Relationships

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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How Do You Repair Your Relationships?
How Do You Repair Your Relationships? 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Among all the skills that are important to building great relationships, one of the most important is repair.

It’s also one of the most overlooked.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve never thought of repair as a relationship skill. I don’t know that I ever had until I started doing research into how great relationships work.

Repair is what we do when we have a fracture in our relationship in order to ensure that it doesn’t become a full-on break. I’ll give you a few examples.

Repairing Relationships Before They Fully Fracture

When my oldest son Dylan was in high school, he (like most teens not excluding myself at that age) had developed quite the capacity for doing dumb things. Thankfully, he didn’t do any colossally dumb things. His specialty was the frequency of small ones.

This led to an expectation on my part. If something happened that could even possibly be linked back to one of his bad or thoughtless decisions, I assumed he was to blame and would often react accordingly.

I remember clearly one day when I made one of these assumptions. I don’t remember what happened, but I do remember going off the handle, accusing my son of being responsible and doling out some immediate consequences. He stormed out of the room and the moment ended.

Shortly afterward, I discovered that he hadn’t had anything to do with this particular incident. He was innocent. My reaction was based on his track record, not what actually happened. I could probably have justified my reaction by telling myself that I wouldn’t have reacted that way if not for all the other stuff he’d done. Thankfully, that’s not what I did. Instead, I apologized. I told him that I was sorry and that I had been unfair. I told him he deserved better than that and that I’d do better in the future.

He accepted my apology and the fracture I’d caused in our relationship and his trust in me was repaired.

I wish I could tell you that this was the only time I’d overreacted with him. It wasn’t. But each time it happened, I went straight to him with an apology.

Over time, he actually learned to do the same thing. When we had to enforce boundaries or tell him no on occasion, he was prone to overreaction. To his credit, once he calmed down, he’d come find me and/or his mother and apologize for how he reacted.

This ritual of repair was really important to us surviving high school together while maintaining a positive and supportive relationship. I shudder to think what our relationship might have looked like had we not been committed to this.

Repair Your Relationships at Home

My wife and I have a similar process for repair.

When we have arguments, which thankfully don’t happen often, it feels awful for both of us.

What we discovered over the years was that regardless of how much we disagree or how frustrated we were in the moment, there was only one right next step to take. A hug and an “I’m sorry.”

Before you go all “why are you always saying you are sorry?” on me, pump the brakes. In both of these cases, an apology is necessary.

Regardless of the argument we are having. Regardless of whether or not I am right (which my wife will tell you is very rare). And regardless of how justified I feel about my position on whatever the issue, I am sorry that I’ve made the person I love most in the world feel bad or hurt.

I’m also sorry that I wasn’t somehow able to approach the issue in a way that avoided the argument.

And I’m sorry that our relationship fractured in even a tiny, temporary way.

When we hug and say we are sorry, all of the tension and anger and frustration evaporates. It resets and grounds us in the strength of our bond. From there, we usually find it pretty easy to resolve our difference.

Another ritual we have is checking in with each other in a formal way. Since we are both committed to keeping our relationship in a good place, it only makes sense to sit down on occasion and really talk to one another about the relationship. This shared commitment and investment of time ensures that whenever something happens that doesn’t feel right to the other person, we can talk it through and address it.

The more I began to understand and recognize the skills of relationship repair, the more I realized how vital they are to sustaining any relationship over time.

I also began to realize how much of a gap this is for relationships at work.

When I reflect back on my own work experience, the consequence of the absence of repair is so clear. I could share with you multiple stories of relationships with bossed and peers that may have started positive or neutral but slowly degraded over time.

The Absence of Relationship Repair at Work

Here’s how it happens.

A snide comment in a meeting plus a short and seemingly critical email compounded by a perceived lack of support piling up over time. One tiny fracture after another going unacknowledged, unaddressed, and unrepaired.

Then one day it breaks.

Things are said that can’t be unsaid.

Actions are taken that can’t be undone.

And the course of your career is changed.

It’s all so unnecessary. If only we learned how to repair our relationships.

Granted, both parties need to be committed to the relationship in the first place. I think in most cases, people would rather be in positive relationships with their manager and coworkers than the alternative.

When we don’t practice repair at work, our relationships at and with work die the death of a thousand paper cuts. It’s slow and painful, and such a waste.

What Does It Look Like to Repair Your Work Relationships?

What does repair look like at work? Below are a few skills and approaches you can and should practice if you want to improve your work relationships.

