I could give you a list of fifty things you could do to improve employee performance, engagement and retention. But the truth is, there are really just four things you must do. Employees may appreciate the other 46 things but don’t necessarily need them to stay with your organization and do their best work.
The Colorado Society of Human Resource Management hosts an annual Best Companies competition, and organizations of all sizes compete. Last year I led a workshop before the awards ceremony. The purpose of the workshop was to share the things that make an organization a great place to work. While researching the program, the things that separate the great companies from the less desirable places to work became very clear. I’ll share those few things here.
Employees ask themselves these questions at work:
- Do I trust the leaders of this organization?
- Does my opinion/voice matter in this organization?
- Do I have a good relationship with my manager?
- Is my manager invested in helping me advance my career?
Employees enjoy yoga, concierge service, espresso, and social events at work, but these perks don’t necessarily improve retention or performance. The only perk known to improve employee loyalty and commitment is a flexible schedule. Everything else is nice to have, but not essential.
This is what’s really important to your employees:
- I trust the leaders who run this organization.
- My opinion means something. I am listened to.
- I feel respected (by my manager) and have good relationships in the organization.
- My work is challenging and interesting.
So what should you do if you want to be a best place to work?
Four Actions Leaders Can Take to Create Relationships with Employees at All Levels:
1. Know employees’ names, talents & career goals.
2. Be visible. Talk to employees.
3. Give more information than you think you need to. Employees want to know how your organization is performing.
- Hold town hall meetings. Give financial updates.
- Use ‘Ask the CEO’ boxes to encourage questions and feedback.
- Encourage senior leaders to conduct small, roundtable discussions with employees at all levels.
4. Align leaders’ words and actions.
- Organizational guidelines are applied consistently among all employees.
- Don’t gossip or chuck other leaders under the bus.
- Be consistent. Don’t say, “The CEO says this, but we’re going to do this instead.”
Four Actions Managers Can Take:
1. Meet one-on-one with employees and have meaningful discussions about employees’ performance and career goals.
2. Ask employees for their opinion and demonstrate that you’ve heard them.
3. Provide opportunities for employees to do work they enjoy.
4. Ensure employees who want to advance in your organization are learning and growing.
Read about our Be a Great Place to Work leadership training program designed for Senior Leaders and HR Professionals.
You’ve heard countless times that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. So when something not-so-positive happens – a customer is upset, you missed a deadline or made an error – don’t let your boss find out about it from someone else. Get there first, and create the first impression of what happened.
Managers don’t like surprises. If your manager is going to get a call about something that isn’t positive, let her know before the call comes in. You will create her perception of the situation, and perceptions are hard to change. Don’t wait for the s*** to hit the fan. Get ahead of the problem by coming forward and giving your manager and other stakeholders a heads up.
It could sound something like this, “I just had a tough conversation with John in IT. You may get a call. Here’s what happened… I didn’t want you to be surprised.”
Or, “I told Brian at Intellitec that we’re raising our prices in the second quarter. He wasn’t happy. You may get a call.”
Or let’s say you’re going to work on a strained relationship. Tell your manager before you take action. It could sound something like this, “I want to work on my relationship with Julie. Our relationship has been strained since we worked together on the software project last year. I’d like to approach her, tell her that I know our relationship is strained, and that I’d like a good working relationship with her. Then I’d like to ask if she’s willing to have lunch with me, talk about what’s happened, and see if we can start again in a more positive way. What do you think of me doing that? Would you approach the conversation differently? I don’t know how it’s going to go, so I wanted you to know what I’m planning to do, just in case it backfires and you get a call.”
Manage your career assertively by taking responsibility for mistakes, working on damaged relationships, and telling your manager before someone else does!
Too many people sit at their desks doing their minimal best, while begrudging their boss, organization and current job, hoping that something better will come along. Or people do good work and think that someday someone will notice and they’ll get the role and recognition they deserve.
If you want to advance your career, ask for more.
You may be rolling your eyes thinking, “More? I can’t do more. I already work evenings and weekends. I sleep with my phone and haven’t taken a vacation in two years, and you want me to do more?!?!?” Actually I want you to stop sleeping with your phone and take a vacation. But that’s a post for a different day.
When I say do more, I don’t mean do anything anyone asks nor anything your organization needs. Offer to take on more work that is aligned with what you want to do AND is important to the leaders of your organization.
Before starting Candid Culture, I ran an operations unit for a career college. Four years into my tenure with the company, one of my peers left, and his role wasn’t refilled. I felt his department was important to our organization’s success, so I offered to run it, in addition to my already big job.
