Conversations breed trust, teamwork, and productivity at work. The problem is, when you’re a leader, you’re constantly putting out fires and juggling back-to-back meetings. Next thing you know, you’re sitting across from a team member and struggling to establish a genuine connection.
The truth of the matter is, if you’re in charge of other people, leadership is about having a relationship with your employees. It’s not about having the time, it’s about taking time to have conversations with people who matter most.
Build Trust Before You Need It
Regardless of the type of business, things will happen outside of your control. During times of uncertainty, conflict, or pressure to meet deadlines, employee trust is critical for getting the work done. So leaders must set daily intentions for building trust before they need it most.
A consistent, two-way conversation that encourages dialogue — not a monologue — boosts productivity. If you’re only having conversations with employees to reprimand them when they’ve done something wrong, it’s a recipe for a toxic workplace. If you’re having daily conversations with your employees, but you’re micromanaging them, it’s also a recipe for a toxic workplace. From asking to be cc’d on all emails to repeatedly requesting updates on their progress, it all creates a culture of distrust.
The bottom line is, if employees don’t trust the messenger, they won’t trust the message. Here are different types of conversations to help you earn trust with your employees:
The “Possibilities” Conversation
Beyond getting the work done through people, your job is to recognize an employee’s untapped potential. A potential conversation is informal. You can either invite them to your office or drop by their workspace for a 5 – 10 minute chat. Use this time to thank them for their specific contributions to the team. Also highlight areas or positions within the company, that you feel best suit their skills and abilities. For example, “I’m impressed with the way you _______. I see this ______ in you.” or “You’re at your best when you do_______.”
The “Culture” Conversation
The culture conversation is a motivational and engagement tactic. Leaders often overlook the importance of letting employees know how their role aligns with the vision of the company. However, explaining how the employee’s role helps to achieve the vision is a source of motivation. During this open group discussion, leaders remind teams: Who We Are, Why We’re Here, and How You Help Us Succeed. If your company’s mission is to change the conversation, remind and thank employees for their commitment towards the mission.
As a leader, this is also an opportunity for you to observe team interactions and assess company culture. The format can be a team lunch or a town hall type one-hour event. I’ve seen companies use a floor to ceiling blackboard to capture ideas from employees and document team accomplishments. You can also ask questions and get ideas from employees for improving the way you work. This is also a great way to create a culture of feedback where employees feel safe to give open and honest feedback.
The “60 Seconds of Care” Conversation
Get to know your employees beyond their job description. It’s one of the simplest ways to show you care. Whether you’re acknowledging an employee’s religious holiday, asking about their hobbies or Netflix suggestions, it demonstrates your human side as a leader. The 60 seconds of care conversation is your everyday dialogue, with everyone from maintenance to sales.
The “Goal Setting and Expectations” Conversation
Unfortunately, most leaders hold these types of conversations once a year during an annual review period. When this happens, employees feel caught off guard with a laundry list of negative feedback about their work performance. While negative feedback is never good to hear, people want a heads up and an opportunity to improve. If you’re having conversations regularly, it makes a difficult conversation easier.
The goal-setting and expectation conversations are formal and should happen at least quarterly. During this time, you set goals and realistic performance expectations, delegate, fact find, and analyze. Acknowledge their strengths and growth areas and discuss what the company’s values, goals, and objectives mean at the individual level.