Readers of my column in management roles will often write to me asking about what they can do to improve their relationships with employees. It's not that hard, I tell them: Simply spend more time creating margin to have that often-neglected ritual of one-on-one conversations with them.
For too many bosses, this requires a shift in perspective in how they manage people. In the end, it's about what employees need from you, not what you need from them. When you are curious enough to find out what's going on with your team members, how they feel about things, what they're working on, and what support they need, you show that you care. They, in turn, feel valued, empowered, and give discretionary effort that will raise productivity.
Granted, this will require a new level of transparency on both sides of the table. I say this because relationships don't just materialize out of thin air. Leaders need to model transparency by asking the right questions for open and productive dialog to take place.
4 Questions that need to be asked once per week.
Before your employees have a comfort level to be this transparent without any repercussion, as I mentioned, leaders must model transparency first. That means ensuring psychological safety among your tribes by pumping the fear out of the room and allowing employees to share openly in good faith -- the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Once the value of transparency has been established as a foundation for one-on-one conversations, and to help set the stage for great discussions that will increase your employees' engagement, I urge leaders to ask four crucial questions:
1. How would you describe your work experience this week in one word, and why?
By allowing them the freedom to express that one word, and hear their explanation, it will increase your self-awareness to explore problem-solving and solutions to problems you may not know was there. Thank them for their transparency, and ensure their safety once again, and that you have their best interest in mind as your allies.
2. Tell me about a good day of work you had recently. What does that look like?
You're asking it to dig into their memory so they can paint for you a clear and specific positive experience at work, what they enjoyed, and how it engaged them. The point here is to learn everything you can about replicating the experience so that every day looks more like that.
3. List three things that motivate you to do your work each day.
As you invest more time talking to your valued employees, what you get back in these answers may give you tremendous insights into what they enjoy about their work and company. Ask follow up probing questions as you listen. Why does something in particular motivate them? Is it a newly-discovered strength that they can utilize elsewhere to bring out their best?
4. What is one thing that I could do to make you more productive?
Make sure to hold them to just one thing. Give them time to process and don't rush them. Silence is golden. If they come up empty, ask about the last time they didn't enjoy their work. What could have been done to make it better? If they're new to the job, ask about a previous job--what about it worked and didn't work?
Remember your "why" for asking these questions so you don't lose your intent; it's to build up the capacity to be transparent -- individually and as an organization -- and getting right to the heart of the people you lead. You'll learn what makes them tick, and how best to serve their needs so they can be more productive. This is what I tell my readers in management roles when they ask me, "How can I improve my relationships with employees?"