Every organization should strive to better understand their employees. YOU should work to better understand YOUR employees!
If you want to increase employee performance and productivity, to retain the right team members, to have an employer brand that helps you attract more of the right talent, you need to understand your employees. Here are five tips to help you better understand your employees:
To Better Understand Your Employees, Improve Observation Skills
You can ask and ask and ask but you need to get good at observing non-verbal clues. Someone might say they like it on your team but they really hate it. Paying attention to their body language might give you a hint that they don’t like it on your team. Listening to how they talk about your team, your projects, your customers, processes, etc. can clue you in.
I think it’s important that we listen to what our people tell us. Trust what they tell us, but use other ways to determine what they aren’t telling us.
Maybe they really do like the team, but they have a lot of ideas for improvement. Please remember that any improvements they share with you are for the good of the organization, not a personal insult. Too often improvement suggestions are taken the wrong way, or completely disregarded. I’d say that, in general, an employee who suggests improvements likes your team well enough to risk putting their ideas out there and having them ignored or rejected. This is a good example of observing where they are at, and better understanding them.
To Better Understand Your Employees, Religiously Practice One-on-ones
Annual reviews should be a thing of the past. Well, let me rephrase that: if annual reviews are the only time you meet one-on-one with each employee, change your ways.
A few years ago I worked at a company that did weekly hour-l0ng one-on-ones. If you had, say, ten direct reports, you could easily spend 25% of your time in one-on-ones! That seemed like an enormous amount of committment from every manager. Consider most managers feel behind in their work, always trying to catch up, that 25% of their time could easily be spent on their own tasks.
But the company invested this time in their team and, having worked there long enough, I am convinced it was an excellent investment.
I get it: you don’t have time. You have your own work to do. You have too many direct reports.
Consider this: A manager’s job is to optimize their team’s productivity. You need to provide the right training, environment, and tools to help each person do their job as effectively as possible. A one-on-one is an excellent time to understand your employee’s needs. You can learn if the training, environment, or tools are what they should be, or if you need to improve them.
What do you talk about? Plenty of things. I loved when my boss and I talked about me and my life. He was genuinely interested in how I was doing. Sometimes we’d talk about projects or products, but mostly these were checkins to see how things were going and to get an idea of how I felt about work, what issues he needed to be aware of that might impact my work, etc.
How you do one-on-ones might change over time. One thing I’d encourage you to do is to remember each person you talk with is a human being and they deserve your time and respect. Go from there and you should be on the path to great one-on-ones.
To Better Understand Your Employees, Increase Employee Engagement
Employee engagement is much more than a popular buzz phrase that HR geeks use. Employee engagement means you have done things so it’s easy for your employees to feel engaged… to feel like they are a part of your vision and mission. They feel like their contributions matter. They feel like their ideas are heard. They feel important.
This engagement results in employees who feel like they can share things that might be hard to hear. Consider this feedback a gift! When your team risks their career and their standing to tell you something that can bring goodness to everyone recognize they could be nervous. They might wonder if their idea that perhaps has been keeping them up at night will get ignored or rejected.
An employee who feels engaged, in a culture that is welcoming, will help you understand them. You’ll understand their needs, what they like, what they would like to see improved, and why they stay around. This might sound like management 101 (and it should be) but there are too many organizations out there who don’t want to hear what their teams say.
To Better Understand Your Employees, Poll Them With Effective Surveys
How can you better understand your employees? How about just asking them the right questions? The key to employee engagement surveys is to ask well-written questions. Don’t ask questions that are leading, or questions that only have answers that you want to hear. Employee engagement surveys should get information you can use to improve things.
Your employees want you to understand their needs and ideas better. They want to tell you how to improve your products and processes. They think about this outside of work, just as you do. In many cases, they are closer to problems than you are. When you ask them good questions, and make it clear you want to know what they think, and that you’ll seriously consider their input, they will feel more confident sharing what needs to be shared.
Employee engagement surveys can be sent out regularly, perhaps every quarter or every six months. Each set of survey results will give you data you can use to see how things are improving. Let a series of survey results show you trends, and make sure you take action so employees know you want to hear their feedback and, when possible, will act on their ideas.
To Better Understand Your Employees, Spend More Time With Them
I’ve worked at organizations where management and leadership are pretty out of touch. They typically won’t have lunch with their teams, or non-leaders. They are too busy with catered meals or going out.
You really miss out on opportunities to better understand your employees when you are not available. You don’t have to always eat with them but make sure you are available. Make it easy for them to come to you. Make it common for you to go to them. When you talk with them practice the pillars of emotional intelligence (which includes awareness of yourself and awareness of others, as well as empathy).
If your employees are freaked out that “the boss” came to talk to them you have a great opportunity to change that. Normalize leaders and managers talking, casually, with your team. It is during these casual conversations where you build trust (both ways) and give them opportunities to open up. It’s from these casual conversations you might get some of your best, most important ideas to improve operations, products, or other metrics to make your offerings better.
You don’t get that from talking to them once a year for a few minutes. Figure out how to get out of your office and away from spreadsheets and get valuable time with the people who are making your organization successful.
Results of Working to Better Understand Your Employees
If you made it this far I imagine you have a really good idea what the benefits are when you put in effort to understand your employees. A better work environment, a stronger positive culture, longevity from key employees, easier hiring because you have an employer brand that attracts top talent… the list goes on.
Basically everything your HR department is working on. Things business professors write cases studies about.
More important, these results make your organization stronger. They increase profits and reduce expenses. They make your team the envy of the industry.
If you are on a path to understand your employees, and see these benefits, let’s talk! We’re obsesssed about this stuff and want to work with organizations that are looking for measurable improvements in their culture and teams!