“Face to face conversation is the most human and humanizing thing we do. Fully present to one another, we learn to listen. It is where we develop the capacity for empathy. It’s where we experience the joy of being heard and of being understood. Conversation advances self-reflection, the conversations with ourselves that are the cornerstone of early development and continue throughout life.”
~ Sherry Turkle, Author of Reclaiming Conversation – The Power of Talk in a Digital Age
In our last article, we discussed the four types of conversations. As we mentioned, it’s important to engage in regular one-on-one conversations with your staff; we’ll share why as we discuss each of the four conversations in more detail in the next several blogs.
The first conversation is the status conversations. The intent of this conversation is to build trust and relationship, and continue moving the action forward. Being proactive in this way gives the leader the ability to influence the direction a team member is taking and help them navigate or remove barriers they may be encountering.
By conducting regular status conversations, you prevent issues from escalating out of control or not having a good relationship with your staff member. In these conversations, you can give and receive timely feedback, identify opportunities to support and motivate your team member. By not conducting them, you risk the loss of a valuable employee and potential revenue.
We recommend holding these discussions on a regular weekly or bi-weekly cadence. Status Conversations are much more than just “status reports”. They are an opportunity to build trust in the relationship in order to uncover opportunities, receive process improvements, and increase motivation for your staff. They encourage a culture of continuous feedback and coaching (anything that is preventing full engagement and high productivity).
Regularly held meetings can feel time consuming; however, they are time well spent -- preventing problems down the road that could take much longer than this proactive investment. Plus, you’ll experience much higher levels of accountability, results, and employee engagement.
You also want to create space for impromptu meetings to address issues that are preventing forward action as well as relationship building.
Here are a few tips for your status conversations.
- Before you set up your status conversations, be sure to explain the concept and design the relationship with your team member. Designing the relationship can prevent conflict and unmet expectations. You could decide with each team member how often you both like to meet, how you like to be communicated with between meetings, and receive feedback, etc. Designing the relationship is two way and there is always a “yes”, “no”, or “renegotiate” response by both of you to meet each other’s needs and seek alignment.
- Keep it informal with an optional agenda. You want to allow time for spontaneity and potential brainstorming while covering both of your needs. You also want to meet face-to-face (in-person or video conference) wherever possible.
- Create your mindset beforehand. Decide to be fully present, open, curious, and ready to listen and engage your staff member. Start and end your meeting positively. You may start with a ‘win’ and end with an acknowledgement for example.
- Minimize interruptions (e.g. phone calls, reading emails/texts, letting others drop in). Especially early on in your relationship, your staff will gauge how truly interested you are in them, and how present you are in the conversation.
- Listen and ask questions. While there are times you may need to direct, there are times you want to ask good open-ended questions to support them in creating their own solutions. Balance asking questions and listening to what they have to say. Being very curious is a great way to create great questions.
- Express celebrations, wins, and gratitude.
Topics to discuss and potential questions to ask in your status conversations:
- Celebrate and acknowledge what is going well (frequency: every status conversation): According to research by Judith Glaser author of Conversational Intelligence, creating feelings of celebration helps meet people’s need for inclusion, innovation, appreciation and collaboration. Further, she notes, neuroscience also explains the impact leaders can have through positive celebrations and intelligent conversations since celebrations elevate “feel good” chemicals (e.g. oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine) thus enabling people to take risk, handle challenges, and increase motivation, innovation and focused attention. During your one-on-one’s, share wins of the organization’s success and yours, and ask what victories they are experiencing. Possible questions:
- Acknowledgment: What I appreciate about you is…? What I see in you is…? What I like that you did was (behavior)…because (impact)? You are… (e.g. courageous, determined, a collaborator).
- Checking in on goals and objectives (frequency: every status conversation): Checking in personally and professionally makes employees feel cared about. Supporting them where they need it most helps them, you, and the organization. Possible questions:
- How are you doing personally?
- How are you doing on your X project?
- What challenges are you facing? What is your most pressing issue? How is this affecting you?
- Where do you need support or resources? Where are you stuck? What can we do to move it along for you?
- If you had a magic wand to complete X objective, what would it be?
- What are the projects you would be interested in working on next?
- How are you balancing taking enough risks or taking too many?
- What did you learn from that mistake?
- Are we focused on the right things?
- Leader and organizational feedback (frequency: periodically): You can learn from employee’s perspectives, experiences and observations where you may have blind spots. Potential questions:
- How can I support you better? What are the situations I could have supported you more but didn’t?
- What can the organization do better?
- If there were one thing that would make the biggest impact to our success, what would it be? What is one thing we cannot fail to do?
- Team engagement (frequency: periodically): Getting team satisfaction feedback helps you shape and refine your culture. Possible questions:
- What do you like about working here?
- Are you happy with your work? Why or why not? What do you like doing most in your role?
- Who do you admire/respect most in the organization?
- What keeps you engaged? What keeps the team engaged?
- What could we do better to improve work satisfaction on the team?
What have you found helpful in your status conversations? If you are not having them, when will you schedule time? We look forward to learning from your best practices together.
We find that our most successful clients not only conduct these types of meetings with their staff they also have them with their peers and other key stakeholders (perhaps at a different cadence or less frequently).
Also, our most successful clients don’t just leave it up to their manager to start the conversation or set the agenda. They come prepared to these meetings as well with topics they want to discuss or status.
Lori and James
Lori Heffelfinger & James Jackman