Cue the coffee sip and head nod
Businesses, leaders, and their teams are all feeling the hardship and severe strain of this season and for many entrepreneurs, navigating the hardest of times, tackling the toughest of decisions and conversations was never something they ‘trained’ for. Leadership a lot of times is learned through experience and more times than not, we don’t always get it right. So since there isn’t a one-shoe-fits all “boss school”, I’m sharing four simple ways I’ve learned throughout my decade of leading large and small teams to make your team feel heard and most importantly, valued. Like all seasons, this one too will come to an end, and when it does, you’ll have learned how to make your people feel supported in both good times and bad.
Here’s one way to start.
Stop saying “it’s easy”
When’s the last time someone asked you a question and your response began with “it’s easy”, “it’s pretty straight forward” or “it’s simple” before quickly sputtering off the answer?
Has someone responded to you in this way? Did it make you feel any which way about asking the question to begin with?
A lot of times in seasons of stress and uncertainty, our initial reactions look something like a balancing plate act, just trying to keep everything including ourselves from crashing to the ground. As the captains of the ship, our priorities become any and all things that will keep the boat afloat and onward to calmer waters. When this happens, patience becomes a limited resource and opportunities to teach take last place on our to-do list. But here’s the thing, you hired that first human because you wanted freedom and to grow! And NOW is the perfect time to embrace any and all learning opportunities! There’s an abundance of resources available on how to invest in ourselves and businesses, but what about our teams?
As leaders in our communities and organizations, it is our job to take the time to invest in our people even when times are tough. But how? A super-easy way to capture learning opportunities or communicate clear direction without taking a ton of time or making members on your team turn away from asking for help is my favorite video recording platform Loom.
You can record screen-only, cam-only or both and the viewer can leave comments as timestamps to connect any missing dots. The cherry on top, you can revisit down the road and re-share as needed to alleviate time being spent re-training or answering the same question. If you’d like to see it in action you can check out the Zoom tutorial [9 min] I created last year and was able to pass off to an old peer of mine just this past week.
Remember, if the question is being asked, to begin with, it isn’t “easy” or “common sense”; most likely, there is missing information in what’s been communicated, uncertainty in next steps or plain ole curiosity driving the ask.
Reverse engineer the logic
We’ve all had those moments where you’ve delegated a task, feel confident in the delivery of direction, and upon receiving the finished product think to yourself, this is NOT what I expected! The next onset of emotion can range anywhere from annoyance, frustration to straight up, head-banging against the wall defeat. Take a deep breath and start by asking questions that check for understanding.
The goal is to conclude where the person deviated from the original direction. Next, pinpoint why they deviated. Ask “how did you arrive at that decision?” Break it down step-by-step to evaluate where the gap occurred. Once you find that point – you can ask follow up questions to better understand the route they took and then explain the correct course of action you wanted/needed them to take and why.
It’s extremely important when you walk through this process to remain calm, even-toned, impartial, supportive, and logical. In doing so, it can without a doubt be a positive experience that helps both you the leader and the team member work better together. Through this exercise, you’ll both learn how to improve communication, build trust, better understand each other’s thought processes, and expectations resulting in preferred future work outcomes. Can we say win-win-win!
Create a culture that empowers ideation
I worked with a leader who would ask for ideas from their team, but never cease to squander, discourage, or ignore the ideas they personally felt didn’t work, weren’t of interest, or held no monetary gain. Due to this team operating in a remote environment, the majority of brainstorming was done when the owner of the business had an itch and wanted ideas; which would deter workers from whatever action they were in process of working on.
By taking this approach, not only was it inefficient and distracting, it also put individuals on the spot in a way that isn’t supportive to people’s different ideation styles (i.e some of us are slow processors and shocker, there’s literally hundreds of ideation techniques; very similar to differing work styles). It is our job as leaders and people developers to encourage and cultivate our teams ideas; and by that, I am not saying that *all* must be executed. What I am saying, is that whether right or wrong, we must build confidence around the ways in which they are shared.
