“Getting to know you, getting to know all about you”; even Julie Andrews and Deborah Kerr didn’t find this easy, as they struggled with culture shock and personality clashes in The King and I. What has perhaps become more apparent, over the last three months, is that many managers – and HR - know very little about the people in their teams.
Those leaders and managers who have focused on gaining a deeper understanding of their team’s circumstances, challenges, wants, needs, motivations and preferences are likely to have got more from them during this difficult time.
Part of the answer may be in ensuring we have more regular check-ins and conversations with people; many managers have told us that they have spent significant proportions of their working day calling their team members – not just to see how they are progressing with specific tasks, but asking about how they are coping and feeling, whether family and friends are well, what obstacles they are experiencing and what they are doing to stay fit, healthy and motivated.
We have talked before about how we’ve equipped our online performance management tool - Talent Performance - to help managers have more focused, meaningful and effective regular conversations with direct reports, and now is a good time to be thinking about what your talent management practices need to look like when we return to work, about what support, tools and help we can be giving managers to ensure we come back better.
Keeping those conversations with employees going about what’s important to them, what they’re experiencing at work, what they want, what motivates them, what interests them, what they’re really good at, what they want to learn, is going to help us strengthen our connections with our colleagues, stay alert to wellbeing issues and treat people as individuals.
But we can all get better at having coaching conversations, by developing the associated skills and by learning and deploying some simple frameworks that help us structure a dialogue in a way that helps the other person to take more ownership for solving their own problems, improving their performance, learning new things. A popular tool for this is John Whitmore’s GROW which gives you a basic four-step framework for having better conversations around learning and performance.
Having said that a framework is helpful, coaching as a practice should help you to be flexible in the moment, pursue a conversation and help the individual work through things without having a clear agenda or a list of bullet points to work through. It shouldn’t feel like a process, or be restrictive or limiting or manager-led. There is a balance to be struck between being alive to what the individual needs and wants to talk about, and making productive use of check-in time. In our software, you can provide helpful prompts, reminders and suggested questions for managers to refer to in preparation for check-ins, but probably one of the useful weapons in their armoury is active listening. It takes time, focus and motivation to really listen to someone, and we can remove one of these excuses by scheduling and engaging in more frequent check-ins!
Talking about health, wellbeing and work-life balance
These three areas are increasingly becoming the concern and focus of many C-suites. With organisations like Microsoft testing out a four-day workweek in Japan – and reporting an almost 40% rise in productivity – and many workers worldwide exploring the benefits of a reduced working week, flexible hours and homeworking, this is a trend that is likely to continue. In the public sector, the rise of Mental Health First Aiders, flexible working champions, wellbeing networks and ‘great place to work’ initiatives, there is a lot of organisational support and infrastructure but it is still the domain of a manager to protect the wellbeing of his or her employees and we should ensure that they are equipped to have conversations about these topics.
It can be easy to avoid talking about health, wellbeing and work-life balance: many people feel awkward raising and discussing potentially sensitive topics, they might fear the consequences, or doubt their own ability to tackle them in an empathetic and supportive, but also a professional and constructive, way. NHS Employers have a handy factsheet that helps you to prepare and think about talking about wellbeing at work, which is a useful resource even for those not working in the Health sector. The Head Light Check In function enables you to create your own checklists, suggested questions or guidelines for managers to draw on whilst holding these conversations, acting both as a reminder that they need to be taking a holistic and person-centred approach to performance management and as a helpful resource for doing so.
We hope you'll tune in next week when we'll be advocating a need for greater tolerance and humanity and less judgement from our managers and leaders.
If you have any questions in the meantime do please get in touch, and pass this along to a colleague so that they can sign up too!