In a recent post, I wrote about employee engagement and offered five ways to engage employees. Apparently I am not the only one thinking about this based on the shares the post enjoyed.
There are any number of stats that reveal anemic levels of employee engagement, even among managers. I decided to pursue the topic in more detail this month.
Healthy Is Better Than Smart
But organizations also need to be healthy. By healthy he means there is open and productive dialogue and disagreement, no politics, the leadership team is cohesive, and there is clarity throughout the organization.
Just about every organization is smart; however, not many organizations are healthy.
The healthy is critical because it maximizes the smart. Healthy organizations then will often have a competitive advantage.
The Starting Point
In my 5 ways to Engage Employee post, I listed a few employee engagement basics. These fall into one of four categories.
It’s all about the culture. The culture creates the environment where all of the necessary attributes are able to grow and thrive. Most healthy work environments are happy work environments. People don’t dread work they actually enjoy it. More importantly, they understand that what they do makes a difference.
Healthy cultures don’t just happen by accident, they are made up of clear values and behaviors.
Social media tools will allow for more efficient connections, but the tools are only as helpful as the working relationships.
Collaborating is working across organizational and even social barriers to work together towards a common goal or end result.
Generally, people don’t care what you know until they know you care. This is about being human not inappropriately personal. Caring is taking notice of colleagues interests and, valuing their contributions.
Part of caring is connecting emotionally. Wade Harman describes emotionally connecting with your customers here. Many of these same strategies can be tailored to connect with your employees. The key to this is the context, connecting and thriving as human beings, not to come up with some kind of technique that is designed to manipulate.
So now that we’ve covered the basics (the starting point), what’s next? How do we create a deeper connection with employees? One approach to creating deeper connections is learning to ask good open ended questions.
7 Questions and a Few Statements
As a consultant I make my living by offering advice. I’m learning that there is a great deal of power in an open-ended question that encourages discovery and dialogue; equally important is listening. Be willing to allow moments of awkward silence.
I am also learning that curiosity is an ally. We all have filters; we are prone to judgment. Curiosity is a tool to circumvent the filters and judgment barriers. Curiosity leads to even more questions. Think of these questions and statements as a starter kit.
With each of the following, I’ll provide some ideas about when and how to use them.
- How can I help?
This works in almost any situation but it’s particularly effective when you sense a colleague, employee, or even a boss is overwhelmed or discouraged. Great leaders serve, which is a hallmark of caring, and it usually comes at a personal cost because most of us have too much to do. Helping builds connection and it shows you care more than words.
- What did you learn?
This is an effective question to ask after someone has made a mistake or feels they fell short of the goal. In today’s changing landscape, brands must learn to be agile and that means living in a continuous cycle of exploring new and different options. This process involves failure, so learning is essential to avoid making the same mistakes, and more importantly, to inspire colleagues to continue embracing risks in order to innovate and adapt.
- What else could we do?
We tend to be creatures of incremental change. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it can limit our thinking. Sometimes we try and explore but we hit a wall; we are tempted to give up. Use this question when an employee comes to you with a challenge or when you want to invite team collaboration to deal with a particular issue.
- What have you tried?
In our rush to judgment sometimes we make assumptions. Ask this question when you want to understand an employee’s or group’s thought process. This question is a great bridge to teaching moments that help shape how people can search for alternative solutions to problems.
- What would you do if your resources were instantly doubled?
I mentioned earlier that we tend to think and work incrementally. This question has a way of shifting focus and thinking. It’s a great question to use when the project calls for incremental solutions. This may sound contradictory, but it can lead to some great results.
- What do you wish we did more of?
There are a lot of really good ideas that are locked up inside the minds of employees and even suppliers. These ideas will stay locked up until someone asks. This question is effective when there is no specific purpose so be intentional about opportunities that may suddenly and unexpectedly appear, like an informal coffee break or lunch encounter. It’s an effective way to gather feedback on any topic.
- What do you wish we did less of?
Similar to Question 6, this question will most often be used in opportunities that appear suddenly and unexpectedly.
- Tell me more.
Although this is a statement, I have found it is as effective as any question. This statement has so much utility, it’s application is close to universal. It’s particularly helpful when I need more time to formulate a response. It has value when I am seeking clarity, especially when someone is developing a new idea. For known introverts it helps to encourage them to share more of what is going on inside.
- Tell me about your ________.
This is one of those just be a good human being and show you care about people statements. Fill in the blank with appropriate topics around interests, dreams, or bits of information that will allow you to know those you work with as fellow human beings. This really develops trust and connection.
There are no magical qualities in these questions, and you should come up with questions that may be more appropriate for your particular situation. Studies have shown that employees are most engaged when they feel their voice matters.
Asking good curious open-ended questions, probing for clarity, and over communicating are the hallmark behaviors of a healthy company. People want to do business with happy people.
What are other questions?
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