Hear Me Out: How to Really Listen to Your Employees

Open and active communication must happen across the organization, from top to bottom, and throughout. All employees, leaders, and stakeholders have to understand the importance of creating a safe environment for honest conversations to happen and the best way to leverage the constructive feedback given.

It can be challenging to keep a consistent pulse and tune into what your employees are thinking (instead of what you think they are thinking.) Getting their feedback is important and responding to their needs, their ideas, and their suggestions goes a long way toward building a positive work environment and positive relationships.

Formal surveys can be a great tool to gauge what your employees thoughts are of the workplace, but instead of waiting for feedback that comes around once a year, how can you create an environment that is built on ongoing, informal, open and honest conversations?

“To be really great at feedback you have to get it, give it, and encourage it,” says Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor. “All of those things feel weird to do at first, but there are some easy things you can do to make them feel much more natural.”

So, how can you take a natural approach to facilitating open two-way conversations? Check out these four ways to foster healthy communication in the workplace:

Ask for candid feedback

While it may seem obvious, one of the best ways to receive honest criticism is to simply ask for it. It may seem daunting to do, and many employees will shy away from sharing their true feelings, but asking for feedback is a great place to start when it comes to creating a safe environment for active communication. Encourage constructive conversations by asking questions like, “How can I support you?” or “What’s one thing I can improve on next quarter?”

By taking the lead and asking for feedback, you will encourage others to start doing the same and asking candid questions about their performance, opening the door for employees to examine their mistakes and leverage opportunities. It’s also important to be conscious of how you respond to this feedback. Which brings us to our next point…

Talk less, listen more

The age-old wisdom still rings true, even in today’s modern workplace. By talking less and listening more, you pay more attention to what is being said and start to actively listen to your employees. What does active listening look like in practice? It means giving the person speaking your undivided attention – making eye contact, closing your laptop screen, turning over your phone screen, and most importantly, listening to understand, not to respond.

Share “the why”

Instantly engage others by sharing “the why” behind “the what” when it comes to initiatives in the workplace. From business goals to updated logos, explain the reasoning behind these critical decisions to keep employees feeling involved in changes, and giving them a solid reason for the hours of dedication a new project requires. By taking note of and/or accepting employee feedback, people are more likely to continue sharing their thoughts. And this transparency isn’t just for large-scale organizational changes.

Even simple visibility can make a world of difference when it comes to two-way communication. For example, provide an agenda 24 hours prior to meetings to give people a chance to process and anticipate what is coming, and be clear with your expectations and how they should prepare. This will lead to more thoughtful and productive conversations.

Encourage off-premise meetings

Whether you have an employee coaching program in place or not, a great way to create a safe environment for honest feedback is to encourage peer-to-peer conversations. And don’t limit these talks to the break room. Encourage team members to grab coffee together, talk story, turn their weekly tag-up into walk, or plan a quarterly off-site to revitalize the team. I regularly ask my team to do a meeting with me on a run or hike Koko Head. Getting out of the office and being active helps take the pressure off and allow for honest feedback and conversation to flow.

Open and active communication must happen across the organization, from top to bottom, and throughout. All employees, leaders, and stakeholders have to understand the importance of creating a safe environment for honest conversations to happen and the best way to leverage the constructive feedback given. Only then will business leaders be able to take full advantage of engaged and transparent communication.

Cultivate Engaged Employees With These 5 Mad Libs

A simple employee engagement strategy that you can start implementing today is to acknowledge employees for a job well done. The most important thing about acknowledging employees is to effectively communicate it with the individual, as well as the larger organization.

When I participate in leadership forums, it’s not uncommon to hear similar questions float to the top of the discussion: How can I motivate my employees? What tips do you have to encourage and show my team I appreciate them? What’s the best way to tell employees how much I value them and their contribution any day of the year?

As a people manager I can relate to these questions. I have days when I struggle to find the best ways to recognize and engage my team. I’m just at a loss for words! And it’s especially true for me during a long work week or when I’m juggling a dozen different priorities. But that can’t get in my way, because a simple thank you or pause to take the time to step back to appreciate their great work goes a long way to having a happy and motivated team.

The answer to these tough questions boils down to one simple notion: engaged employees are motivated, less likely to quit, and tend to be culture drivers.

So how do you, as a manager, cultivate engaged employees?

A simple employee engagement strategy that you can start implementing today is to acknowledge employees for a job well done. The most important thing about acknowledging employees is to effectively communicate it with the individual, as well as the larger organization.

