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5 conversations managers need to have with employees – but avoid

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Admit it: You’ve put off conversations with employees because they were weird.

We’re not talking about uncomfortable conversations. We’re talking about the kind that don’t seem worth a conversation.

You put them off, and you’re an HR professional, who knows how to address almost everything!

Now imagine how many of those conversations get put off when it’s a front-line manager who needs to have them with people they deal with every day, morning to evening?

In fact, many people put off uncomfortable conversations for as long as six months, a Crucial Learning study found. How do they get around it? Here’s what they admitted:

  • Avoid the other person at all costs (50%)
  • Dance around the awkward topic when they speak to the person (37%)
  • Consider quitting their job or taking a different job (37%), or
  • Quit their job (11%).

But in the end, the consequences of not having these chats can affect everything from team dynamics to morale to productivity.

Not about performance

These aren’t necessarily conversations about poor performance and behavior.

“How often do you have a conversation with your team that consists of something more than what’s being done, what needs to get done and what they didn’t do?” asks Mary Jo Asmus, owner of Energize Me! and a trainer/speaker. “Slow down and include some conversations that are a level deeper,” Asmus says.

Here are five conversations that improve employee engagement and team cohesiveness – plus ways to get them started.

1. Relationships

Too many conversations between managers and employees about relationships – which have a huge impact on employee engagement – come in the form of complaints: “He drives me crazy when he …” “She never does …”

But conversations about improving relationships can bring to light concerns before they’re serious problems.

Ask: “What relationships can be improved to help us reach our goals?” “What’s one sentence that describes our team relationship?”

2. Conflict

This is one of those issues that’s often avoided because it’s uncomfortable to address.

Most people don’t want to discuss tension and conflict. But you want to address it before there’s a much bigger problem.

Ask: “What conflicts within the team aren’t we talking about?” “How will we manage conflict now and going forward?” “Is there conflict that you’d like to see resolved in our workplace?

3. Development

Most managers have conversations about career paths during annual reviews.

But development – the realistic steps and training that need to be taken and resources that need to be provided– aren’t covered as often.

Managers want to expand that conversation to help employees flourish.

Ask: “What do you imagine your future looks like?” “What can you do to move toward that future and how can I help?”

4. Preferences

Managers are often so busy making sure things get assigned and done that they can’t think about how the work flow affects the people doing it.

An occasional conversation about preferences helps to identify:

  • the right variety of work
  • new challenges to keep it interesting
  • the right amount of freedom to do the work, and
  • the most meaningful work.

Ask: “What part of your job makes you feel most accomplished?” “In what area would you like to expand your skills or knowledge?”

5. Ethics

Unfortunately, conversations about ethics don’t happen until after a trust was broken.

It’s practically too late to avoid the fallout. You can review a company or department code of ethics regularly, but it’s smart to dig into employees’ personal code of ethics to make sure they align – and point out any indiscretions.

Ask: “What ethics guide you in your work?” “How do you hold yourself to our code of ethics and yours?”

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