are two critical things that Marc’s argument misses: 

1. Authenticity is a journey. 

One thing that Marc and I can agree on is that there is no single “authentic you” within any of us. As humans, we are constantly evolving and changing. Being authentic is the work we do to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, come to terms with who we are, and then show up in the world in a way that aligns with that. 

Marc is correct that while many assume they’ve done the work to live authentically, that’s just not the reality for most people. The journey of authenticity is challenging and not everyone has the know-how or willingness to take it on. 

Where Marc and I part ways is in what to do about it. Marc suggests that since you probably aren’t authentic, just fake it. While this may get you ahead in cut-throat corporate environments (and probably national politics), it’s harmful advice for most people in terms of overall wellbeing and happiness. 

In “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” author Bronnie Ware, a former palliative care nurse who cared for elderly patients at the end of their lives, wrote that the single biggest regret her patients expressed at the end of their lives was this: 

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” 

In other words, I wish I’d lived a more authentic life. While authenticity may not always be the fastest path to promotion, it won’t leave you on your deathbed wondering why you squandered so much of your life trying to be what others wanted you to be.

2. Authenticity includes your intentions.  

One of the biggest things people misunderstand about authenticity is that it’s not about doing or saying whatever you want without consequence. That’s not authenticity. That’s radical individualism. 

The model Joe and I teach of the journey of authenticity starts with self-awareness. And it’s not the traditional self-awareness work like understanding your personality, strengths, and behavioral style. Those things are important, but they’re just the start. 

The more important work lies in discovering and defining things like our values, purpose, intentions, and aspirations. In doing this work, we gain greater clarity about who we are today, but also who we aspire to be on our best days and in the future. When we are clear on these important things, it helps us make intentional decisions about our behavior. 

At work and in our lives, we make compromises and adaptations all the time. If it’s important to preserve a relationship with someone else, we may pause to consider how we are going to say something to another person if our words might hurt them instead of just letting it fly. We may end up saying it in a way that doesn’t feel as natural to us, but protects the relationship. 

As Marc illustrates in his piece, there are times when we have to adapt our behavior in order to authentically represent our values and intentions. You shouldn’t feel like you are faking it when you do this because it’s in integrity with who you are and who you intend to be.

It’s when we aren’t clear on what really matters to us, the winds of corporate politics and bureaucracy can blow us far off course until we wake up one day and wonder how we became a person we don’t even recognize anymore. Without committing to authenticity, you can easily fall into a pattern of faking it so much that you lose any self of who you really are. I believe this is a major contributor to things like burnout and midlife crises.  

Authenticity doesn’t mean no compromise or adaptation. It means that we make those choices with intention and purpose. Here’s a simple example from my work. My favorite dress code for work is jeans (or shorts) and a t-shirt. That’s how I feel most comfortable. If you saw me working around my home on any given day, that’s how I’d be dressed. As a keynote speaker, some would argue that for me to be my most authentic self on stage, I should dress in jeans and a t-shirt. 

But, this perspective overlooks the fact that one of my most important values is impact. I deeply care about the effect of my speech on the audience. And since I speak to corporate and business leaders most often, I know that many people in that audience expect an expert keynote speaker to wear a suit on stage. And, if those people saw a guy walk out on stage in jeans, they may wonder, “Where’s his suit? Is this guy legit? Is he really an expert?” 

Sure, I may be able to overcome those objections during my presentation, but I don’t want to waste those precious few minutes I get with my audience to make an impact over a pair of jeans. Marc would argue that I’m being “fake.” He’s wrong. That suit is an authentic representation of my values and aspiration. There’s nothing non-genuine about it. I’m not faking it. 

We change, grow, and evolve as people over time. The journey of authenticity embraces that change and brings a greater intention to it. When we try on new or less comfortable behaviors in service of our aspirations or values, it’s a step in our evolution as an authentic person. We are all going to be faced with making sacrifices and compromises throughout our lives. When we are living in authenticity, we can navigate these things with a clear sense of what is aligned with who we are and what isn’t. 

Don’t Fake It

The ironic thing is that if you adopt a broader view of authenticity as I’ve described, you may end up making some of the same behavior adaptations described in Marc’s piece. But instead of it being an opportunistic and perhaps morally questionable choice by faking it, it’s a choice in service of your values and intentions. It is the authentic you.  

Here’s my plea to you. 

Regardless of how much you want to get ahead or be accepted or find a little more success, don’t fake it. Instead, commit yourself to the journey of authenticity. Do the work to get clarity about who you are and what you want from life. When you can make authentic decisions and choices in your life and career based on this work, your life will be more meaningful and fulfilled. 