  1. Commit yourself to having better relationships. To have the kind of relationships at work that make work more fulfilling and rewarding, you have to fully commit yourself to it. This means investing time with people. It also means being willing to do the uncomfortable and inconvenient things necessarily to repair relationships when they go off course.
  2. Apologize when you do damage. We all make mistakes. Sometimes, we inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings or offend them. Say you are sorry and mean it, even when it wasn’t your intention to cause any harm in the first place. Beware that your ego will tell you that you don’t need to apologize because you didn’t do anything wrong and you certainly didn’t intend any damage. But if you care about relationships, do it anyway.
  3. Have the conversation. When someone does something that bothers or offends you, go talk to that person. I’ve had several people confront me at work about things I’ve said in a meeting or over email. In most cases, the way they took my comments was not what I intended, so I was thankful for the opportunity to clarify. In a few cases, they had taken it exactly as I had intended, and it triggered a conversation that allowed us to clear the air and make some amends to move forward. By taking on these conversations, we head off lingering resentment and the lasting damage to a relationship that can occur.
  4. Check in with the people who matter. This is among the many reasons that regular one-on-one meetings between managers and employees are so important. These conversations provide opportunities for repair.  To take full advantage of that opportunity, managers should do two things when they check in with employees. First, ask for feedback. A question like, “What can I do to be a better manager for you?” invites the kind of feedback that will help identify where fractures in the relationship may have occurred. Second, provide feedback when an employee does something to fracture the relationship. One of my favorite bosses once had to do this for me. I had publicly criticized one of her decisions in a meeting with my peers, and it had gotten back to her. She confronted me about it and explained that if we were to have a positive working relationship, we need to disagree privately but support each other publicly. It was a great learning experience for me.

The quality of our relationships drives the quality of our lives. If you want to be happier and more fulfilled at work and home, be committed not only to having relationships but to ensuring that you do the work to repair and sustain those relationships you value.

 

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Relationship Skills Are the Key to Employee Engagement
Relationship Skills Are the Key to Employee Engagement 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Years ago, I was lucky to somehow find and read the book Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.

The title alone was enough to pull me in. Crucial conversations is one thing, but fierce? That’s next level.

What I thought I was going to find were lessons on how to have different or better conversations. And, while there is some of that in the book, it’s soooo much more than that.

Having read it several times now, it doesn’t even feel adequate to call it by its title. The book is really about equipping you with the mindsets and tools to show up fiercely in your life. More specifically, it equips you with the mindsets and tools to navigate the moments in your life and career that feel scary and high stakes.

The moments that really count.

Fierce is about stepping into these moments, not without fear but with courage and vulnerability. What this book first helped me realize is that to get to what I truly wanted in life, I had to travel through these challenging moments not hide from them.

I learned in this book how to have really meaningful conversations with people that dive toward what really needs to be talked about.

I learned that the conversation I am most afraid of is almost always the most important one to have because the peace or happiness or resolution you desire most is on the other side of it.

The conversation I am most afraid of is almost always the most important one to have because the peace or happiness or resolution you desire most is on the other side of it.

I learned that my perspective on anything is colored by my own experience and what I am surrounded by. This means that someone else with different experiences and context can look at the same thing and see something different.

I learned how to create clarity about decision making in any group I happened to be a part of.

In retrospect, this book set the foundation for me to show up more fiercely and authentically in my relationships with others. The benefits for me over the years have been immeasurable.

This has been on my mind a lot lately. Here’s why.

In order for an employee to be fully engaged at work, they need to feel that they are in a healthy, positive relationship with work.  This relationship is impacted by many things in their day-to-day experience of work, but few factors have a bigger impact than their relationship with their manager and coworkers.

When viewed through this lens, our ongoing struggles to break through on employee engagement might have less to do with work processes and more to do with a gap in our relationship skills.

Our ongoing struggles to break through on employee engagement might have less to do with work processes and more to do with a gap in our relationship skills.

When I started speaking and writing about work as a relationship, I was pretty optimistic (and maybe a little naive) that this insight alone would help us really move the needle on engagement. I thought that if I could just get managers and leaders to see work as a relationship with the employee, then they could start using all of their relationship skills to improve things right away.

After all, by the time you start managing people, you’ve been navigating relationships for a decade or two.  That’s a lot of relationship experience to call upon.

But…

This makes a huge assumption that we are generally good at relationships outside of work. I have come to realize that this just isn’t true.

Our divorce rates aren’t pretty historically. And there’s been a lot of discussion recently about a “loneliness epidemic.” According to one study, two in ten adults in the US and UK “say they always or often feel lonely, lack companionship, or feel left out or isolated.”

These are just two data points suggesting that perhaps we have room to improve in the relationship department.

I’m coming to understand that our quest to solve employee engagement isn’t really about work. It’s about our lack of skill at having great relationships with others.

If I don’t have the tools or ability to foster a great relationship with my significant other or child or closest friend, then how likely is it that I can do it at work with people who I likely don’t know (or honestly care about) at the same level?

This has hit home for me over the past couple of years. A few of my close friends and family had to navigate some really tough circumstances–divorces, loss of a parent, physical illness, and more.

One of the things I realized in reflecting on being with these friends on this journey was how often I’d been with them (individually) and yet either avoided talking about the things that really mattered or shied away from asking a question that felt really important. Instead, we’d drink our beer and talk about work or sports, then go our separate ways.