My new department was a change agent’s dream. I outlined a strategic plan and long and short term goals. I re-wrote job descriptions and org charts. But six months into taking on the department, I couldn’t get one change approved. I was confused and frustrated.
I had initially been hired to turn another department around, and I’d been very successful at getting changes approved. Yet this time, I could get nothing approved. After six months of banging my head against a wall, I finally ‘got it.’ The owners of the company didn’t see the department as valuable, thus they weren’t willing to invest in it.
I’m embarrassed at how long it took me to see this. When my colleague’s senior level job wasn’t refilled and there was no freeze in hiring, I should have known the department wasn’t seen as important.
If you want to know what’s important in your organization, look at where money is being spent. Who is getting resources?
When I say ask for more, I mean be strategic about what you ask for.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What do I want to do?
- Where in the organization are there opportunities to do that kind of work – that is important to the organization’s leaders?
- Who will support me in doing this work? Who won’t?
Then tell your boss and/or department leader:
- I really enjoy working here. I enjoy the people, the work and our industry.
- I’m committed to growing my career with this organization.
- I’m interested in learning more about ________________________.
- I’d love to run ___________________________.
- I think we have some opportunities to make improvements in _____________________.
- How could I get some exposure to ____________________.
- A project is starting in ______________. I’d love to be on the team. What are your thoughts about that? Would you be comfortable supporting my participation? If yes, how can we make it happen? If not, what would you need from me in order to support it?
The work you take on does not need to be high level. Everyone in an organization does grunt work. Just be sure that whatever you offer to do is seen as integral to the future of the organization. You’re not likely to get what you don’t ask for.
Read chapter five of How to Say Anything to Anyone and manage your boss better.
There are several mistakes most professionals make while attending conferences, training sessions, and other networking events. Avoid these common practices, and you’ll get great value from networking events that will more than justify your time away from the office and far exceed the price of attendance.
Mistake Number One: Skipping meals and other social events.
Many busy professionals have a hard time leaving work to attend networking events, conferences and training sessions. We don’t think we have time and may be worried about how our absence will appear, so we spend ‘down time’ at events catching up on email.
Don’t think of time in the exhibit hall, meals, cocktail hours, and other social events as down time. Think of those events as just as important as keynote and breakout sessions. You never know who at the conference has a vendor you’ve been looking for or a solution to one of your challenges.
Mistake Number Two: Talking with the people you already know during meals and social events.
It’s natural and comfortable to sit and talk with the people you know. The problem is, you already have access to those people. You can already call them to ask questions and problem solve. You’re attending the event to expand your network. The more people you talk to, the bigger your pool of potential future job leads and problem solving peers.
Most people are uncomfortable talking to people they don’t know. When you introduce yourself to new people, they let out a sigh of relief. They are grateful that you took the risk of introducing yourself. When you feel nervous in groups of mostly strangers, remember that everyone is nervous.
Mistake Number Three: Introducing yourself by telling people what you do.
“Hi, I’m Lauren Adler. I’m an Accountant” is a show stopper, not a conversation starter. The other person replies, “I’m Mary Guest. I’m an Analyst.” Then the two of you look at each other and wonder how to get out of the conversation. Rather than introducing yourself with your title, ask a question.
Here are a few questions you can ask when meeting fellow attendees:
- What’s one challenge you’re facing in your organization?
- What’s a resource you need, that I might be able to refer?
These questions are much better conversation starters than “Hi, I’m an attorney. What do you do?”
Ask one question, listen to the answer and then ask the next natural question. Provocative questions are a great way to build new, meaningful relationships.
Mistake Number Four: Not ending conversations soon enough.
We’ve all gotten trapped in a conversation and wondered, “How do I graciously get out of here?” When a conversation is over, end it by saying, “It’s been great talking with you. I’m going to meet some other people.” Just be honest. You’re doing both of you a favor by freeing each other up to meet someone new.
Mistake Number Five: Letting groups of people intimidate you.
Break into groups by walking up to a group of people talking and simply ask, “May I join you?” They will say yes. And when you’re ready to leave the group, who probably knew each other before the event, simply say, “It was great meeting all of you. Enjoy the meeting.”
Mistake Number Six: Hanging out by the buffet, in the bathroom, or in your phone.
The buffet cannot hire you.
It’s very tempting to catch up on email or Facebook updates while waiting for speakers to begin and meals to be served. Hiding out in our phones will not get you your next client nor expand your network. It may feel safer and easier to be distracted by your phone during a networking event or to visit the bathroom more than you really need to. Risk a little. Remember that everyone is just as nervous as you are. Approach someone you don’t know, and ask a question.
