Here’s a secret to manager success

July 21, 2008

I care a lot about employees. I’m not a manager, I don’t have a team of people reporting to me. But as a professional communicator, I am always thinking about the employees who will read our messages. What will they think? How will they feel? What will they do? Will what I’m about to say help them feel connected to the organization… or not?

This thought process naturally means that employee engagement is looming large on my radar screen these days. Corporate America could accomplish so much, employees could be so happy / satisfied / passionate about what they’re doing… if only we could engage them.

So here’s an idea, courtesy of Tim Wright at Culture to Engage. His recent post, To Ask Is To Answer Is To Ask, shares the secret of one of his best managers. You should read his whole post, but here’s the punchline. Just add this one question to your repertoire:

What questions do you have for me?

Genius! Notice how it assumes employees have questions, because they do. If you start asking this enough, people will start to answer. They’ll save up their questions because they’ll know their opportunity is coming soon. Then, provided you Shut up and listen, you will have started a conversation. And that, folks, is employee engagement. It’s fast, it’s easy, it will cost you nothing — and yet there’s so much to gain.

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Why should managers and leaders care about communicating?

July 9, 2008

Whatever else you thought your job was about, chances are it involves a lot more writing than you ever imagined — through just email alone! But if you’re a supervisor or program manager, communication takes an even more prominent role in your work… or it should. Here’s why:

  • Someone wants to know what’s happening in your department. It might be your supervisor. It might be an auditor. It might be an HR person. Whatever the case, are you prepared to talk about how your team is performing?
  • Your project or program requires that you create messages to employees or customers, whether the messages are emails or brochures or fliers or web content or some other swanky medium. Do you know where to start?
  • Undoubtedly your department or project team has a list of goals to accomplish, all on different timelines. To accomplish these goals, your team has to be humming along at a pretty good clip, right? How can your team be the efficient “machine” it needs to be if the team members aren’t talking?
  • More than that, as a manager or team leader or project lead or whatever you want to call yourself, you have a unique opportunity to influence the lives of the people you’re working with. Their interaction with you can be positive or negative. To use a lovely boating metaphor: Think about the wake you’re leaving.
  • OK, now hold on while I get a little deep. Remember those department or project goals you had? What happens if you miss? What happens to the company goals or business strategy? This stuff matters. It matters if you’re a public company with obligations to shareholders. It matters if you work in a private company in an economy like this. It certainly matters if you’re in the nonprofit world. So, connecting the dots, if your team can achieve its goals by communicating better, couldn’t the organization achieve its goals if every department were communicating better?

It sounds a little cheesy, but I have this vision that we might actually be able to improve not only our happiness at work but also the way our organizations perform, if we — as leaders — get better at communicating. This doesn’t have to be hard or painful or embarassing. Just talking. Just thinking about things a little differently maybe, or being open to new ideas. Whaddaya think? Can we fix anything just by talking about it?