Most employees need only a handful of things to be satisfied and productive at work. The key is getting employees to tell you what those things are. And they might just tell you, if you ask.
Effective management involves asking questions during the interview process, after an employee starts, and again 90-days to six months into the job.
I recommend asking the seven questions below. I call the questions, Candor Questions.
Candor Question number one: “What brought you to this company? Why did you accept this job? What are you hoping the job will provide?” Ask one of these three questions. Pick the one you like best.
Candor Question number two: “What would make you leave this job? What are your career deal breakers, things you just can’t tolerate at work?” Ask either of these questions.
Candor Question number three: “What type of work, skills, and/or areas of our business do you want to learn more about?”
Candor Question number four: “Tell me about the best manager you ever had. What made him/her the best manager?” This will tell you what the employee needs from you as a manager and is a much better question than, “What do you need from me as your manager?” That is a hard question to answer. Telling you the best manager s/he ever had is easy.
Candor Question number five: “Tell me about the worst manager you ever had? What made him/her the worst manager?”
Candor Question number six: “What are your pet peeves at work? What will frustrate you?” Why find out the hard way what frustrates employees when it’s so easy to ask. This question demonstrates that you want your employees to be happy and that you will flex your own preferences, when possible, to meet employees’ needs.
Candor Question number seven: “How do you feel about being contacted via cell phone or text outside of business hours? How do you feel about receiving emails during the evenings and weekends?”
If you’ve participated in one of our management trainings or received a box of Candor Questions for Managers, you know I could go on . But these seven questions are a good start.
Regardless of age, work, and educational background, employees have a few things in common.
Employees want to:
• Work for someone who takes an interest in and knows them
• Feel valued and appreciated for their contributions
• Be part of and contribute to something greater than themselves
• Feel respected as a person. Managers respect their time, expertise, and needs
Taking the time to get to know employees throughout your working relationship accomplishes many employee needs.
If you have long time employees, it’s never too late to ask these questions. Regardless of for how long employees have worked for you, they’ll appreciate you asking. Don’t worry that employees will raise an eyebrow and wonder why you’re asking now. They’ll just be happy you’re asking. You can simply say, “I realized that I’ve never overtly asked these questions. I just assume I know. But I don’t want to do that. During our next one-on-one meeting I’d like to ask you these questions and you can ask me anything you’d like.”
If you have a manager who will never ask you these questions, provide him/her the information. Don’t wait to be asked. You’re 100% accountable for your career. Tell your manager, “There are a few things about myself I want to share with you. I think this information will help ensure I do great work for the organization for a long time.”
Managers, the better your relationship with your employees and the more you know about what your employees need from you, the organization, and the job, the easier employees are to engage, retain, and manage. Stop guessing and start asking.
No one likes to hear people complain, especially people who go on, and on, and on. But there is a reason people complain for longer than may seem necessary. For the most part, the people who sound like a broken record don’t feel heard. And when people don’t feel heard, they repeat themselves, again, and again, and again.
One of the first practices for how to handle customer complaints taught during customer service training is to acknowledge the other person’s concern. Demonstrate that you listened and heard. We often think that complainers want us to solve their problems. That’s not always the case. Sometimes feeling heard is enough, even if there is no resolution to the complaint.
Last week I had a horrible experience in a hotel. I called the front desk staff to voice my concerns with how an incident was handled. Her response: “Ok….ok….ok.” I wasn’t satisfied. So the next morning I spoke to the front desk manager. She responded by explaining why her staff had done what they did. Still, no apology or demonstration of understanding my frustration. So I went to the hotel general manager, who did all the right things. She listened and apologized. She didn’t defend or explain. And then I stopped escalating my complaint.
Here are a eight tips for how to handle customer complaints:
How to handle customer complaints tip #1: Resist the temptation to defend yourself, your team, or your organization.
How to handle customer complaints tip #2: Watch your tone of voice. If you sound annoyed, the other person will just become more upset and will, you guessed it, continue complaining.