This can sometimes be a daunting task, so we’ve created 5 Mad Lib-esque templates below to get you started!

Mad Lib #1: Motivate your employees

From holding a friendly sales competition to taking the team out for drinks after completing a big project, there are many ways to motivate employees, including reinforcing good traits when you want your employees to repeat these same behaviors.

Here’s a motivating mad lib:

Mad Lib 1

Example: “Since you have come in early every day this month, I wanted to give you the opportunity to lead our team meeting. I see you really want to make a difference here and want to give you a chance to grow.”

Mad Lib #2: Encourage the team

As a leader, it’s not only your responsibility to motivate the individual employee who reports to you, but also the entire team. Encouraging team building by working together to reach a shared goal is great, but it’s also important to tell your team you believe in them and value their expertise.

Here’s a way to talk to the team:

Mad Lib 2

Example: “In order to meet the objectives set by the client, we all need to work together to create a strategy that we can implement. If we can increase website conversions through social media, SEO, and landing pages, we’ll be able to renew the client contract and go out to dinner to celebrate. Let’s do this!”

Mad Lib #3: Show appreciation

Appreciating your employees is extremely important when it comes to creating an engaged company culture. Perks like free bagels or other rewards are great ways to show appreciation, but how can you tell someone you appreciate them?

Try this mad lib:

Mad Lib 3

Example: “That sales call you just completed was phenomenal. You were really prepared and knew the right questions to answer in order to close the deal. Great job!”

Mad Lib #4: Share feedback

No one only wants to hear feedback when they’ve dropped the ball; people also want to be acknowledged for a job well done. Add positive reinforcement to your feedback cycle by incorporating it into your 1-on-1’s or during performance reviews.

Take this mad lib out for a spin:

Mad Lib 4

Example: The way you manage the restaurant staff during happy hour is really positive and energetic and shows your ability lead successful team.”

Mad Lib #5: Recognize achievements

Whether it’s closing the most deals in a month or making the most tips on your busiest night, employees who perform a job better than expected deserve to be recognized. When people feel appreciated and recognized for going above and beyond, they typically continue to work hard.

Here’s a mad lib to try:

Mad Lib 5

Example: “The leadership team noted the record high number of resolved customer support tickets last month and I wanted to make sure you knew it didn’t go unnoticed. We’re really proud of your work here.”

Whether you use these mad libs verbatim or as a starting point, communication is key when it comes to showing a genuine interest in your engaged employees. From recognition in a company-wide email to thanking your team privately, we’ll leave it up to you on when and how you show your gratitude!

Making it Personal: How Positive Employee Relationships Impact Your Business

During work hours, leadership should be actively encouraging workplace friendships. Managers need to understand the direct link between office friendships, engagement, and productivity.

Whether you run a restaurant, manage a business, or own a shop, you can sense when there is tension in the air amongst co-workers. Answers are curt; service is affected; the days are long.

On the flip-side, when employees are getting along, you can hear laughter during work hours and even plans to meet outside of the workplace. Moods are lifted; smiles are present; people are happy to help each other.

You’re not just imagining the drastic difference between friendly and toxic work environments. In fact, according to Gallup, friendships in the workplace can increase productivity, retention, and job satisfaction.

“Our research revealed that just 30% of employees have a best friend at work. Those who do are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, have higher well-being, and are less likely to get injured on the job.” – Gallup

We’ve covered the importance of physical, emotional, and mental well-being, but have you considered the social aspect at work?

Let’s dive into how you can foster stronger bonds amongst your teams.

Communicate (about non-work items)

Relationships are built on open and honest communication, and workplace relationships are no different. You can help create the environment for friendships to grow by setting “down time” and providing opportunities for employees to chat freely with each other about non-work topics.

Encourage your team leaders to kick off meetings by asking employees how they’re doing or their upcoming weekend plans. Help employees get to know each other by celebrating personal events. On birthdays, cut a cake or give a card signed by the whole team; throw wedding or baby showers; treat employees to a team lunch for milestone work anniversaries. Celebrating with each other can encourage discussion amongst the team that is not centered around tasks and deadlines.

Provide a comfortable space

Having a fun, comfortable place where employees can let their guard down and relax during work hours is important for mental well-being; it’s also away to boost friendly spirits. While we don’t recommend shipping in a ping-pong table tomorrow, having a living-area style conference room or simply a pop of color in the break room can be enough for employees to relax and start to form bonds.

