Any organization can begin to improve employee engagement by implementing a simple and practical strategy. This one technique will immediately increase the frequency and quality of conversations taking place between managers and direct reports—a relationship that is critical to employee work passion.
The best way to reduce turnover and increase engagement is to make sure managers set aside time once or twice each month for employee-directed one-on-one meetings. In these meetings, the manager sets the time but the employee sets the agenda.
Your role as manager is to simply show up and ask questions such as “How’s it going?” or “What’s on your mind?” Then—this is important—fight the urge to talk. Instead, simply listen. That’s it! (For more on listening, check out the blog post 3 Reminders on How “Just Listening” Is Sometimes the Best Approach by Joanne Maynard.)
A Case Study from a High Turnover Industry
At The Ken Blanchard Companies, we know that listening to your people can make a critical difference. We were once called upon to help a fast food chain in Southern California with a problem prevalent in the quick service industry—high turnover.
This restaurant chain’s turnover rate hovered close to 100 percent—with one glaring exception. The rate at one location was found to be significantly lower than that of all the other stores.
In talking to the manager of the exceptional store, we learned that he ran his store in exactly the same way as all the other managers except for one thing: this manager met with each of his employees for a few minutes every week to see how they were doing. He encouraged each worker to talk about how things were at the store, what was going on at home, or how they were doing at school—whatever happened to be on their mind at the time. Except for these casual meetings, every procedure at this location was identical to those at other stores in the chain.
When asked why he conducted these one-on-one meetings, the manager said, “I figure if my workers know that I really care about them as individuals, they’ll be less likely to go down the street for a new job just because it might pay a little more.”
This really intrigued Dr. Margie Blanchard, cofounder of our company. She wondered if weekly one-on-one meetings could really make that much of a difference.
To find out, she conducted a test with 20 Blanchard managers. She asked every manager to meet with each of their direct reports for 20 to 30 minutes at least every other week. She specified that the direct report set the agenda and decide what to talk about during their time with the manager.
At the end of six months, Margie separately interviewed three different groups—the managers who had set up the meetings; the department heads who had ensured all the managers participated; and the direct reports who had guided the discussions—to get their feedback on the process.
Several managers told Margie that at first they were disappointed in their abilities as a manager. When their employees had questions or asked for direction, they felt ineffective when they couldn’t immediately fix a problem. One of the managers said, “I don’t know what I was doing before, but I don’t think I was managing very well. I believe I’m a better manager now because I know the people on my team on a more personal level.”
Next, Margie asked the department heads if they had noticed any changes in the relationship between managers and direct reports. All of them said yes—there had been a noticeable positive difference in the level of communication taking place. There was a better overall vibe.
Finally, Margie talked to the direct reports. This group had the most telling feedback, summed up by one person: “It’s been good. My manager doesn’t always know the answers, but I still appreciate that she takes the time to ask about what’s going on in my world. It’s been a very positive experience and has helped our work relationship.”
We Spend Time on What We Care About
You don’t need to have all the answers to create a connection—just make the time once or twice a month to sit down and find out what people are thinking about. It’ll make a big difference! Consider how much it means to you when someone shows an interest in what is happening in your life.
In a busy world, the way you spend your time reveals what is important to you. People stay with managers and organizations that care about them. Ask your managers to help you demonstrate that care.
About the Author
David Witt is a Program Director for The Ken Blanchard Companies. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.More Content by David Witt