How to handle customer complaints tip #3: Tell the person you’re sorry for their experience. Apologizing doesn’t mean the person is right or that you agree. You are simply sorry they had the experience they did. That could sound like, “I’m sorry that was your experience. That sounds frustrating. That’s certainly not the experience we want customers to have.”
How to handle customer complaints tip #4: Ask clarifying questions, if you need to. That could sound like, “Can I ask you a few questions, so I fully understand the situation?”
How to handle customer complaints tip #5: Paraphrase what the person said to ensure you understand the complaint and to demonstrate that you heard. Nothing sounds better to someone who is upset than another person who understands their concerns. That could sound like, “I just want to be sure I understand your concern. You’re concerned that _______ “ (repeat or paraphrase what the person said.)
How to handle customer complaints tip #6: Apologize again for the person’s experience. Often, all the person wants is an authentic apology. An apology doesn’t admit fault or wrong doing. You are simply apologizing for the person’s perception of their experience.
How to handle customer complaints tip #7: Tell the person what action(s) you’ll take, if any. People like to know that their complaints aren’t wasted.
How to handle customer complaints tip #8: Don’t be a black hole. Circle back to the person and let him know what action was or wasn’t taken.
The key to getting someone to stop complaining is to make the other person feel heard. Acknowledge the complaint. Watch your tone of voice. Apologize for the person’s experience. And watch people’s complaints dissipate more quickly than you thought possible.
I’m a big fan of taking responsibility and personal accountability. I think being accountable is easier than passing the buck. When I’m accountable, I have more power and control. When someone else is accountable, I have neither. But there’s a difference between being accountable and apologizing for yourself.
Last week I vowed to stop saying, “I’m sorry.” And yet, the next words out of my mouth were apologetic. Apologizing for oneself is so natural, it’s pervasive, aka, a hard habit to break.
Below are a few strategies for being accountable but not apologetic:
- Establish clear priorities and boundaries. Having clearly established boundaries makes decision making easy.
- Only commit to things you know you will do. For personal situations, only commit to things you genuinely want to do.
- Tell the truth. If you don’t plan to do something, say so, without apology. “Thank you but no” has a lot of power.
- Know your limits and what you need to be healthy and functioning at an optimum level. If you need eight hours of sleep, structure your life to get it. If you need weekends focused on your family, do that. Taking care of yourself enables you to take care of others.
- Renegotiate when you need to. If you realize something you agreed to isn’t feasible or in your best interest, renegotiate versus suffer through it. Or, keep your commitment, but don’t agree again the next time a similar opportunity or request comes around.
- Be careful where you invest your energy. I love my family and friends, and they will never get a printed party invitation or holiday card from me. I want to do both; I really do. But just thinking about collecting addresses puts me over the edge.
- Give yourself a break. You’re doing the best you can. You’re a human like everyone else. We’re all doing the best we can.
Being accountable isn’t being perfect, it’s being human. Be yourself. Take care of yourself. And do your best, unapologetically.
Breakdowns happen. There will be days people won’t give you what you need to complete projects. Things will break. And you will look bad. When breakdowns happen, I always ask myself, “What could I have done to prevent this situation?” or “What did I do to help create this situation?” I see myself as accountable for whatever breakdowns occur.
It may sound odd that I always look at myself when breakdowns occur, even when it’s someone else who didn’t do their job, but it’s just easier. I can’t control anyone else. But I can control me (admittedly, some days I do a better job at this than others). When I can identify something I could have done to make a situation go differently, I feel more in control – aka better.
It’s like getting off a highway versus sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. The alternate route may take longer, but at least I’m moving. I feel like I’m doing something and thus have more control. Taking responsibility for everything that happens to you is similar. When you’re accountable, you can do something to improve your situation. When someone else is accountable, you’re at the mercy of other people and have very little control.