In fact, studies show more than a 25% increase in employee morale and productivity for simple things like larger lunch tables. A relatively easy change in the office space that enables conversations over lunch can lead to fostering friendships while ultimately, getting more work done.

Rally around company culture

Defining the shared values and beliefs of your company is the first step in building a culture your employees can get behind. Activities that align with your company culture, like end-of-the-workday pau hanas, peer-to-peer employee coaching programs, or potluck lunches, can help co-workers take a break, form a bond, and feel more relaxed around each other.

Whether you work in an office building or the service industry, the workplace is where we spend a large amount of our time.  You can encourage all employees to take part in building a cohesive team by establishing an open door policy, crowdsourcing ideas and using them to establish new traditions.

Involve remote employees

With video conferencing and online messaging systems like Slack and Google Hangouts being the norm, telecommuters in the workforce have increased 115% in a decade, according to a report from Global Workplace Analytics and FlexJobs. It’s important to make sure these employees feel like a part of the team, and that can be done through simple ways like mailing them company swag, sending birthday and work anniversary cards, planning activities that they can take part in, and ensuring they have a voice in planning and decisions. Flying employees in from neighboring islands for special events and meetings is also a great way to strengthen those connections.

Leaders need to understand the direct link between office friendships, engagement, and productivity. At the end of the workday, employee well-being is crucial to company success. Which is why creating an environment for your employees to communicate, feel comfortable, and embrace company culture will help you achieve your business objectives.

Your 5 Step Guide to an Employee Coaching Program

Providing the opportunity to grow and develop through an employee coaching program requires having a plan in place. Companies of all sizes can start empowering their employees and grooming them for success.

What if your company could teach employees new skills, develop leadership skills, and improve overall satisfaction…for free? I’m willing to bet you would jump at the chance to get this in place. Well, with an employee coaching program, you can.

According to Harvard Business Review, “Work groups in which employees report that their supervisor (or someone else at work) cares about them as a person, talks to them about their career progress, encourages their development, and provides opportunities to learn and grow have lower turnover, higher sales growth, better productivity, and better customer loyalty than work groups in which employees report that these developmental elements are scarce.” Sounds pretty ideal. So, let’s dive in on how to get started.

Here are 5 steps to launching an employee coaching program using the resources your company already has:

1. Define the objective

What’s the goal of your employee coaching program? By defining your objective, you can structure your program to best meet those goals. If your goal is to improve retention rates, your program will be set up differently than a program designed to increase employee engagement, shorten new employee ramp time, or bring more diversity to the management team. On the other hand, employee coaching programs can also be used to train managers on leadership skills such as providing praise, giving positive feedback, delivering constructive criticism, or coaching a struggling employee.

2. Align with your culture

If your organization is formal, have formal applications, process, structure, and requirements in place to join the coaching program. If your workplace tends to be more relaxed, let your employees give input on what they would like to gain from this program. When addressing your team, come prepared with conversation starters like “what do you hope to gain from this program?” and “what skills would you like to learn to move up in your career?” By embedding an employee coaching program into your company culture, your team will genuinely adopt and want to actively participate.

3. Structure your program

Having a process in place for your program is crucial to its success. Whether you create a formal pairing program between coach and employee or decide to match employees with their peers, giving your program a structure will help relationships flourish. Having open lines of communication is crucial to success. Which is why having a leader in place is necessary for program management, feedback analysis, as well as mediating any issues that may arise.

4. Set expectations

In order for your employee coaching program to succeed, set clear expectations from the start. That means laying out ground rules for participation, having open lines of communication, buy in from employees and leadership, as well as, expected outcomes. This is also a good time to set how often and what the process for measuring success will be. For example, if your program is focused on leadership training, how many employees have received promotions in the past year?

5. Learn and evaluate

Continuous improvement and development applies not only to your employees but to your overall employee coaching program as well. As you measure the impact of your program on overall employee satisfaction and culture, it’s also important to ask for feedback and learnings from the team. How is their experience at work different with the program in place? What have they learned or applied to their daily role? Are you as an organization closer to meeting your objective? You can continuously improve the program by receiving intel from program participants while giving them the opportunity to develop their leadership and communication skills.

Providing the opportunity to grow and develop through an employee coaching program requires having a plan in place. Companies of all sizes can start empowering their employees and grooming them for success, without a large budget or expensive initiative in place.