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How Proactive Conversations Affect Employee Engagement

How Proactive Conversations Affect Employee Engagement

Webcast Details

  • Gallup Called to Coach Webcast Series
  • Season 6, Episode 34
  • Learn how meaningful employee conversations with managers and others promote a sense of caring and engagement in this Q12 for Coaches podcast on item Q05.

On this special edition of Called to Coach, we will spend time investigating the experiential, emotional and empirical aspects of each element of Gallup's Q12 engagement instrument and learning how it increases the power of our coaching as a primary driver of success. This series will be hosted by Dr. Mike McDonald, Senior Workplace Consultant at Gallup, who started at Gallup in 1990 as a manager/team leader and has had a variety of roles but has always led a team. One of his primary concerns for managers is one that he's experienced himself: How many well-intentioned team leaders are there who are working really hard but don't have any coaching or context about engagement and how do they lead to engagement through their strengths?

In this session, Mike talks about Q05 -- "My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person." Below is a summary of the conversation. Full audio and video are posted above.

Host Jim Collison: Mike, welcome back to another Called to Coach!

Guest host Mike McDonald: Jim, it is a blast; you're creating an addiction here. I love the "deep dive" and the immersion approach we take to engagement.

JC: Q05 is where it gets personal, talking about the dynamics of a relationship. Let's dig in, but we have some prework to do.

MM: Q05 is "My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person." And we want to share the resources we'll be referencing throughout our discussion.

We are always trying to touch on the three points we've mentioned before: Empirical (what we are saying is true, and the data support it), Emotional (Q05 is deeply emotional and personal in terms of relationships) and Experiential (where we've experienced the best of those relationships and felt cared for, and maybe where we felt a little at risk).

JC: The "supervisor" part of Q05 makes sense, but why do we have "someone" in the item?

MM: That comes up quite a bit, and probably for all coaches, you'll probably need to reinforce this. A team will often fall into the trap of thinking they're rating only the team's leader, but they're actually rating the workplace in total (though the leader plays a large part).

This item is the only one that mentions the supervisor/team leader specifically, but even then, it adds "or someone at work." So there's a collaborative effort for teams to the mutual benefit of each team member. The manager models this and is a catalyst but needs to build out that kind of culture.

JC: In some of our work with colleges and universities, we bring this question into the institution, and it doesn't just take a manager. Sometimes bad managing can be overcome by someone else who cares. We've also done a lot of work on the workplace, in which we've seen a lot of remote workers or matrixed workers, in which "or someone" becomes important, because these workers may not have daily or direct influence from their supervisor, but that "or someone may be providing engagement.

MM: We talk about engagement as "glue," the "in-between space" that connects us and helps us make good decisions. This is the classic "whole is greater than the sum of its parts" item, and that comes to life when the relationships become real.

So I want to skim through the data from our State of the American Workplace report. If we're paying attention to it, we will see a reduction in absenteeism. We also see safety increased in workplaces where someone cares. So it bothers me when I see your safety threatened, and I'll make the effort to keep you safe. And in some workplaces, that can involve a person's life.

And then we also see an increase in customer engagement. If I know people care about me as a person at my work, that pushes back fear and anxiety and questions as to whether I belong. And that means the workplace has "all of me" -- I can bring my best to the table because there is a genuine level or relationship and caring.

JC: Mike, we're going to talk a lot about the manager in the next couple of years here at Gallup. Maika asks this great question: "How much responsibility do you think the manager has in creating this element for people. Say they know they're not going to be the someone for a remote or matrixed employee, how do they help the person find it?" And what do we see in our data about why this is breaking down?

MM: This is a singular point in our discussion -- what can managers do? This sounds like the proverbial Hallmark Card item, so we can underestimate this item. We all have had experiences where we've been at our best because of a relationship, or at our worst because of the absence of a relationship or the presence of a toxic relationship in the workplace.Some word associations for context for this item -- the request for this item is, "Will someone care about me?" in terms of value. Words like acceptance, trust, fairness, consistency (not an "in group" and an "out group"), depth of understanding and authenticity.

