When an executive comes to me with an employee problem I always ask how did this happen? How did it get to this point? The answer is often, “They didn’t tell me there was an issue.”
If blind sighted with employee issues, a close look at the management style and outcomes is in order. Is it possible there does not exist an environment or opportunity for employees to discuss issues? The problem [and the resolution] rests with the executive, not the employee.
For example: If I coach someone on the need to turn around or fire a trouble making employee and they refuse, it is because I failed to make my case, I can’t say, “He just doesn’t get it.” That’s not on my client. It means I have to find another way to convey the technique and importance.
Monthly meetings with employees don’t mean the content is sufficient. It is easy to believe that the fact of these meetings means you are listening or that employees feel they are listened to. Most managers use this time to tell employees about their project, their career opportunities, their importance to the team. And it is a monologue. When questions are asked, they tend to require only a yes or no response.
Make it a dialogue, an exchange, to engage.
Not: “I want to help you with your career objectives,”
Instead: “How can I help you reach your career objectives?”
Not: “Your next step is xxx.”
Instead: “What do you see as your next step?”
Not: “Here’s what you need to do to get promoted.”
Instead: “Help me understand your priorities.”
Not: “Here’s what you need to do to get there.”
Instead: “What do you need from me to get you there?”
Not: “You don’t have xx skill or experience.”
Instead: “What skills can you leverage? Which can we build?” “What’s the best way to acquire that knowledge?”
Is it money or career? Ask. Employees, especially those younger in their career, are not focused on building their career and therefore, career path and growth aren’t top of mind. Often, especially with the youngest workers, they are focused on making more money, fast, not growing their career. If you can show them building their skills and taking more responsibility equate to more money, you have their ear. Start there.
Ask what their financial goals are for the next two or three years. Ask what they are willing to contribute to get to those compensation goals. Where do they see themselves adding value? This is often a good point to help younger employees see that time in service is not enough to generate the income they desire. A road map to get there is often the beginning of an ongoing dialogue with someone who may become a long time employee who makes a strong contribution.
When asked where do you want to go, often the answer is, “I don’t know.” That is not the end of the conversation. If employee retention is your goal, learning what is important to each member of your team is a good first step.
I don’t know is an invitation to you to help them know.
Tell me what you are really good at.
What part of your job do you enjoy the most?
Where do you spend most of your time?
What intrigues you most about your project?
When you brag to your friends about your job, what do you say?
Are these things you see yourself building on?
What can I do to make that happen?
Often the “I don’t know” response is a cautious answer because the employee doesn’t think you/the company really cares. Once you get down to what they do well and what they want to learn, it is time to offer a mentor. Preferably someone in the company who had that job but is now two or three steps ahead. Mentored employees tend to contribute more, stay longer and feel more ‘ownership’ of their projects and team.
A corporate culture that invests in the mentoring system tends to be a very desirable employer and attract the best candidates. From a simple, “I don’t know,” a strong leader can build a very strong team. So I ask you, “How can I help?”