Three Critical Conversations that Boost Employee Engagement

Dec 9, 2014

In our TLNT article Despite Your Best Efforts, Why Aren’t Your Employees More Engaged?, we promised to provide follow-up “How to” articles on how get the information you need from your employees about how to boost their engagement.

As we noted, the information you need to boost employee engagement, is NOT found in surveys, but through individual one-on-one conversations.

Why? Because employee engagement is an individual experience.

So, we’ll focus this time on three (3) types of conversations that will provide you with critical engagement-boosting information from your employees.

1. The “Start, Stop, Continue, Increase” Conversation

It probably won’t come as a surprise to you to know that not EVERYTHING you do as a manager brings out the best in each employee.

Just as you may be unaware of the things you say or do that diminish engagement and performance of your employees, you are also probably unaware of some of the things you do that make a powerful, positive impact.

There are also managerial best practices that you are not yet doing that would make a huge positive impact if employed them. you The “Start, Stop, Continue, Increase’ Conversation helps you uncover valuable information in each of these four areas.

Here’s how the “Start, Stop, Continue, Increase” conversation might sound:

Lisa, one of the things I like to do with each new hire is get specific feedback on how I manage … specific feedback on what works for them and what doesn’t. So, with that in mind, I’d like to get your responses to the following questions:

  • First, what’s one thing that I do that is really helpful in terms of bringing out the best in you that I should keep doing?
  • The second question I’d like to get your response to is ‘What’s one thing I do that irritates or frustrates you, so that would be the one thing I should STOP doing, if I want to bring out the best in you?
  • The third question I’ll be asking is, ‘What’s one thing you recommend I START doing, because by doing this, I will make the biggest positive impact in your work experience and in my ability to bring out the best in you?’
  • Finally, what’s something I do that is really positive, but, I could be doing it a lot more?

Those are the four questions I’d like to get your take on. So, here they are on a sheet of paper. To give you some time to think rather than catch you off guard, how about if you think about your answers and then we can go through them next week when we meet?”

Because most employees have never been asked such questions, and because many people need time to think through their questions and responses, you will get better quality answers by letting them reflect on their answers.

2. The “What Would Be Most Helpful?” Conversation

This is a more focused, situation-specific request for feedback on your management style.

So, here’s how it might sound:

When I asked you to go search out that difficult answer, was that helpful or would it have been better for me to have teamed you up with Joe?”

Asking “What would be most helpful?” in the conversation gives you valuable information you can use to tailor your approach to each specific employee. As we discussed in our previous article, each employee has their own unique combination of motivators, de-motivators, preferences, and aspirations.

One size does not fit all, and your ability to bring out the best in each employee depends on your ability to tailor your approach to meet each employee’s unique combination.

Asking this also strengthens your relationship with the employee. Even if they don’t have a ready answer, your asking the question demonstrates that you want to manage that employee in the way that works best for them. It communicates that you care enough to want their feedback.

Also, the courage and humility demonstrated in such a request engenders tremendous respect and appreciation in the employee.

Showing a willingness to get feedback

Most employees have gotten the message from their bosses over the years, “Because I’m the boss, I get to act however I want and you need to learn how to deal with it.” Having a manager really care about their impact and be open to growing is both rare and impressive.

Asking for this feedback also communicates to the employee that you value a willingness to get feedback and to learn. You are modeling for them the type of openness and coach-ability you want from them. You are also modeling interpersonal courage, something you need from them.

Finally, your interest in employee feedback about how to best manage them communicates a general interest in feedback and input. This message can send a message with significant reverberations.

For instance, years ago a taciturn supervisor in a year-long training program took seriously the suggestion to ask his team for feedback on his management style. Team members later shared with the instructor that because this supervisor made himself vulnerable and demonstrated a sincere interest in their feedback, they became willing to share feedback and give input on other issues.

Because they felt far more comfortable making suggestions, they become far more involved, which led to a far greater interest and ownership. That one simple act totally changed the dynamic on the team. It went from cautious reserve to active participation and engagement.

3. The “What would You Like to Know About Me?” Conversation

This conversation is especially useful for new employees. It saves them from the unnecessary anxiety caused by an uncommunicative boss who won’t express explicitly what they want from their employees and what makes them happy.

Here’s an example of how this conversation might sound:

Just as we’ve been having conversations about what works best for you and how I can bring out your best, I’d like to have what I call a “What Would You Like to Know About Me?” conversation with you. I have found this to be really helpful with new employees.

This is where they ask anything they want about what I look for most in my team members, my core values, specific business goals, things that drive ME crazy as a supervisor … that sort of thing. So with that in mind, what would you like to know about me that you would find helpful?”

Besides helping them get to know you, this question also allows you to model that it’s beneficial to be direct and open about who you are and what you want. This is a subtle invitation to the employee to do the same with you.

OK, time to start asking questions

If you’ve never had conversations like these before, we understand they can feel awkward.

To get things started, you can give this article to your team and let them know you will be asking these questions. You can also break the ice with an “I just read this article” opener.

Here’s an example of how that might sound:

Hey, I just read this article about how important it is to get input from each team member about what managerial practices are the most useful and which ones are not so useful for them. Since, as you know everyone is different, what works for one person might not work well for another. Since I want to do my best to bring out your best, I’m going to be asking you and the others some questions about this so I can get your feedback.”

Also, if you have suggestions about other questions you’ve found to be useful or techniques for eliciting engagement-enhancing information, please weigh in below in the Comments.

Or, if you try one of these out, we’d love to hear what has been your team’s reaction.