The broad themes from our State of the American Workplace report, our Millennials report, our Women in the Workplace report, and our Re-Engineering Performance as well as our World Poll data converge. When we think of the demands required of a great workplace, there is a shift from only asking for a great paycheck to knowing my purpose and does my job fulfill my purpose?

And in terms of boss to coach, it's not enough for my boss to tell me what I did wrong, but now I'm asking you as my team leader to be my coach -- because you know me as a person, and this benefits my life. And then the last part is thinking about more than just coming to work to do a job, but thinking about my life in totality.

So paycheck to purpose, boss to coach, and job to life -- these are important transitions and a leader needs to make these.

JC: Mike, you mentioned two words that interest me: consistency and fairness. Yet there's a desire for individualization in which performance matters; people don't want to be lumped in with the group. How do we reconcile these seemingly opposite things, when we think about caring as a manager?

MM: I've heard someone say that creatively: "Consistency is where everybody gets attention, but not the same kind of attention." So in best practice workplaces, everyone has the opportunity to participate and be involved in meaningful conversations -- that's the consistency (and inclusiveness). But the individual piece comes in the context of the unique relationship with each person, and how that shapes the conversation.

JC: Terry in the chat room says, how do any of us make this organic to the way we structure our day so this is easy, fast and doable? I think that's why we see in our data that 17% of managers are doing this right. People actually have to care (not manage to care).

MM: There are a lot of stories about just putting ourselves in physical proximity of someone changes our behavior and our decision-making. How many times have we heard someone get frustrated with someone else, and say, "Next time I see that person, "I'm going to do ____." And then the person sits down and sees the human being's face across the table, and doesn't carry out what they were planning to do.

So the frequency of the face-to-face conversations matters because it normalizes our exchange. And so that's why I think the framework of the five conversations in our Performance Management paper matters so much -- it gives us predictability and helps managers manage their daily, weekly, monthly, annual routines. They have to have those conversations, and they come with accountability (for the manager).

I know managers get held hostage by time, but often that means we haven't gotten ourselves out of a reactive mode. We've talked about Strengths-Based Leadership, that powerful book that talks about what the world's best managers do. The best managers don't find themselves in reactive mode. They are proactive and futuristic, and plan those conversations accordingly. I've seen a lot of success through prioritization of those conversations. And Jim, as you pointed out, it's not happening enough -- 17%, a woefully inadequate number if we're going to expect success.

JC: A caring reaction to difficult circumstances, rather than a stern one, makes it easier for you and those you manage to repair relationships. You know your team well enough to know when things are out of character.

MM: If you have those types of conversations and they're an event, they produce anxiety because the worker isn't used to the manager getting involved in this way. There's no depth to it. But when there is a frequency of touchpoints, they mean something; they aren't artificial. Don Clifton had this great quote, "Talent responds best to another human being."So when we think about performance and our potential for excellence, these get released when we're cared for. And this wasn't a "bumper sticker" for Don; it was his life's work. Having someone who cares for us can't be replaced by any other motivator.

JC: Super important. I mentioned Consistency, Individualization a few minutes ago -- our strengths themes. What is the relationship to a manager knowing these things, and not just making strengths a one-time event?

MM: I'm on record as saying one of the greatest contributions from strengths is that they operate as a relational shortcut. Think about how much we know about each other when we share our Top 5. It quickly ignites a relationship. I haven't seen another product do this. Think about how much trial and error we've saved ourselves because I know you have Woo and Communication. I have a lot of Thinking themes; I tend to process internally, so I would be a great sounding board for you, with my Ideation. Those are powerful combinations of strengths, and no one had to coach us in how to get along and work together because we used strengths. This gives us a great foundation for authenticity and trust.

JC: When we think about a highly matrixed environment, the relationships change or get more complex, and the numbers are counterintuitive. A lot of people think there is a lot of danger in these environments, and yet having the right managers in place can make a difference. Can you talk about our numbers with matrixed teams?