There are, of course, exceptions to the practice that “we’re always accountable.” Terrible acts of violence, crime, and illness happen to people, about which they have no control. But in general, in our day-to-day lives, there is typically something we did to contribute to a bad situation or something we can do to improve it.
Here are five practices for improving difficult situations, even when you didn’t create the mess (alone).
1) Ask more questions. If you’re not clear about what someone is expecting from you, ask. You’re responsible for doing good work, regardless of the type of direction you receive.
2) Tell people what you think they’re expecting and how you’re planning to approach a project or task, to ensure everyone’s expectations are aligned. Clarifying expectations beats doing several weeks worth of work, only to discover what you created isn’t what someone else had it mind.
3) Ask for specific feedback as projects progress. Don’t wait until the end of a project to find out how you performed.
4) Say “thank you” to whatever feedback you receive versus defending yourself. People will be pleasantly surprised and their upset will dissipate more quickly. That could sound like, “That’s good feedback. I’m sorry that happened. Thank you for telling me.”
5) Admit when you make a mistake or when you wish you had done something differently. Don’t wait for someone to tell you. Saying, “I’m sorry. How can I make this right with you?” goes a long way.
I consistently ask the following questions:
“What could I have done differently?”
“What did I do to contribute to this situation?”
“What can I do now to make this situation better?”
I encourage you to ask these questions, even when someone else drops the ball. You can’t control others, but you can control you. And your happiness and success is your responsibility.
The normal, natural reaction to negative feedback is to become defensive, a response I’ve labeled as The Freak Out.
Everyone, even the people you think do little work, wants to be seen as good – competent, hardworking, and adding value. When anyone calls our competence into question, we get defensive. Becoming defensive is an automatic response that we have to train out of ourselves.
Until the people you work with train themselves not to become visibly defensive when receiving feedback, just expect it. And be happy when you get a defensive response. It means the person is breathing and cares enough about what you’re saying to get upset.
While you can’t get rid of a defensive response to feedback, you can reduce it by following a few feedback practices. Practice these methods of giving feedback and your input will be heard and acted on, more often than not.
Employee feedback practice one: Don’t wait. Give feedback shortly after something happens. But do wait until you’re not upset. Practice the 24-hour guideline and the one week rule. If you’re upset, wait at least 24-hours to give feedback, but not longer than a week. If the feedback recipient can’t remember the situation you’re talking about, you waited too long to give feedback, and you will appear to be someone who holds a grudge.
Employee feedback practice two: Be specific. Provide examples. If you don’t have an example, you’re not ready to give feedback.
Employee feedback practice three: Praise in public. Criticize in private. Have all negative feedback discussions privately.
Employee feedback practice four: Effective feedback discussions are a dialogue; both people talk. When the feedback recipient responds defensively, don’t be thwarted by their reaction. Listen to what they have to say and keep talking. Don’t get distracted.
Employee feedback practice five: Give small amounts of feedback at a time – one or two strengths and areas for improvement during a conversation. People cannot focus on more than one or two things at a time.
Employee feedback practice six: Give feedback on the recipient’s schedule and in their workspace, if you are working in person and the recipient has a door. It will give the other person a sense of control and they will be more receptive.
Employee feedback practice seven: Talk with people – either in person or via phone. Don’t send an email or voicemail. Email is for wimps and will only damage your relationships.
Employee feedback practice eight: Prepare. Make notes of what you plan to say and practice out loud. Articulating a message and thinking about it in your head are not the same thing.
Employee feedback practice nine: Avoid The Empathy Sandwich – positive feedback before and after negative feedback. Separate the delivery of positive and negative feedback, so your message is clear.
Employee feedback practice ten: Offer an alternative. Suggest other ways to approach challenges. If people knew another way to do something, they would do it that way.
You can deal with whatever reaction to negative feedback you get. The other person’s response might make you uncomfortable, but that’s ok. You’ll survive. Try to practice the guidelines above, and if you don’t, and you ‘do it all wrong,’ at least you said something. Just opening your mouth is half the battle. When you come from a good place of truly wanting to make a difference for the other person, and you have both the trust and permission to give feedback, you really can’t go wrong.
