Tag Archives: employee engagement

Improving One-on-One’s with Direct Reports

Many managers and supervisors either don’t have one-on-one meetings with their direct reports, frequently cancel those they do schedule, or fail to prepare for those they have.  To these managers, one-on-ones seem unnecessary and a waste of scarce time.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Regular, focused meetings with subordinates are a key way to help ensure that your team is productive and happy.  Done right, they also help with employee engagement and retention.

It is not necessary to have one-on-ones every week (though with new reports, this is recommended), but it is best to have them at least every other week.  A standing agenda along the following lines is helpful:

  1. Update on action items/commitments from last time
  2. What is going well?
  3. What are the obstacles and how can I (the manager) help?
  4. Ongoing performance feedback, pluses and minuses, if and as needed
  5. Action items going forward

One or more times a year, it’s a good idea to enlarge the scope of the meeting and and cover the following:

  1. Where is the organization going?
  2. Where are you going?
  3. What are you and your team doing well? What are you proud of?
  4. What are your suggestions for improvements for the future (for the organization, for your team, for yourself)?
  5. How can I (the manager) help?
  6. What suggestions for improvement do you have for me (the manager)?

Other tips for having good one-on-one meetings with direct reports are:

1. Schedule them out for 6-12 months for about an hour each. Don’t wait for them to happen, because they won’t.

2. Don’t cancel, reschedule.  If you’re always canceling them, you’re sending the message they aren’t important.

3. Shut the door, don’t answer phones or emails, turn cell phones off, and give 100% attention.

4.  View the meeting as a coaching conversation primarily driven by the direct report.  The manager should ask questions, listen, and provide guidance if needed, but not dominate the conversation.

5. Don’t accumulate a to-do list for each employee, and then use the meeting to unload your list. Don’t overload the employee with action items.

6. Save some time to just talk. It’s OK to spend a few moments just asking what’s new, how’s life, how’s the family, etc….

7. Always try to end on a positive note – let the employee know how well they are doing (if it’s genuine) and how much you appreciate their efforts. If the meeting was a difficult one, you can try to comment positively on how things are going to improve moving forward.

Anything else you would add about successful one-on-ones?  ~Amy Stephson

Sense of Accomplishment Is Critical

I recently read an article in The Washington Post entitled, “How to completely, utterly destroy an employee’s work life.” Written by Professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer, the premise of the article is that people want to make a valuable contribution in their jobs and what makes employees most miserable is management that keeps them “from making progress in meaningful work.”

The article lists four steps managers take that lead to maximal “work-life demolition.” One of them really stood out for me because I think many employers — including those who are in no way evil — are guilty of this morale-killer: “Never allow pride of accomplishment.”

As described in the article, this occurs when work setbacks occur so frequently that employees can never complete anything and feel they made a difference. The article gives an example of the head of product development who routinely moves  people on and off projects “like chess pieces in a game for which only he had the rules.”

Strike a chord? How many workplaces have we seen or worked in where priorities constantly change? Or where a combination of budget cuts and turnover means that employees are constantly being given new positions and responsibilities? Or where funding, and therefore projects, come and go? For an employer to be able to “change on a dime,” is deemed a good thing. But what about the impacts of such rapid change?

I myself have seen the impact on employees. It is devastating and creates significant morale issues. This is true even when the employer is acting in good faith to meet changing needs.

So what’s the solution? First, employers need to be aware of how detrimental it is for employees to feel they never can complete anything. Then, they need to handle their prioritization and re-prioritization processes with more sensitivity to this issue. Finally, employers may want to talk about the problem openly with employees to try to figure out what they can do to meet their need for accomplishment.

Any other ideas on what employers can do? ~Amy Stephson

Employee Engagement: The Rewards and Perils

My last post was about boring jobs—why employers need to make them more interesting and some ideas on how to do this.  I got great comments from several readers. And it turns out that “employee engagement” is a hot issue that has garnered a fair amount of attention from HR and management researchers and thinkers. 

A 2006 Gallup study, for example, found a strong correlation between employee engagement and organizational innovation. It described three types of employees: engaged, not-engaged, and actively disengaged.  This third category – defined as employees who are not only unhappy, but who daily act out their unhappiness and undermine their co-workers – was particularly noteworthy to me as a workplace investigator and coach.  It was also scary: the study estimated that 15% of U.S. employees fall in this category.  I’ve seen these folks many times. 

Yet interestingly, another study discussed in a recent Wall Street Journal blog shows that disengagement does not necessarily follow from the fact that a job is boring.  Rather, employee engagement results from three things: (1) the employees are given opportunities to grow; (2) the organization is committed to making a difference in the world; and (3) the organization’s leaders exhibit values and behaviors that engender respect.

Disengagement does not necessarily follow from the fact that a job is boring.

The task of creating engagement falls squarely on leaders and managers – but it’s in no way an impossible one given that most organizations do have a mission that can change the world in some way, however small.  Mostly, it requires developing a detailed intention to engage employees in this manner followed by attention to what needs to be done. Communication is a key component. 

Would such actions make an impact on the actively disengaged 15%?  I don’t know–do any of you?  If it wouldn’t, management needs to address this problem in some other manner.  This kind of disengagement is toxic.  ~AS