And at the end of it all, you’ll be able to look back and say, “I did things on my terms. I’m glad I didn’t fake it.” 

The Two Biggest Barriers for Managers Faced with Employee Engagement
The Two Biggest Barriers for Managers Faced with Employee Engagement 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

The longer I am immersed in the work of employee engagement, the clearer it is to me that getting it right as a manager is simple and hard.

That may sound contradictory, but it’s not.

Engaging employees isn’t all that complicated. It starts with forming and maintaining a healthy, positive relationship with each person you manage. Then, ensuring that everything you do protects and builds that relationship and avoids harming it.

That sounds pretty simple, right?

But if you’ve ever been in any kind of relationship with another human being, you know that this can be more challenging than it sounds. Good relationships require that you work at them.

When it comes to doing this work of building relationships with employees, there are two obstacles I hear from managers and leaders most frequently.

The First Obstacle to Employee Engagement Is TIME

Being a manager is one of the most time-crunched jobs in the company. Generally, as a manager, you still have a full plate of your own work to do in addition to managing a team of people. Being a manager also comes with the expectation of attending a slate of meetings that may or may not be of any value.

The problem with being time-constrained is that relationship building requires time. Try to think of one person in your life who you have a great relationship with where you haven’t spent a lot of time together.

You can’t.

Time is the currency of relationships. There is no shortcut or hack.  If you don’t make the time to be with people, you will never build a relationship with them.

This is what makes regularly scheduled, one-on-one meetings and check-ins so critically important. By making these part of your schedule and considering the time as critical to doing the role of management, you ensure that each member of your team has at least some dedicated time with you.

Getting the one-on-one in the schedule is just the first step. That time is precious and important, so follow these steps to ensure you make the most of it.

  • Never cancel a one-on-one and only reschedule when absolutely necessary. Treat this time as sacred.
  • Ask questions and listen for most of the meeting. This is the employee’s time with you. Let them tell you what’s most important. In fact, consider starting with the question, “What the most important thing we need to talk about today?” and go from there.
  • Ask the employee for feedback on the meeting and how you could together make it the most valuable use of your time together.

I know you’re busy. Everyone is. But you need to make time for your people, or they will never be fully engaged.

The Second Obstacle to Employee Engagement Is FEAR

This one isn’t talked about as directly and openly as lack of time is, but it’s even more of a challenge. Cultivating relationships with your people can feel awkward and scary, particularly if you are new to it.

It requires that you trust people, maybe more than you are comfortable with. If you’ve been burned in the past, this will be hard. What if you get burned again?

This also requires that you get to know people beyond what they can do for you at work. Who are they as a person? What really matters to them in life? Who are the most important people in their life?

I know, I know. You’ve probably been told in the past that work and life should be kept separate, but is that how you experience work? Do you become a completely different person, disconnected entirely from your life when you go to work? Of course not. And neither do your people.

Getting to know them will help you understand how to help them find more meaning and enjoyment at work. But, here’s the catch. You’ll have to share some about yourself as well. They need to know you as a human being in order to really connect. Somewhere in each of your stories are some commonalities that will bond you together.

When I suggest this to managers, I start to hear the “what if” objections.

  • What if they tell me something I really shouldn’t know?
  • What if we become friends and I have to give them some hard feedback?
  • What if I have to fire them someday?

“What if” questions come from fear. We are afraid because we are uncertain about what we would or should do in those circumstances. We are afraid because we don’t want to change. We are afraid because we don’t want to get hurt.

But what’s the alternative?

Remain distant, be less scared, and let your people feel like nobody really cares that much about them at work? Yes, it will make it easier in that rare situation when you’ve done such a poor job of managing them that you have to suddenly fire them, but in the meantime, they are probably going to perpetually struggle along until they quit to find a manager who cares more.

Lean Into Relationships to Improve Employee Engagement

Treat people the way you’d treat anyone else in your life who you value and care for. That doesn’t mean you abandon accountability or other good management practices. But, it does mean that you handle those things in a way that is consistent with valuing the relationship.

If you want an engaged team, you have to make time and push past the fear. It will be worth it.

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One-on-One Meetings: 3 Ways to Stop Screwing Them Up With Your Employees
One-on-One Meetings: 3 Ways to Stop Screwing Them Up With Your Employees 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Managers: How important are one-on-one meetings with your employees?

