When I start working with a new client I always spend some time talking to each of their team members individually to discover:
- What they love about their work
- What they find frustrating
- What aspirations they have
- What blocks them from giving great service to their customers
- What one thing my client could do to improve their working day.
This information provides a great benchmark from which to start and judge ongoing progress. It often reveals a stark perception gap too between how the owner sees things and the team members’ view.
It’s a great exercise for a business to do. The thing I love most about it is that you get to talk to both the old-timers, people who have been around a few years and also the newbies – team members who’ve been around less than six months.
Quite often, you’ll hear people say,
‘Oh, you won’t get anything useful from new people, they’ve not been here long enough to know how things work’.
But that’s actually the point – you get their fresh view on what has become the wallpaper to everybody else. You know, when you walk into a new house sometimes and you’ve got a wall that you need to sort out because it looks hideous and then you find you’ve been living in the house two years and that wall still looks exactly as hideous but you’ve just stopped seeing it? New people spot things that the longer serving team members no longer see, or recognise as an issue. Naivety is sometimes a blessing.
So you can learn a lot about a business from talking to those who work there. But how often do we do it?
“Employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged.” – Gallup Research
As a business owner whether you employ 5 people or 50, you only have a certain amount of time to spend with your team.
So what better way to make the most of that time than by asking your team members,
‘If there was just one thing you’d want from me as a manager, what would it be?’
And then of course back that up with action. It’s wonderful turning round at review time and asking your team member,
‘How am I doing in delivering what I said?’
It’s a simple but really effective form of 360 degree feedback and improves that two-way communication.
It can be tempting too to give our time to our superstars or working and working on turning round an underperfomer. But sometimes this can be at the expense of your loyal, solid workers. An analogy that’s stuck with me is that in general, teams are split as follows:
The Choir are the people in your team who are the real superstars, the people who you love having around you – your high flyers. The people that you give the big jobs to, to get them sorted.
The Crypt are the people who are under-performing. They are sometimes the rotten apples in your barrel, the people who are either constantly moaning or constantly asking the same questions over and over again, or simply very high-maintenance. (This isn’t always there fault.)
The Congregation then sit in between and are very often forgotten because they are steady, reliable and consistent. They don’t ask for anything, they are possibly never going to be your high flyers or you may just not notice their potential. But they are absolutely solid as a rock. You know that they will come in, they’ll do a really good job and then they’ll go home. No trouble, just really consistent, dependable people.
So, what percentage of your time do you spend on your superstars, your under-performers and your steady reliable team members?
Perhaps your choir, your superstars don’t need too much of your attention because by definition they are self-starting, high-achievers. Your time is spent with them on public praise and in high energy gatherings, on setting new challenges and keeping them stretched and fulfilled. After all, you want to keep them! (But be careful that you don’t form a ‘club’ from which others feel excluded.)
What about the crypt? People in here may just need to be trained and nurtured to progress to the congregation or even the choir. But how much time do you spend on someone who you know is just not the right fit but you dread having that conversation with and so put it off? What about the person who does an okay job but who is incredibly needy of reassurance, of constant affirmation who picks on any little thing, who just sucks the life out of you on a daily basis? How much time do you spend and how long do you persevere?
And then how much time does that leave to spend on people who simply do their very best every day, the congregation? They may not be superstars in the recognised sense of the word, they may never achieve greater wealth or status than they have already, but they go about their work cheerfully every day, and they do it consistently well. They are the sort of people who you would want beside you in the trenches (do people still say that these days?); the sort of people who are calm and measured in a crisis; who have had their share of hard knocks, but who just keep bouncing back; the sort of people you can rely on to be…well, reliable!
And often it’s these people who we just take for granted. They are low maintenance, they don’t ask for anything so we often just leave them to it. And maybe we’re missing a trick here, for one we want to keep them and who knows, they could progress to the choir given a chance.
Do two things:
1. Organise some one-to-ones with your team. Find out what one thing you could do to make their job easier, and help them to serve your customers better. Let them talk, and listen to them.
And if you feel that you wouldn’t get straight answers then bring in an outsider, bring in a friend, (bring me in:) to talk to your team and get this information because what I’m picking up with my clients teams’ is absolute gold dust.
It’s the sort of stuff that doesn’t readily come out; feedback about where people see themselves; feedback about who’s sitting next to who and how that’s affecting their work; feedback about how poor communication is. Little stuff maybe, but it’s always the little stuff, isn’t it?
2. Think about the individuals in your team and how much time you spend with each; who is hogging your attention?
Thanks for reading