MM: In the State of the American Workplace report, 84% of the U.S. working population says they are part of a matrixed team to some degree, large or small. So workplace dynamics are shifting. To your point, Q05 was pretty much what we might expect in the U.S. -- 29% of those who are highly matrixed (with 60%-80% of their work involving teams that work together on a project) strongly agree that someone at work cares about them.

So when we think about matrixed teams, there will need to be a theme of intentionality, not just regarding my contributions to the project, but my contributions to the people on the project too through my knowledge of the environment and the culture.

JC: Interesting that it's similar. That's a surprise. All of my teams are matrixed, so I've thought a lot about this. What kind of advice do we give to managers in this area in which it's not a direct responsibility, but it may need to go above and beyond? Caring is still important, right?

MM: For all of us as leaders, we have to keep in mind that there is always an audience. What we do (and what we don't do) is always shaping and affecting our culture. These conversations are weird if we don't have them or don't have them often enough, but they're powerful if we do have them.

If the workplace is more about life than just a job, that brings a different conversational approach. This item is one that really connects to someone who is actively disengaged and can help position them to succeed.

JC: And I think that relationship changes as you have more of these conversations. Terry was asking in the chat room, sometimes managers get afraid to have those conversations because that employee just "dumps." And I think the more frequent conversations are the solution -- because maybe the employee dumps because they think (about the initial conversation), "I got one shot at it."

And if the conversations are getting long, more frequent feedback for the employee (not in a harsh way, but relationally -- for example, "I have to get some work done today") can help. We have some data about approaching a manager with a question. Some managers are afraid of this, but there are employees who need that relationship. Can you talk about that?

MM: We talk about the spectrum of coaching, a range from consulting to giving prescriptive advice to coaching to counseling. And I encourage this with any well-intended manager or team leader -- there are certain boundaries to this. And if there is frequency of conversation, there can be freedom to be comfortable in expressing this back to the person (that a boundary has been reached) and to have the person trust your judgment on that as a manager.

But the approachability for managers ties in to the "Supervisor or someone at work cares" question. And with approachability comes a radical shift in engagement. For those who strongly agree on approachability (I can approach my manager with any kind of question), their score on Q05 is 1.5 points higher (on a 5-point scale).

So Jim, going back to the point of how we do this, I think it's more about why than how. I think the best managers spend their conversation time positively, proactively and coaching and leading from out front; or negatively, correctively and reactively, coming on the other side of the mistakes that have been made.

JC: A coach has an opportunity to influence a manager or a leader in that area; it's not always a learned response for a manager, so the power of a coach is to come in and see and ask and probe, and that can have a great impact.

MM: What the best managers are doing in their hiring -- there's a call to action about culture. A lot of organizations are separating and clarifying not in terms of productivity, but in terms of how the candidate will contribute to the culture (which uncovers the candidate's self-awareness as well).

JC: Mike, can you work through best practices? And coaches and managers, think through the lens of a coach. How can I encourage managers I'm coaching to adopt some of these best practices?

MM: If we have these conversations right, there is a level of integrity in our workplaces that will almost defy description. We can create a culture that delivers caring and trust, even when the manager has to fire the employee.

As a coach, you need to coach managers to be active listeners, asking better, more powerful questions. Have the manager anchor themselves to one or two of their Top 5 and ask, "Which of these strengths causes you to be the best listener you can be"? Any strength can be used to be a listener but it has to be intentional as to how they will leverage that strength.

Another best practice is creating paired partnerships. Managers position workers to have one-on-one peer conversations and then meet with the two team members and talk about the questions.

A final best practice is don't be afraid to invite personal insights into your conversations. One of our Gallup employees said, "If you can ask the right questions and listen, people will tell you who they actually are." Those conversations matter. They don't come from a checklist but from your regular conversations, and they can be natural and real.

JC Mike in one minute, we have resources.

MM: I think first of all of you should pause and think of our Engagement Champions course (a 2-day course). In order for you to release the best of managers' potential, they need you to have subject matter expertise. This is a deep dive into engagement.

If you want to get into the mind of the manager, we have our Leading High-Performance Teams course.

We also have:

Mike McDonald's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Ideation, Input, Learner, Achiever and Focus.

Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed:

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