The Voice for Insightful Leadership with Shelley Row, P.E.

Posts tagged "questions"

When you download a new app, buy a new phone or acquire the latest cool technology like Alexa, you learn to use it. You explore its capabilities, you learn how it works, and over time you learn how it can assist you.

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Do you make that effort with your staff? Do you learn their capabilities? Do you know how they work best? (We explored that in the last newsletter.) Do you know what they enjoy? Do you know what gives them joy? Do you know what makes them tick?

Your staff work better in an environment that values their humanness. That means working with people who know more about them than the due date for their next deliverable. Like learning a new app, it takes time, but it doesn’t take THAT much time if you have a few astute questions at your disposal.

Here are five questions you can use today to give you more insight into what makes them tick.

  1. What’s new with your kids (grandkids)? Most people love to talk about their kids or grandkids. Use this as an intro to learn about them. If the child excels in math, ask, “Did she learned math from you?” If the grandkid plays baseball, ask, “Did you enjoy baseball as a kid?” This opens a conversation that gives you more insight into your employee. For example, early in my career, as a young woman engineer, I needed to work with an older gentleman known to be brusque and grumpy. No matter the topic, it was like working with a stone wall. One day we met in his office and I noticed photos of children (see question 5). Without thinking I said, “Who are all the kids?” His demeanor transformed instantly. He relaxed, smiled and even glowed. “Those are all my grandkids!” Thirty minutes later we started our work conversation but, this time, it went smoothly and achieved results.  Our professional relationship was better from then on.
  2. What are you doing for a vacation? Why did you choose that? One staff person tells you they went on a Carnival cruise to the Bahamas and another person says they went to Tibet and meditated with the monks (my last vacation).  That information alone gives insight into what makes them tick. Your next question is, “Why did you choose that?”  Or, “What was your favorite part of the trip?” This peeks into the attributes they value. The Bahamas cruiser they might say, “I loved traveling to a new place without worry.”  The Tibet traveler might say, “It recharged my soul to sit quietly and reflect.” You hear hints of the inner clock that makes them tick.
  3. How did you decide to work here? If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? The answer may tell you that this person stumbled into the job, or they had family connections, or they passionately pursued the position. In any case, there will be an interesting tidbit. Your follow-up for more information: “If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing.” And if you’re really curious ask, “If you could do anything, what would you do?” You may be surprised at the answers! (Broadway performer, for me…in case you’re wondering!)
  4. What’s your favorite thing to do outside work? One of my staff was an acclaimed lacrosse player in college. Who knew? I didn’t until I asked about her hobbies. She coaches girls lacrosse. What do your staff outside of work? One of my clients participates in a mud run every year. It’s a connection to his Marine Corp roots. This is a simple question that opens new lines of conversation and indicates a sincere interest in a world beyond work.
  5. Tell me about these photos (or anything you notice in their office). It looked like a black and grey lump on the corner of my bookcase. The occasional astute observer would notice it and ask, “What’s that?” It was a chunk of asphalt. “Why do you have a chunk of asphalt?” It was a going away ‘gift’ when I left my highway job in North Carolina. In that short exchange, the guest gained insight into my background and knowledge they never expected. What do you observe in the office of your staff? Ask them about it. Even the décor will spill the beans about what makes them tick. Maybe there’s a Ravens ball cap, a photo on a mountain top, a beautiful lamp positioned just so. All are conversation starters to give you more information about your staff.

People aren’t that different from a well-designed, intuitive app. Clues about what makes your staff tick are in plain sight if you ask. Ask, so that they know your interest in them goes beyond business.

Click here for a PDF checklist of questions to learn about your staff and others.

Why doesn’t your Employee Development Program work?

Do you have:

  • Out-spoken staff with good ideas who alienate others?
  • Staff who don’t speak up because they want to avoid conflict?
  • Hastily-sent, sharply-worded emails that leave those on the receiving end seething?
  • People with differing styles who can’t see eye-to-eye?

Of course you do! Every work place has these situations and they waste time, stress staff and cost productivity. What are you doing about it? And, will what you’re doing last? Make your Employee Development Program work for your employees and you.

Consider your car. You wash and wax it so that the exterior is shiny and glossy. It looks great from the outside, but the carburetor doesn’t work. If the carburetor doesn’t work, neither does the car. The only way forward is to get under the hood and fix the real problem.

Your Employee Development Program is the same. You realize there are performance, communication, and/or management issues. You bring in a trainer or a consultant to address the problem, and for a short time, the situation is better. Soon, however, everyone slips back into the same old patterns. A one-time intervention that addresses only the surface issues is like washing and waxing your car. It looks good in the short term but doesn’t get at the root cause. To do that, you must get under the hood, understand “what’s really going on,” and develop skills to manage the behaviors. And, like your car, you need a maintenance program that regularly monitors the old and new behaviors.

Most staff development programs deal with surface behaviors and don’t develop an understanding of the “real” issue. These programs feel good initially, but they don’t result in lasting change. In my experience working in and with organizations, lasting change requires these three criteria:

  1. Top leadership support.
  2. Get to the problem source.
  3. Provides support over time.

Leadership support. In my experience, there is no substitute for active support and engagement of top leadership. Lasting change requires lasting commitment that extends past the initial enthusiasm. The tone at the top matters. If the leader is half-hearted about organizational advancement, so too will be the staff. A lukewarm response from leadership is worse than no response. Once leadership support fizzles, the staff are left thinking, “It’s just a bunch of words. They never meant it anyway.” This is the breeding ground for cynicism.

Get to the problem source. Too many professional development programs seek to address complex issues of personality and behavior with superficial approaches. The more meaningful and long-lasting strategy getting dirty under the hood. Using neuroscience and specific types of self-assessments, we help each staff member understand the science behind their behavior preferences. They have the opportunity to sort out why some people bug them, and others don’t. That understanding opens new, more productive choices and promotes deeper understanding between co-workers. The result is better collaboration with more constructive and lasting behavior change.

Provide support over time. When it comes to professional development, one and done doesn’t cut it. The fact is, the human brain rarely retains and uses new information that it hears only once. Repetition and intentional application begin true behavior change. And I do mean…begin. It takes concerted effort over time to create new behaviors. That’s why the leader needs to be in it for the long haul. That said, providing support over time doesn’t have to be time consuming, expensive or exhausting. You want a drum beat of reminders for the staff. This can come through emails, video clips, webinars as well as repeated sessions for staff. Constant, relentless reminders embed new thought patterns and behaviors. These reminders over time may be the best money you spend because without long-term support, you wasted your time and money on a one-and-done program.

If you want a professional development program for your staff that makes a difference and provides a solid return-on-investment, be prepared to provide leadership support, select a program that “gets under the hood,” and invest over time. The payoff will be meaningful behavior change, easier communication and an ability to get the job done right the first time and in less time. Isn’t that worth it?

Contact Shelley now to find out what’s really going on with your staff!!