I wish I had done better.

Even as someone who’s been studying and teaching relationship skills for years, I wasn’t showing up in these moments.

I wasn’t being fierce. I had to re-commit myself to those lessons I’d learned many years ago. I needed to ask the questions that felt a little scary because the conversation that follows are where amazing relationships grow.

I continue to work on it.

The reason I share this is that creating, building, and maintaining the best kind of relationships requires intentional efforts and knowledge of how to do it. When we do it right, the resulting relationships are powerful and fulfilling. It helps us satisfy our almost primal need for belonging and connection with others.

This feels like a tremendous opportunity for those of us who lead teams or are responsible for employee engagement efforts.

  • What if we deeply invested in our own abilities to form and foster great relationships as a way to give that gift to and model it for others?
  • What if we focused our efforts on teaching and coaching people in the skills and mindsets they need for better relationships?
  • What if we cultivated, celebrated, and rewarded relationship skills as our primary focus?

The role of the workplace is changing. It’s consuming a bigger chunk of our lives and identities all the time. Let’s seize this moment to make work a place of transformation, not just for how you do work, but how you live life.

Let’s seize this moment to make work a place of transformation, not just for how you do work, but how you live life.

When we equip not only managers and leaders, but all employees, with the tools to form and maintain healthier relationships, we not only unlock greater engagement and performance at work, but we also send positive ripples throughout their lives.

  • Better communicators at work are better communicators at home.
  • Learning to trust at work also helps you learn to trust outside of work.
  • Embracing the value of diverse opinions at work may just help you survive and navigate successfully in an increasingly polarized society.
  • Becoming skilled at seeing others fully and expressing authentic appreciation will transform any relationship.

We’ve been scratching at the surface of this work for years without fully committing to it. It’s time for us to go all in.

I’m working on what this looks like from my end. What does it look like for you?

 

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Words of Gratitude #2: Start With the Most Important (A Love Letter to My Wife)
Words of Gratitude #2: Start With the Most Important (A Love Letter to My Wife) 1080 716 Jason Lauritsen

Note: I’m writing a note of gratitude on the blog each day in November leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. My hope is that these posts will inspire you to do the same. Write an email, Facebook post, or a text to tell people they have made an impact on you. Gratitude is contagious. 


When I reflect on what I am grateful for, the first thing that comes to mind every time is my wife, Angie. Most of you know that she’s not just my wife and the mother of my children; she’s also my best friend AND my business partner. So, as I embark on this gratitude blog series, it seemed right to start with the most important person first.

Angie and I have a lot of dynamics to juggle in our life. Our kids are increasingly busy, our schedules are becoming more chaotic, the business continues to grow, and somehow we’re making it all work together.

As I have done research over the past few years on what makes human relationships work, it reinforced how lucky I am to have a partner in life like Ang. If I were to list all of the reasons why I am grateful for her, this blog post would be as long as a novel. So, I’ll just hit the high points today.

My Inspiration

I’m grateful that I am married to someone who inspires me. I’ve had a front-row seat to watch Angie emerge as a community leader and advocate of victims of abuse. She’s committed to making the world a better place and to use her past experiences to bring strength, courage, and hope to those who need it. I’m humbled by her commitment to this quest and it motivates me to be a better person.

I’m grateful to have a partner in life who accepts me as I am. No matter how weird or annoying or exhausting I may be sometimes, she has never made me feel as though I needed to change. For better or worse, she loves this weird combination of things that is uniquely me.

At the same time, I’m grateful to travel this journey with someone who continually helps me grow. Angie has a way of challenging me and pushing back that challenges me to reconsider or reflect without feeling defensive. I’ve learned so much from her and I know there is still so much yet for me to learn.

There are very few things in life more powerful than to have someone who believes in you….

I’m grateful that she believes in me, often more than I even believe in myself. Long before we were business partners officially, she was all in on my potential. Even when I struggled and failed, she never wavered. Even when we burned through all of our retirement savings to stay afloat while I floundered in a past business venture, she never wavered. There are very few things in life more powerful than to have someone who believes in you this way. It is a priceless gift and the only way I can possibly try to repay her is by believing in her the same way.

I am so lucky.

Finally, I’m grateful for everything she does for our family. She is the CEO, CFO, and COO of the Lauritsen household and that is a big job by itself. Since my job requires quite a lot of travel, she’s often left to man the ship without any backup. And she does this while also serving our community as an elected official and helping run a growing business. It’s a superhuman accomplishment each week to make this happen. And I am profoundly thankful for the immense work she does. I am so lucky.

Ang, there are no words big enough to express my gratitude to you or for you. I am amazed by you, inspired by you, and better because of you each day. I love you beyond measure. I appreciate you. And I can’t wait to travel the next leg of this journey of life with you.