You disagree with something someone above you said or did. How do you tell the person without actually telling him?
Lots of people think they can’t give direct feedback when talking to someone at a higher level. I’m here to tell you that that’s not true. The ability to speak freely has little to do with titles and more to do with the quality of your relationship. When you’re comfortable with people and have mutual trust, you can say (almost) anything, regardless of titles and levels. But that’s not the true purpose of today’s blog. So I’m going to stick to the topic at hand –what to say when you feel like you can’t say very much.
When you don’t have the relationship to say what you really think, manage up by asking a question instead. Engage the person in a conversation. At some point during the conversation, you’ll be able to say what you think.
For example, you question a decision but don’t want to overtly say you question the decision.
Here’s how the conversation could go:
“I wasn’t involved in the conversations to select our new payroll software. Can you give me a little history? What had us choose our current provider?”
“What software features were important when selecting the software?”
“What problem were we trying to solve that drove the need to make a change?”
“What do you like about the software we picked? What don’t you like?”
** Obviously this is meant to be a discussion, not an interrogation. Ask one question at a time and see where the conversation goes. You may ask all of these questions and you may ask only one.
The point is to gather more information. Manage up by seeking to understand before you express an opinion. As the conversation progresses, you might see opportunities to express your point of view.
Here are three suggestions if you’re going to practice the technique of asking questions as a way to manage up and eventually give feedback:
1. When you ask a question, come from a place of genuine curiosity. If you aren’t truly curious and asking questions is just a technique you found in some blog, it will show.
2. Watch your tone of voice. If you can safely add the words “you dummy” to a question, you have a tone issue.
3. Be patient. Asking questions may feel easier than giving direct feedback, but it also takes more patience and time.
As the conversation progresses, you might be asked for your opinion. Before saying what you think, remember, no one likes to be told that s/he is wrong. And the person you’re talking to likely had a hand in making the decision you’re questioning. Be careful not to judge.
Instead of overtly judging, consider saying something like:
“I think the new system has potential and also has some limitations. Do you want feedback as we use the system and get to know it better?”
“What specifically would you like feedback on? What are you not looking for feedback on?”
“What’s the best way to provide input and to whom?”
You can speak more freely when you have the relationship to do so and have permission. Until you have both, earn the right to give feedback by asking questions from a place of genuine curiosity. And only provide your point of view when you’re asked and are certain you have all the information to defend your position.
Employees leave managers not jobs. We’ve all heard this 100 times.
One of the most prevalent reasons for employee turnover is boredom and lack of growth. We’ve also heard this many times.
We know why employees leave jobs. The question is what must managers do to engage and retain their best people. The answer is actually quite simple, although not necessarily easy to execute.
Employees want to know that their manager:
- Knows them
- Cares about and is invested in their careers
- Gives feedback so they can improve
- Provides opportunities so they can develop
In other words, employees need attention, and attention requires time – time many managers may not feel they have.
Here is a five-step formula for employee retention and employee engagement:
- Get to know employees better and differently.
- Have meaningful, one-on-one meetings [at least] monthly.
- Give balanced feedback as work is done.
- Ask for and be open to feedback.
- Create opportunities for employees to do the work that interests them most.
Managers, how do you make time for these meetings when you are busy and have several direct reports?
- Meet for 15-30 minutes.
- Ask direct reports to create an agenda and run the meetings.
- Ask direct reports to send follow-up notes of decisions and plans made during meetings. Give some of the accountability away.
- If meetings get cancelled, reschedule as soon as possible. Direct reports take cancelled meetings personally. Cancelled meetings that are not rescheduled send the message that managers don’t care about employees and their careers.
Employees, if your manager doesn’t schedule meetings with you:
- Ask permission to put a monthly meeting on your manager’s calendar.
