Back during my childhood I saw this infamous tombstone on TV. The humor stuck with me for many years, and I saw nothing more than the joke to the epitaph’s claim. However it wasn’t until reading a blog post by Julie Winkle Guilioni on an updating of the old MBWA (Management By Walking Around) practice that I noted there was another message to the stone’s words. Just how many leaders hear words from their staff, but never listen to what they actually say? In a plain and compassionate sense, Julie challenges us with engaging in more than just observation when leading; conversation is the key.
I was privileged to work with an excellent mentor years ago from Britian. Mike Burke was as proper an Englishman as you could come across, yet he was an engaging leader in so many senses of the term. One of his strengths, a practice that I still use to this very day, is what he called a “One-to-One” or, more loosely, a “Temperature Check”. I have used the latter term more commonly over the years, partially as it plays on the daily functions in the hospitality industry, but also in using this as a true indicator of how hot or cold a particular person is in the organization.
The purpose of these checks is to drive down to the core feelings of the team, both individuals, and as a whole. It is a great opportunity to not only find out more of what was happening in the field, but to also build relationships and stronger working bonds that ultimately brings the team more close. To make the most of these checks, we discovered a few guidelines in order to make them most effective:
1. Make “Temperature Checks” informal and light. These are meant to be open communications. Have them in the team members’ area, not your office, or they become nervous and on the defensive that they’re being reprimanded. Have coffee. Ask how their family is doing. Set the tone for casual conversation.
2. Be up front in your expectations. Tell the staff person what you hope to get out of your talk. Let them know they can talk in confidence, with nothing to be held back, even it there is anything negative about you. Let them know your commitment is to make them, the team, and yourself better so work can be both enjoyable and productive.
3. Qualify the 3 F’s – Feelings, Facts, and Fault. You’ll be confronted with all of these in most every temp check. When the person talking says “I feel” or “I’m afraid”, ask them to clarify. Sometimes it’s based on gut rather than objective evidence. When specifics are given, pull out more detail to ensure the facts are accurate. When fault or blame is given, if at all applicable, take it yourself, for the team. This type of responsibility is a breath of fresh air, and will go a long way in bridging any trust gaps between the two of you.
4. Be honest. While it seems so self-explanatory, it’s just good practice. Any lies or embellishment will either be found out then or shortly afterward. If that is the case, you’ve undermined the enitre process, and wasted both of your time.
5. Under-promise and over-deliver. A basic customer service principle that applies just as strongly to this situation – because you are working with your internal customer. Making guarantees to fix something might seem all well and good, until other facts or forces beyond your control hamper you from making the solution happen as you told them. Instead, let them know you will both commit to finding a solution, and to keep them appraised of the steps towards resolving their concerns. Then follow through. By keeping them up to date, they see you are taking their concerns seriously, and respecting their input.
6. Thank them for their efforts. Leave the conversation making sure that the person knows their value to the company, and that you recognize it as well. Lead them to be inspired to better action, attitude, and trust by letting them know you appreciate them and that it’s a pleasure and a privilege to work alongside them.