It’s a lot farther from their cubical to your office than it is from your office to their cubical.May 23, 2023
I love one-liners, quotes, any word or phrase that is memorable and packs a lot of emotion into a few words. I once heard my friend Luke say, “It’s a lot further from their cubical to your office than it is from your office to their cubical.”
I felt convicted immediately. I’ve always enthusiastically told my teams that I have an “open door policy”. If you need me, come see me and we’ll talk. But I think we, as leaders, forget that our positions can be intimidating to people. We walk hurriedly from one meeting to the next. We make presentations in front of large groups of people or on stage. So it should really come as no surprise when a project manager that has been on the team for six months doesn’t feel comfortable walking into our office or scheduling time with us to tell us they aren’t clicking with their direct leader. And a short time later, they just leave to go somewhere else. What a waste.
So what’s a better alternative?
Reach out to your team regularly and ask how they are really doing. Schedule coffee, shoot people emails and just ask how things are going, send plainly written surveys that ask how they feel and what could be better.
If you really want to learn how your team is doing, schedule 30 minutes with each person twice a year. Send them what you want to know in advance and encourage them to really shoot you straight and give you a shot at fixing problems without over reacting.
If you do a few of these well, word will get out and more people will be open and honest with you about more sensitive things. Ask different types of things each time you meet. Ask if they are clear on their role; if they are clicking with their leader, if they feel emotionally safe and if they look forward to coming to work each day.
Remember that initially, many of them will tell you what they think you want to hear. That means you’ve got to ask clarifying questions and probe a little. I’ve even done “reverse reviews” where a leader would invite a person that reported to them to come to my office and sit in my chair. The leader and I would sit on the other side of the desk and try to lighten things up. We’d give them three or four open ended questions ahead of time so they could know what we were going to talk about and even write down their answers. In front of me, their leader would explain that they want to grow as a leader and it is helpful for their reports to give them feedback. The first time was sometimes a little rough and painful. Sometimes the person had been holding back feelings and things could get emotional. My leader’s job wasn’t to respond; just to listen and ask good questions. This meeting would blow our team members away. They would leave exhausted because this was a little awkward; but they left blown away that we took the time to sincerely ask how we can be better when it comes to leading.
Let your team know you want to grow too. And start the process of winning their trust by pursuing their opinions and feelings. The return is immeasurable.