Listening to Your Team

LLK_Chalkboard-backgroundWhen was the last time you felt your boss really listened to you?  Not the perfunctory, “How are you doing?” followed by the  dismissive “Great. Now, let’s discuss [insert boss’s agenda items]”  When was the last time you felt they were really seeking your ideas to be creative and improve your area?

When was the last time you really listened to your team without driving your own agenda items?

I know – you are probably thinking, “Well, I have a gazillion things on my plate and Southern is about to give me ANOTHER “to-do” item that is really time consuming  just so I have to sit through my team dispensing their latest gripe?”  That’s what I thought when I went to leadership training and they asked me these questions.

So yes, I am going to ask you to spend a considerable amount of time over the next year listening to your team, but if you follow this, I promise that you will gain help and buy in for those gazillion things on your plate.  You will improve your overall staff satisfaction and you will find some of the problems plaguing your group – will be resolved in a superior way.  You will also become a desired destination for good candidates in your organizaion when you have a job opening, a payoff that is well worth the time you will invest in this effort.

Step 1 – Send out an e-mail or have a quick team meeting to tell your team you are going to be conducting one-on-one meetings with each of them.  The purpose: your undivided attention for their ideas and feedback.  No peripheral agenda and I will not ask for updates on your existing projects.  I simply want to know how things are going.  If there is something “in your path” that is keeping you from doing the best job you can do, what I can do better as your manager to support you and get us past this blocker as a team?

Step 2 – Schedule the one-on-one meetings with each of your team members.  Set aside at least 30 minutes uninterrupted with each of your employees over the next 1 to 2 months (depending how big your team is).  This time is sacred – Do not be late, do not check e-mail or take phone calls during this 30 minutes.  I cut my cell phone off, turn off Outlook, and put a note on my door that I am not to be disturbed.

Step 3 – Take notes and really listen.  Only ask questions if you need to clarify something your team member is presenting to you and try to get an action item for me from each person.

Step 4 – Find an easy win, and knock it out of the ballpark.  With my first group, it was so simpleyou are going to laugh – they wanted a soda machine in our area.  They had to leave our small building and walk next door to get a soda.  This was uncomfortable in the rain or cold.  Right after the employee left, I found the person for the health system that organized the soda machines and we had one two days later, fully stocked with the team’s favorites and fully operational. It was free to my budget, and you would have thought I had given them a trophy.

This quick win within in the first week of conducting my one-on-ones gave the process credibility.  This cemented the idea with the team that I would get things done for them.

Step 5 – Tackle the big win.  I won’t lie, this is what builds your reputation, builds loyalty with your team and creates the true team culture. I have gone through this process many times and it is hard, but it is worth it.

My toughest win was creating a front level multi-department team to develop staff protocols for answering phones in a specialty practice that meed the needs of every party served by the person answering the line..  Up to this point the staff had shifting protocols and they did not meet the needs of everyone involved, su they had little support. Worse, the clinical staff would use the administrative staff as verbal punching bags when they disagreed with how the call was handled.

I am the proudest of this one because the team did the real work – the clinical leader and myself only sat in as mediators.  It took months to get just the basic protocols nailed down, but we did.  In addition, the team went the extra mile, recommending and implementing that staff shadow each other to appreciate the different roles in the clinic.

I moved on from this clinic professionally a while ago but this team still exists and many of the original phone department staff still correspond with me.  More importantly, it taught this clinic that the best answers to resolve problems come from the staff.  Meanwhile, the protocols have contributed to lower turnover in the phone department of this clinic.

Step 6 – Repeat.  I hold one-on-ones at least twice a year.  Ideally, 3 times a year.  The best ideas come from the people doing them.  This process also helps you identify those that should move up in your organization.

And, as for my original question – don’t hesitate to share the idea with your boss.  Everywhere I go, people pick up this idea and run with it.  Remember, it is your way of identifying opportunities, and having your team help work through them.

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