So how is this done?
1. Create time and a low-pressure safe space to brainstorm. This can be as easy as creating a shared Google Doc. or sheet where different initiatives can be categorized for team members to drop in and comment thoughts as they come. If using a team wide communication tool like Slack, you could create a channel called #ideas and follow a similar practice as above. As the visionary, you could drop questions in there that come to mind and set a deadline for when you’d like responses in by or encourage this as a free-for-all hub to dream and scheme that you’ll be committed to checking in on. You can also allocate time on your weekly/bi-weekly/monthly team calls/connections to ideate together and pose questions early so everyone has time to prepare.
2. Be intentional about the words you use when walking through or past an idea. We’ve got to remember that for many, sharing ideas can be a vulnerable act. If discouraged, made to feel incompetent or misunderstood consistently, the team member will likely stop bringing their thoughts and frankly, their best to the table. Responses like, “that doesn’t make sense”, “why would we do that”, “let’s see what Marie thinks instead”, are such easy ways to pop the brainstorming bubble, crush creativity, and make someone retreat from ever again sharing what they think.
3. Take the teaching moment even if it takes your time. Again, one of the biggest fails I see so many leaders make is completely surpassing learning moments due to lack of ‘time’. As the old and so true saying goes, we make time for what’s important to us. Tired of answering the same question over and over or getting the same wrong results? Perhaps it’s due to the fact that learning opportunities are regularly being missed within your organization. Yes, some things can in fact be taught by third-party platforms and teachers, but most internal processes or logic can not (especially within small businesses).
Continuously ask for feedback
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? So tell me, when’s the last time you’ve asked your team for feedback on your leadership? Or sat down for an interrupted, no pressure performance conversation? Have you created an “open door” culture? At times, we get so wrapped up in the motions, we miss the bigger picture at hand. Once a CEO told me yearly performance reviews weren’t necessary because weekly check-ins sufficed…need I even say more 😑.
I don’t care who you are or how well you think you know your team. At the end of the day, there will always be things they aren’t sharing/feel can be better. Similar to the thought process “the grass is always greener of the other side”, same brain waves go here. Plain and simple, if you aren’t taking the time to connect with your team members individually (especially those in leadership positions) face-face whether in-person or via a video streaming service, or don’t conduct some type of yearly feedback intake at least once a year, you are doing a disservice to your team, business and you will without a doubt lose your top talent. Aka those who actually care about the work they are outputting for you.
If you’re sitting here thinking, “crap, I don’t even know where to begin or what questions to ask”, here’s eight you can use right off the bat:
- What processes, systems or tools aren’t working or could be improved?
- Are you missing anything in your role that would help get your work done more effectively and efficiently?
- Do you feel supported in your role? If not, please share ways in which we can support you better both leadership/team wise!
- Have you experienced any communication gaps between me as your leader or with your fellow teammates? In what ways can we improve?
- How can I do a better job of delivering constructive feedback as your leader? Do you feel like you can give me feedback as your leader?
- You are valued! How can we continue to make you feel appreciated at work? How do you like to be recognized? Please share any ideas you have on how the company can affirm your contributions!
- What’s one thing we could do to make you enjoy working here even more?
- Have you ever dreamt or thought of anything else you’d WANT to do or develop into on this team?
Remember, asking for feedback doesn’t have to be an overly complicated process!
You can create a private Google form and have your team answer as themselves or even better, anonymously so you are for sure able to obtain accurate feedback. If you find yourself typically getting defensive when challenged or struggle with taking feedback personally (as hard as this may be to admit), another option if means allow, could be to hire a third-party HR company that can execute this internal assessment for you.
Pro tip when it comes to executing yearly individual performance reviews; I know it can be cumbersome, but please document these conversations and have both parties sign when complete to verify what was discussed, understood, and agreed upon. We don’t like to admit or think about “the end” but more times than not, especially if an exit goes sideways, they bring out the worst in people; long story short, protect your business and yourself always.