After you get the hang of it, straight talk opens a lot of opportunities. The law of diminishing dedication holds that malaise develops when employees aren’t challenged, inspired partners in their own fate. For most, purpose and enthusiasm have the shelf life of sushi. So I developed the four-step Ask/Tell Technique to get them to open up. It keeps managers’ and employees’ expectations in line so there are no surprises.
Ask: “What are your expectations?”
Know your team members’ needs, desires, and expectations—for their job and their career. Do you know what your people value most? Is it making more money? A promotion? Meaningful work? Time off for family? Relationships, personal and professional, break down if they’re taken for granted if we focus exclusively on our own needs. In business, this is called “turnover.” Don’t kid yourself, turnover is always about employees’ unmet needs. Ask them what they need from you and from the organization, and then do what you can to give it to them.
Tell: “Here are my expectations.”
Do your people know exactly what’s expected of them? If there’s a chance you’re not on the same page, don’t wait till the end of the book. Get clear by committing your expectations (whether operating-plan-related or task-oriented) to paper and defining how you’ll measure them. Then ask employees to sign off, literally or figuratively. This kind of detail prevents crossed wires and builds benchmarks by which totally momentum.
Ask: “How am I doing?”
We’re imperfect creatures. Daily brush fires can divert our attention and scorch our commitments. Checking in with colleagues who report to you brings us back. But be realistic. Don’t expect employees to rattle off opinions when you ask how you’ve been doing as a leader. Some may respond without reservation. Others will hesitate even if they have a laundry list of gripes—unless they’ve noticed you’re open to hearing honest feedback.
Tell: “Here’s how you’re doing.”
Use the cardinal rules of coaching:
■ Mold, don’t scold.
■ A spoonful of sugar helps the criticism go down.
■ Leave people feeling empowered, not embittered.
People are more likely to take corrective feedback to heart if it’s imparted with care and—this is critical—accompanied by kudos. That’s to say, shy away from striding up to an employee, brusquely pointing out an error, and warning it had better not happen again. Any short-term productivity gain will be offset by a steady decline in hostility. And please, never, ever reprimand anybody in front of her colleagues.
Wayne read his people like sports fans read box scores. “Full-time or part-time, sales or mechanic,” Wayne said, “I want to know your name, whether you’re married, got kids, pets, and anything else I could learn about you. I knew if somebody was ready to quit, and why, long before their manager did.” Good inner-viewers don’t just go through the motions.