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LMA imageEvery year, most companies make some attempt at a corporate holiday party.  They get their employees together at a swanky restaurant, or at least use the office’s large conference room as home base for the holiday festivities.  Everyone is in a festive mood, and all seems well with the ‘culture’ between management and employee.  Employers see this as their way to ‘bond and communicate’ with their staff.  These events are employed throughout the year – a birthday celebration, the landing of a new big client. Happy hour drinks for everyone – to heck with work!

Don’t try this at home

In my case before I knew what I was doing – we’d have parties when any staff member exited the company.  What was that… a ‘congratulations on breaking out of here’ party? Yeah, kinda, and not such a good idea.

We’re engaged!  Actually, umm…let’s take a break from each other

A Gallup State of the American Workplace Report revealed that of the 100 million full-time American workers, only about 30% are “actively engaged” at their jobs. Gallup COE Jim Clifton suggests that this group loves their jobs. They probably work for a great leader and work well together. Sadly, 51% are not engaged.  They are simply “just there”.  Great…sounds like a lot of government jobs.

There’s worse news: 16% of workers are “actively disengaged” at work.  These people are miserable, and as a result are intentionally spreading discontent and destroying what the most engaged employees build.   According to Gallup, “Employees who are actively disengaged have the opposite effect on their organization’s prosperity and growth. They are more likely to steal from their company, negatively influence their coworkers, miss workdays and drive customers away”. They are also going to cost you a lot of time and money to manage, and they are twice as likely to look for new employment, causing you to spend a lot of time looking for, onboarding, and training new employees. Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $483 billion to $605 billion each year in lost productivity.

This report is 200+ pages long, but I’d encourage you to download the PDF and at least skim it.  No time?  Here’s several of the paraphrased main points that Clifton suggest to do about transforming your workplace culture:

  1.  Call an executive committee meeting and commit to transforming your workplace from old command-and-control to one of high development and ongoing coaching conversations.
  2. Dive in — don’t put your toe in. You can afford a lot of mistakes and even failures because the system you currently use doesn’t work anyway.
  3. Switch from a culture of “employee satisfaction” — which only measures things like how much workers like their perks and benefits — to a “coaching culture.”
  4. Change from a culture of “paycheck” to a culture of “purpose.”
  5. Transform all of your employees, managers, and leaders. Starting with your leaders, then managers, then employees.

Is small talk, a plate of cookies, and alcohol the only way that you build a connection with a staff member?

How to Start Talking (Better Yet…Listening)

Instead of relying on long holiday dinners or birthday parties, consider intentionally building good relationships with your employees by making sure they feel heard.  Solicit feedback from your people about what’s going on in ‘their world’ that can make an impact on the company.  Get to know what each individual member is thinking.

Mostly, make it a regular point, in a regular rhythm – daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly – to make listening intentional and tangible. First, be crystal clear on what the company vision is, how what they will be doing will affect that vision, and what the specific expectations for them are (including measurables).  Then shut up.

Elicit responses with open-ended questions.  One of my favorite ones for improving role satisfaction: “If you owned the company and could clear out any obstacles and barriers, what would they be?”.

Show them that you hear them, and it will become apparent that listening is important not just to your direct reports, but also for those who work directly for them, and so on.

I coach leadership teams on the Entrepreneurial Operating System™, or EOS (Learn more about EOS here).  The system emphasizes what best selling business gurus Jim Collins and  Patrick Lencioni stress.  It all starts from leadership.


Companies who follow EOS® believe that “LMA” is the very first and most important responsibility of any leader’s role:  to Lead, Manage, and hold your direct reports Accountable.  Many non-EOS leaders follow this in the wrong way: ‘leading’ is telling them of a vision once, ‘managing’ is micro-managing every detail, and ‘holding accountable’ is simply a hammer or stick when a direct report doesn’t do exactly what you told them. Certainly, you’ll get little real feedback. You might even lose the employee.

How To Lead – in four easy steps :-)

People need to know why they are following you, and then want to follow you. Leadership is crafting a vision and a plan, inspiring and motivating your people around that vision, helping them see how to vision of the company connects to their personal goals. It’s providing clear direction to your people and then allowing them to own it as their own.  How do you do that?

  1. Have a clearly written vision (and for God’s sake, a non-corporate speak vision): the what (10 years, three years, one year). EOS® calls this a Vision/Traction Organizer™, or V/TO™.
  2. Have a clearly defined “Why” – a core focus or reason for doing business beyond money.
  3. Share that written vision and the core focus with the entire company as well as individually with your personal team.  Most importantly, share it often (quarterly).
  4. Listen. Get their feedback on that vision.  Are they in?  Listen hard.  Mine for real feedback, not ‘sure, sure, sounds good, boss, I’ll do my best’ platitudes.  Help them paint their own picture on what it really means to them for the organization to reach its vision.

How to manage – four more steps

Management is about execution of the vision, working together on the “how tos” of reaching the vision. It is about getting actual work done, providing clear but not overbearing direction for employees to follow that will promote the business with an emphasis on the bottom line.

  1. If it’s a quarterly goal that you are after, create a specific “SMART Goal”  (the acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timely) with them for the quarter.  Since they’ve already bought in on the vision, this must tie into the company goals for the year or quarter.  If it’s a shorter goal (like within the next week or two,  the rules still apply but may not require you to ‘talk about the company vision’ every time :-) ).
  2. Ask:  Are they in?
  3. Help them break that SMART goal into milestones or measurable chunks, then break each of them out into simple steps. Some people can do this on their own, but I’d recommend a management-level review before they kick it off.
  4. Weekly (or in some rhythm that works in the situation), check in intentionally on specific progress.   Ask them if they are on track or off track to get the goal accomplished within the time period.  If off-track, ask how can you help, what resources do they need, and what’s getting in the way?

Holding Accountable

Accountability is simply being and feeling responsible to getting the goal or task done.  But when things go wrong or assigned work isn’t completed, many people will pass the blame. They are uncomfortable being held accountable for their choices, especially if those choices lead to failure or a negative outcome.  Typically, those in management positions will try to use ‘carrot and stick’ systems in order to spur their people into action and make them more accountable.

This course of action rarely works. However, when you combine leadership (vision sharing) and management (helping create the ‘how tos’ and have regular check-ins), accountability is much easier, and just naturally flows.  The right people will want to be accountable. If you have the wrong people, see this article about core values.

With accountability, there is no where to hide. There’s no magic formula here, but it’s like magic because it works wonders.

Have you listened to your staff lately?