- Provide rationale for why you want to meet – to get your manager’s feedback and ensure you’re focused on the right work.
- Ask permission to reschedule meetings when they get cancelled.
- Don’t take cancelled meetings personally.
- Offer to meet with your manager via the phone when it’s convenient for him/her. Leverage commute and travel time.
Employees need time with their managers. Meaningful discussions and work result in employee engagement and employee retention. So managers, make the time, even when you don’t feel you have it. Ask questions you don’t ask now. Give feedback, even if it’s uncomfortable. Give your employees an opportunity to do the work that interests them most. And watch your employee engagement and employee retention improve. And if your manager doesn’t do these things, politely and persistently ask. You won’t get what you don’t ask for. We are all 100% accountable for our careers.
I think Instacart is a brilliant idea. I make a grocery list online, someone else goes shopping for me, and drops my groceries on my porch. What a great way to save time, unless I want a certain brand of canned tomatoes with no rosemary, and two green bananas, three that are almost ripe, and one that is ripe right now. Meaning, if I want my groceries a certain way, I need to go shopping myself. No one else will pick precisely what I will. And delegating work and managing people is the same.
No one will do something just like you will. They might do it better or worse, but either way, work won’t be done just as you would do it. If you want something done precisely your way, you’re likely going to need to do it yourself.
There is little more demoralizing than working hard on a document and having your manager red line it with edits that aren’t wrong, they’re just not her way. This kind of feedback makes employees wonder why they bothered doing the work in the first place. Employees find themselves thinking and possibly saying, “If you’re going to change my work to be more your way, you should just do it yourself.”
This isn’t to say that if you have a vision for how work should be done that you shouldn’t delegate. Managers need to delegate work or they will be focused on the wrong things, exhausted, and resentful, and employees won’t grow, develop, and be properly utilized.
Managers need to set clear expectations, follow up to review work, provide regular feedback as the work is in process, and then expect and accept that completed projects won’t look just like what they would have done. Even when employees produce great work, that work likely won’t be a mirror image of what the manager would have done herself.
If getting work that is slightly askew from what you would have done works for you, delegate the work. If work produced must be a certain way, you should likely do it yourself, or risk both you and your employees’ frustration.
Here are six steps on how to delegate, a skill I think most managers can strengthen:
How to delegate step one: Provide clear instructions to the person to whom you’re delegating. If you have an image of what something should look like, provide a sample document.
How to delegate step two: Ask the person to whom you delegated to tell you what you’re expecting. Don’t ask, “Do you have any questions?” The right answer to that question is, “No,” and gives you no insight about the person’s understanding of your expectations. Instead, ask, “So I know I’ve been clear, what am I asking you to do?” Or you could ask, “Based on what I’ve said, what do you think I’m looking for?” There are lots of ways to assess a person’s understanding. You simply need to get the person talking.
How to delegate step three: Don’t assume people know what to do. We have all left someone’s office with a new project thinking, “I have no idea where to start.” And then that project goes on the bottom of the pile.
Ask the person, “What are you going to do first?” If they give you an answer that tells you they know what to do, step back. They’ve earned some freedom. If they give you an answer that will not lead to the results you want, step in and offer help.
How to delegate step four: Ask to see work as the work is completed versus reviewing all of the work when the project is done. Giving a lot of upgrade feedback after work is completed is demoralizing to employees and wastes a lot of time. Tell employees, “I’d like to see your progress every Friday (or whatever interval is appropriate depending on the length and complexity of the project). This isn’t to micromanage you, it’s to ensure you don’t do a bunch of work that I will want changed. I don’t want you to waste your time.”
How to delegate step five: Give candid feedback when you review work. Don’t say something is fine if it’s not. Ask for changes while the work is in its early stages versus when it’s almost complete.
How to delegate step six: Resist the temptation to edit work or give feedback on work that is correct but wasn’t done your way. Remember, if you want something done your way, sometimes it makes sense to do it yourself.