Much of the reason we attend events is to tap into the collective years of experience of other attendees. Get the maximum value from events by attending all social events and meals, talking with exhibitors and fellow attendees who you don’t already know, and putting away your phone. You never know who has the solution to your greatest challenge or from where your next customer or job offer will come.
A few years ago, the guy I was dating asked, “We don’t really need to do anything for Valentine’s Day do we?” I was taken aback by his question (which was really a statement) and replied, “No, we don’t.” But I didn’t mean it. And when he blew off the ‘holiday’ I was furious and let him know it. Instead of having dinner on Valentine’s Day, we had an ugly conversation and a lousy rest of the week. Asking for what I wanted upfront would have been much less painful.
Why is it so hard to ask for what we want, especially from the people who love us?
We aren’t likely to get what we don’t ask for. The people in our lives can’t read our minds. They don’t know what we want. This is true at home and at work. If you want a report to look a certain way, sketch it out for your employees. If you want a meeting handled in a certain fashion, give detailed instructions. For the most part we expect things to go well and thus we delegate insufficiently at work and hope to be pleasantly surprised at home.
I hope the people who love you, know you well enough and are intuitive enough to give your heart what it wants on Valentine’s Day, and every day. But if they don’t, make it easy for them to please you by telling them what you want. For example, tell the person you love, “I’d love to spend Valentine’s Day together. I don’t care what we do, as long as we’re together.” Or, “I don’t care what you do for Valentine’s Day, but please do something to mark the day.” And if you want something specific, ask for it. “I’d love flowers on Valentine’s Day, despite that they’ll die and are impractical. Anything but roses and carnations would be lovely.”
Ask for what you want and see what happens.
Whenever I leave a job, the thing I take with me are the relationships. The projects and deliverables quickly become distant memories, but the people and the experiences we shared together stay with me. Some of my closet friends and the people most important to me in the world are the people I’ve worked with. It makes sense that we make friends at work; it’s where we spend a lot of time. And the people we work with make work fun or miserable.
There is a considerable amount of research citing the connection between having good business relationships and employee engagement, retention, and high performance. When we feel we belong and have good relationships at work, we are happier and do better work. It makes perfect sense.
As I’m writing this, I’m thinking about my coworkers with whom I spent weeks on the road, who endured a presentation, practice session for an upcoming town hall meeting that lasted until 1:00 am, and the coworkers I worked with in the World Trade Center. As much as I appreciated and cared about the people I worked with, I not sure how often I told them that they made my work world better.
Valentine’s Day is a day we express appreciation for the people closest to us. Don’t limit your appreciation to your loved ones at home; include your coworkers who make your work fun and who help you get things done. Of course, I hope you’ll tell express appreciation more than once a year, but Valentine’s Day is an occasion not to miss.
Write the people you work with, who matter most to you, a handwritten note that they’ll keep for a long, long time. You can see our assortment of greeting cards for the workplace here. I’ll admit that I collect stationary and love giving and receiving handwritten notes. I suspect the people you work with will appreciate receiving a handwritten note too.
Click here to see all of our greeting cards:
No one likes to make mistakes. We want to do good work and have people think well of us.
The key to maintaining your relationships and reputation, when you make a mistake, is to take responsibility and make things right as soon as possible. Saying something wasn’t your fault or becoming defensive will only damage your reputation and relationships. As counterintuitive as it sounds, you will gain respect and credibility by admitting fault and correcting problems.
I often get asked if people lose credibility by being humble – asking for feedback and admitting to making mistakes. It takes strength to ask for and be open to feedback and to admit when you drop the ball. So while it may seem counterintuitive, the more you ask for and respond to feedback, and admit when you make mistakes, the stronger you will appear.
When you make a mistake say something like:
“I dropped the ball on that. I apologize. I’ll fix it and let you know when it’s been handled.”
Or, “Thank you for the feedback. This clearly didn’t go as planned. I’ll make those changes and let you know when they’re done.”
Also, let people know the steps you’ll take to avoid similar challenges in the future.
You could say something like:
“Thanks for letting me know that our process is causing your department challenges. We certainly want the process to be smooth. My team will fix this month’s report, so your team doesn’t have to invest more time. We’ll update the process for next month and walk you through the changes before the report is due.”
Don’t provide a bunch of reasons for breakdowns. No one cares. Telling people why something occurred can sound like excuse management. People just want to know things will be made right.
Asking for feedback, taking responsibility, and telling people how you will correct errors may not be your natural or first reaction. The more you can train yourself to do these things, the easier you will be to work with and the better your reputation and business relationships will be.
