Ask, Before Telling…3

Feelings count… to employees they count as much as wages & hours…

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Part 3: Excited by the encouragement her friends, Josh and Dennis, had found by testing the leadership concept of asking for input from others before sharing their own ideas, Tanya put down her fork and began her own story of what happened the previous month when she applied the principle in a new way.

 The most amazing discovery for me was in a completely different direction from what you guys experienced. I have an employee who has been disengaged for the last three months, but she has had a couple of years of good performance. When I prepare for a disciplinary conversation, I usually list out the actions I expect the employee to take in order to change their results. This time I decided to take Josh up on his challenge by getting this woman’s input before sharing what I wanted her to do. So when I got to that part of the conversation, I asked her what she thought would be a good plan to get herself back on track. That was the beginning of my multiple discoveries.

Instead of giving me an excuse or even a list of actions, she was silent for a few minutes, and then she asked if we could meet again after she had taken time to think through her answer. If she was willing to take this seriously, then I certainly could give her the time for that.

The next afternoon she presented me with a plan that had actions, timelines and resources – amazing. She wanted to create a mini-mentor structure within the team: pairing tenured high performers with new team members. She then shared that she had felt defeated because last quarters’ budget changes had cut out some training resources. This change caused tenured employees to take escalations that had previously been handled by new people – before the training was shortened. Her plan even noted that she could not actually serve as one of these mentors until she brought her own performance numbers up to the standard she’d set for her little mentor crew!

I would never have put something that aggressive on my list of actions for her to do. If I had not asked for her input, I would not even have known that the budget change had made that kind of a morale impact on the team – or ultimately on our customers. And I realized the escalations she referenced were the cause of the increased call handle-time I’d been researching!

Dennis was hooked now, “Well, what happened? Did you let her build a mentor team? Did the numbers change?”

Josh laughed at his friend’s eagerness, “Yeah, tell us the rest of the story.”

Smiling, Tanya recapped how she handled her employee’s new zeal.

“Well, her solution wasn’t exactly practical with the limited time we can get people off the phones. So after asking her some questions about how the details of her plan would impact our call-center metrics, we decided on a different direction. But we have solved the challenge, and I gave her tons of credit for bringing the issues to light and for helping with the solutions. And, as I drafted and executed the plan of getting the – now improved – training back in the budget, I engaged her by getting her feedback, data and ideas weekly. I could see her morale improve as she felt empowered to make a difference, and that change in morale drove her performance results even higher than they had been before her slump.

“So ‘the rest of the story’ is that Josh did a good thing by throwing down the gauntlet and putting that challenge on our lunch table!”

 Reality: Asking for input can spark willingness, insight and creativity in others. These employee traits can increase results and decrease leadership stress! Failing to ask for input before telling others what you want them to do can crush feelings of empowerment and confidence: we all lose.

 Tips:

  • ALWAYS thank people for their input, even if you don’t agree with it.
  • Never ask for ideas that neither of you have any control over implementing or for input that can open doors that are not appropriate for the workplace or could jeopardize business success.
  • Asking for input often reveals employee thought processes that are helpful for leaders to understand.
  • Before asking for ideas from a group, it is often wise to share how the input will be used.
  • Asking for input in groups can help employees develop leadership and communication skills.
  • Be ready to ask questions that help others evaluate their own ideas instead of critiquing the ideas yourself. Part of their evaluation may include your educating them about business realities they may not know to consider.
  • Leaders are great at seeing the holes in ideas, be sure those are not the first comments you make after someone risks sharing their ideas with you.
  • Even the simple question, “Will you help me?” can make a powerful difference in someone’s response and in your results.