When it makes sense to do something yourself: When you must have something a certain way and you’re the only person who can and will do it that way. If you’re ok with things not having the same words, formatting or flavor you’d put on them, delegate. If you need your bananas to look a certain way, go pick them up yourself. And both options are right answers. It’s ok to want what you want.
If you were on a diet and stepped on a scale that said, “Pretty good. Keep up the good work,” you’d return the scale, claiming it didn’t work. Likewise, if your GPS told you that it “seemed you were going the right way,” you’d probably use a different app. Scales and GPS provide us with feedback, but vague feedback is unhelpful. It doesn’t tell us what to do more, better, or differently, which is the purpose of feedback.
Vague, positive feedback is also inauthentic, and inauthenticity smells. Hearing you did a great job is nice, but utterly unhelpful because the feedback recipient doesn’t know what he did well and what to replicate. If you want people to replicate a behavior, tell them precisely what they did well that you want them to do again.
Most feedback training focuses on giving negative feedback, because it’s so hard to do, but we’re not much better at giving positive feedback. Giving useful, positive feedback takes attention, observation, and timely communication. In short, it’s difficult.
I too find myself telling my team members, “You did a great job on…” I know vague words like these serve as a short pick-me-up. My team probably smiles and appreciates the recognition, but I also know I haven’t given them substantive direction of what actions I want them to replicate. Those of you who have participated in feedback training with me know that I call vague input Cap’n Crunch – all of the sweetness, with none of the nutrients.
To give effective, positive feedback, simply state one or more specific actions you want the person to replicate.
Here are a few examples of positive feedback:
Cap’n Crunch: “You did a great job on……”
Positive feedback example one: “You did a great job onboarding our new analyst. You outlined what he needed to do during his first 90-days to be successful. He now knows precisely what he has to do and won’t have to guess.”
Cap’n Crunch: “Thanks for being so committed to our business.”
Positive feedback example two: “Thanks for calling in to today’s team meeting on a day you had off. Your participation helped us make a decision that would have taken much longer without your participation. I appreciate your commitment to our business.”
Cap’n Crunch: “Thanks for paying attention to the things that may impact us negatively in the marketplace.” This is not terrible, but not as effective as it could be.
Positive feedback example three: “Thanks for paying attention to the things that may impact us negatively in the marketplace. I appreciate you tracking the new products our competitors are launching. It helps me know where we are ahead and behind.”
Don’t assume people know what they did well and that they will replicate positive behavior without receiving positive feedback. Watch people’s actions and tell them, shortly after they do something, what they did well. And watch those positive behaviors be repeated.
Every time I ignore the red flags I see when interviewing a candidate, or when I feel an employee is struggling, or a project is off track, I pay the price. Every single time.
You interview a candidate who has had six jobs in the last year. You think, “Maybe this one will work out.” No it won’t. Move on. You haven’t gotten an update from a project team in over a month. You think, “This group is typically reliable. Things are probably fine.” Check in. Even the most diligent employees need accountability and attention.
They call them red flags for a reason. If you suspect a problem, there likely is one. Don’t just wait and ‘see how things go.’ Make a hard decision, get more information, or get involved. Wait and see is often a recipe for disaster.
Sometimes we don’t get involved because we don’t have the time or want to focus on other things. Other times we just don’t trust or listen to our gut.
Here are a six steps you can take to help listen to yourself and ensure you don’t overlook or ignore red flags:
1. Become very clear about your desired outcome. Decide what you want.
2. Eliminate distractions. Get quiet, aka, still your mind.
3. Think about the situation at hand. Weigh the facts and your options.
4. Decide without belaboring.
5. Act on your decision.
6. Don’t look back. Your initial decision is usually the right one.
Trusting and listening to ourselves can be hard. Perhaps it’s the fear of making a mistake or being wrong. Chances are you’re right. So pay attention to the red flags, trust yourself, and listen to your gut.