Click here to download free questions to find out what your coworkers and internal and external customers are satisfied with about your performance and what they wish you would do differently.
For the most part, people are afraid to speak up at work. Despite the town hall meetings and roundtable discussions executives host, the feedback training offered, the existence of ask-the-CEO email addresses and blogs, and employee satisfaction and engagement surveys, many employees are still afraid to give feedback at work, citing fear of damaging relationships, being fired, and other forms of retaliation.
Those of you who have worked with me, read How to Say Anything to Anyone, and/or used our tools, know that I am on a quest to make it easier to tell the truth at work.
The Candid Culture Vision:
- Coworkers, leaders, and managers set clear expectations before problems occur. No one has to guess what is expected of them and what a good job looks like.
- Employees ask for and receive regular, balanced and candid feedback and always know where they stand performance wise.
- Managers and leaders are open to and ask for feedback. They always know what’s really happening in the organization and can lead accordingly.
- People talk to each other versus about each other. Gossip and drama is the exception, not the norm.
- Work is a fun place to be. People enjoy working together and produce their best work.
Many of you are taking actions to create the environment I’ve described above. I want to hear from you and want to use this blog to share practices for creating more candid communication at work.
Add a comment and tell us:
- What you are doing to increase the trust and communication in your organization.
- The avenues you are using to give feedback on your team, in your department, or in your entire organization.
We’ll enter you to win 50 of our new door tags. The door tags were designed to tell your coworkers that your office is a place they can speak freely, without concern.
Many year-end performance reviews include whatever the manager and direct report can remember happening during the last six to twelve weeks of the year. For the most part, managers and direct reports sit in front of blank performance appraisals and self-appraisal forms and try to remember everything that happened during the year. The result: A vague, incomplete performance review that leaves employees feeling disappointed, if not discounted.
If you were disappointed by your performance review this year, don’t let it happen again next year. Take charge of your career by writing your own goals.
One of the first companies I worked for did the goal process so well, I learned early in my career how powerful well written goals could be. Each employee set five to seven goals. Experienced employees wrote their own goals and then discussed those goals with their manager. Less experienced employees wrote their goals with their manager. Managers wrote goals for inexperienced employees. The goals were so specific and clear that there could be no debate at the end of the year whether or not the goal had been achieved. It was obvious. Either employees had done what they said they would, or they hadn’t. This made writing performance appraisals very easy. Very little on the appraisal was subjective. And this gave employees a feeling of control over their year and performance.
It’s great if you work for an organization or manager who works with you to write goals. If you don’t, write your own goals and present them to your manager for discussion and approval. Managers will be impressed you took the initiative to write goals and will be thankful for the work it takes off of them.
Goals should be simple and clear. It must be obvious whether you achieved the goal or not. There should be little if any room for debate.
Sample goals are below.
Desired Outcome (goal):
• Improve client feedback – too vague
• Get better written reviews from clients – better
• 80% of clients respond to surveys and respond with an average rating of 4.5 or above – best
Actions you will take to achieve the goal:
• Ask clients for feedback throughout project — too vague
• Ask clients for feedback weekly – better
• Visit client site weekly. Talk with site manager. Ask for feedback — best
Completed sample goal:
How to approach your manager with written goals:
Try using this language with your manager: “I want to be sure I’m working on the things that are most important to you and the organization. I’ve written some goals for 2014 to ensure I’m focused on the right things. Can we review the goals, and I’ll edit them based on your input? And what do you think of using the agreed-upon goals to measure my performance in 2014?
You have nothing to lose by writing goals and presenting them to your manager. You will gain respect from your manager, clarity of your 2014 priorities, and more control of your year-end performance review. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes.
If you want more feedback from your manager, ask these questions.
Most of us grapple with whether or not we should give feedback when someone else does or says something frustrating.
Here are a few criteria to help you decide whether or not you should give feedback or say nothing:
- Do you have a relationship with the person? Do you know each other well enough to share your opinion? Aka, have you earned the right?
- Has the other person requested your opinion? Unsolicited feedback often goes on deaf ears.
- If the other person has not requested your opinion, does he appear open to hearing feedback?
- Are you trying to make a difference for the other person or just make him look or feel badly?
- Do you want to strengthen the relationship?
Before you give feedback, do something I call, ‘check your motives at the door.’ If your motives are pure – you want to strengthen the person or the relationship, and you have a good enough relationship that you’ve earned the right to speak up — then do it.
People are more open to feedback when they trust our motives. If we have a good relationship with the person and he knows we’re speaking up to make a difference for him or for the relationship, you’ll be able to say way more than if your motives are questionable – aka you want to be right.