As an operations leader, I’ve learned one very important thing over my 30 year career. When companies put empathy ahead of profits, profits tend to improve. I’d like to argue that workplace empathy is the magic bullet that will unlock efficiency savings for any size business.
Daily, my current team looks for what they call “quality of life” improvements to the various databases and CMSes they manage. By making their lives easier, they make the company more profitable. It’s often simple and small adjustments that lead to big gains for our department and our comapany.
Stop Talking and Start Doing
I think fear can paralyze many workers, and even leaders, into a lot of talking, planning and talking that never goes anywhere. By failing to act or even try something different, teams become stressed by confusion, lack of direction, and a general since of flailing. As a leader, I empower my team to try. I make it very clear that nobody gets in trouble for making mistakes in the spirit of doing their job. It takes the fear out of innovation, and it puts the ownership back on the team in a healthy and supportive way.
Teams need to feel invested and empowered, and then when they do act, they need feedback. Leaders who take an active role in their team’s work will find their own day-to-day becomes less stressful. Why? Because a leader that’s doing more than talking (or bluffing around what they don’t really know), will be recognized and valuable, and that value extends to the whole team.
The Right Way to Conduct a One on One
If you are not meeting regularly with your direct reports, you’re already set to fail as a leader. If you are meeting regularly, but lack structure and empathy, then you’re still failing. What is failing? Consistently missed goals. How are those goals missed?
1. Lack of understanding of the work being done
2. Lack of proper communication
3. Staff turnover
4. Lack of personal responsibility for the team
Your one on ones are the place to prevent the 4 factors that contribute to missed goals. I use a structure for weekly meetings that is designed to not only get me up to speed on the work being done, but also give me insight into the well being of my team. I schedule 30 minute meetings with everyone who reports to me either weekly or biweekly depending on their job description. My team’s managers meet with me weekly. The rest of the team meets with me biweekly. My manager one on ones are more like an ongoing dialogue that is carried over from Slack and emails. These team members get more business talk time. However, everyone gets some time for relaxed conversation about themselves or non-work related things. Why? Because personal feelings affect work quality, and a good leader knows that and is as aware of it as he/she can be without being inappropriate and prying. Depending on the personality, I may lead or end our meeting with some relaxed conversation.
An effective leader is a good and empathetic listener. Listen to the words, but also watch expressions and body language. Listen for themes. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, as long as those questions don’t cross a personal line. More like, “how’s the new house search going?” or “how was the first day of school for the kids?” Often times, a team member will freely share information, that can help you understand how to support and motivate them, if they feel like you’re actively listening and care about them as a person. So keep the casual conversational part of your meeting in mind because you may start to recognize themes in a person’s commitment to their work.
Now, Let’s Talk About Productivity by the Hour
As a leader, it’s my responsibility to be self aware of my own day to day challenges. I admit it. After 30 years of people management, corporate challenges, and personal sacrifice, I’m burned out. I wanted to understand how that happened to me? I want to do a great job, so how did I get so apathetic?
Here’s the truth: Nobody works 8 solid hours a day. That is a fabrication. It’s a lie perpetuated by leadership, history and payroll justification. Today’s knowledge workers (think software engineers, online marketing, writers, etc.) cannot sustain 8 hours of productivity. Depending on the research, people are truly productive somewhere between 2.5 and 4.5 hours a day.
Yep. There’s a lot of “goofing off” going on, and within that “non-productive time,” workers’ brains are rejuvenating, and they may be forming a big operational win. As a leader (whether it’s executive or first line management), acknowledge that and give your team permission to protect their brains and bodies. As many of us continue to work from home, let it be known that it’s ok to take breaks, or bump out early if individual goals are being met. Goals are achieved in less than 5 hours a day. Leaders, stop the clock punching, and start inspiring your team with acknowledgement of their individuality and various ways of processing information and producing results.
It shouldn’t be an all out party every day. Of course not. But working long hours that may not stop a company from missing goals is demoralizing. Know your people. Know what motivates each individual, and always be the team’s biggest cheerleader. The next time you feel inclined to ask, “How can you improve?” reframe the question to, “How can I help?”