This question comes up somewhat regularly because these meetings are time-consuming, and most managers are so overwhelmed with work that they are hunting for any excuse to cut something from the calendar. And I was asked this question again recently.

Are these meetings really necessary?

To answer this question, we need to remember that employees experience work as a relationship. If we aspire to fully engage our employees to their best performance, we need to help them feel like they are in a great relationship with work. That starts with the manager.

To foster a healthy relationship with your employees, how important is a one-on-one meeting?

It’s the same as asking how important it is to make time to hang out with your friends or to have date nights with your spouse. If you care about the relationship, then it’s important. Really important.

If you don’t care about maintaining the relationship, by all means, skip it. I’m sure you have plenty else to do.

But be very clear: The manager-employee relationship will suffer.

Invest Your Time in Employee Relationship Building With One-On-One Meetings

Perhaps the most vital ingredient to relationship building is time. We cannot foster or sustain a healthy relationship with anyone in our lives without the investment of time. That’s where it starts.

One-on-one meetings with employees are vitally important in helping them feel that sense of relationship with work. There is no path to having a fully engaged team that doesn’t involve investing one-on-one time with your people.

In a 2016 Harvard Business Review article titled “What Great Managers Do Daily,” the authors from the Microsoft Workforce Analytics group shared some insights based on analysis of their data about the importance of these meetings.

“In the companies we analyzed, the average manager spent 30 minutes every 3 weeks with each of their employees. Perhaps unsurprisingly, employees who got little to no one-on-one time with their manager were more likely to be disengaged. On the flip side, those who get twice the number of one-on-ones with their manager relative to their peers are 67% less likely to be disengaged. We also tested the hypotheses that there would be a point at which engagement goes down if a manager spends too much time with employees, but did not find such a tipping point in these datasets.

“And what happens when a manager doesn’t meet with employees one-on-one at all or neglects to provide on-the-job training? Employees in this situation are four times as likely to be disengaged as individual contributors as a whole, and are two times as likely to view leadership more unfavorably compared to those who meet with their managers regularly.”

Now that that’s settled, let’s talk about how to have one-on-one meetings that don’t defeat the purpose. Making time is just the first step. Below are some simple tips to help you ensure that you get the most out of the time you invest.

3 Tips for Better One-on-One Meetings With Employees

1. Get out of your office.

Making an employee come to your office might be easiest for you, but it’s rife with problems. Most importantly, your office is ground zero for distraction. Between your laptop, phone, and door, you almost don’t stand a chance to create a distraction-free space for a good conversation. And if that isn’t bad enough, the employee may not feel comfortable in your office. It’s your office after all—giving you a home-field advantage. Find a neutral spot to meet. Go for coffee. Have lunch. Go for a walk. If the employee has an office use that. Just get out of your office to find a place where the employee is more comfortable and there are fewer distractions.

2. Make it a conversation.

A conversation requires two parties who are both actively interested and participating in the exchange. Come to the meeting with questions. These questions don’t have to only be about work. Asking some questions to get to know your people better is important. A question like “What do you do for fun when you aren’t working?” can open up a really interesting conversation.

You must also come prepared to listen. In any one-on-one meeting, if you talk more than you listened as a manager, you missed the mark. This one is easier said than done. Take it from someone who struggles with this issue regularly. Focus on active listening, taking notes to really hear and understand what your employee is trying to communicate to you.

3. Let the employee lead. 

If we remind ourselves that the purpose of the one-on-one meeting is to foster a healthy relationship with the employee, it makes sense that we’d give the employee primary control over what is discussed. The temptation will be to simply turn over the agenda to the employee. This will only work if you participate in shaping that agenda by sending them ideas or suggestions for things that the two of you may want to discuss.

Regardless of who creates the agenda, one practice I have found to be incredibly effective is to open the meeting by asking the employee, “What’s the most important thing we need to discuss today?” This question focuses your conversation right away and doesn’t put any restriction on the topic. If the employee is struggling with a personal issue that’s getting in the way of work and wants to talk that through, that’s a great use of your time.

It is also valuable to have regular check-ins about how the meeting itself is working and how it could be better. Discuss each of your goals for the meeting and what improvements you can make to ensure the meetings feel valuable.

The Bottom Line on One-on-One Meetings With Employees

If you aren’t having one-on-one meetings with your employees at least monthly, you aren’t doing the work to create an engaged team. It’s that simple. When you invest time in your people, their engagement and performance will improve.

If you’d like more content like this to arrive in your email box weekly, you can subscribe to this blog by clicking here.

Jason Lauritsen