Connecting With Your People Need Not Be Time-Consuming (Nor Expensive)
A small business owner was talking to his secretary over a 2nd cup of coffee that morning. The topic was somber because of a friend who's been on life support the past few weeks. He said, "Man, I never want to live in a vegetative state, connected to some machine 24x7, and dependent on some fluids just to survive. If that ever happens to me, do me a favor, and just pull the plug." The secretary immediately grabbed his cup and dumped the coffee in the sink, went to the owner's desk, and threw his laptop in the trash bin.
You might be laughing (yes, that was a joke), but there are some truths to that story for all of us. And it's not just the coffee. Managers can spend too much time on our computers trying to get the best out of our teams, when many times what we really needed to do is to spend time talking and listening to people.
I know what you're thinking. "There's just too many things to do," or "I already spend too much time in meetings with them." Just a quick question: What are the top 2 operating expenses of your company? If "Labor" or "Salaries & Wages" happen to be one of them, then it's clear what your most valuable assets are, and how much time you should be investing in developing those assets.
Don't worry: connecting with your people, and making them feel important to you and the company, need not be expensive nor time-consuming. There are a few quick and easy wins to get a good pulse of your people's sentiments:
- Weekly (or bi-weekly) brown-bag discussions. According to Investopedia, a brown bag meeting is "a casual meeting that occurs during a lunch period." Everyone brings their own lunch, and it can be a structured or unstructured discussion, with perhaps one person leading the discussion on a variety of work-related topics (ie. newest trends, opinions on an internal policy, new concepts that can be applied at work, etc.). The benefits of these kinds of meetings is that it builds camaraderie, fosters personal development, stimulates two-way communication, and ultimately enhances employee engagement and productivity.
- Have town-hall meetings. Have face-to-face discussions with your people every now and then, and talk about the prevailing issues in the company. Make sure you foster a two-way discussion, and not just one person talking or lecturing.
- Have regular employee surveys, and address the issues. Employee surveys can be overused these days, but it is an excellent way of capturing employee sentiments and business issues accurately. There are employee survey platforms such as EmployeeLife that were designed for cost-conscious businesses, so it won't cost much. But the most important thing is to actually act on the results of the survey. Identify key issues and the corresponding initiatives to address them. Make sure the employees know the initiatives being done, and regularly communicate the progress. If people see that action is being taken on issues that are most important to them, they will feel that they were listened to and are therefore important.
- Maintain a internal social network. Nothing beats fostering collaboration and interaction than your own internal social network, such as My EmployeeLife. Log, share and compare tasks, goals and accomplishments in real-time, anytime, anywhere (from your desktop, tablet, or mobile)!
- Have casual corridor chats. Some of the most impactful interactions between a boss and a subordinate are the casual, and personal chats.
"How's your wife Jo?"
"Did your son win the football tourney yesterday?"
"You look a little down today. Is there anything I can help you with?"
At the end of the day, what matters most to an employee is that the needs to be valued and to belong are being met. And having a regular, two-way connection is a non-negotiable lubricant to a company's wheels and cogs.
About the author:
Dondi Alentajan is the Principal Consultant for Alentajan Business Consulting and serves as a consultant for Optimum Direct, a web portal for the best HR tools and software for small business. He was recognised as a “Marketing Maverick” by Business World in 2012, and he headed the Marketing Team nominated “Best Marketing Company” by the PMA for two consecutive years (2010 & 2011). His primary work mission is to help companies and their customers be happier together.