Keeping in touch with members of your staff means knowing the status of employees' projects and priorities.
But to be truly in touch with them means you'll be able to identify potential problems, see the undercurrent of relationship dynamics and leverage unique opportunities after noting the strengths of each team member.
Here are three recommendations to help you do all these tasks, effectively and efficiently:
1. Host client-appreciation events. Wait, what? Isn't this article about managing staff? you're probably asking.
Well, what better way to capture the pulse of a company than to see it through the eyes of clients?
By hosting client-appreciation events, you'll have the opportunity to see how staff members interact with customers and how they react to your employees. You can’t be on every client phone call or at every meeting, but holding a gathering with customers and employees will provide an opportunity for gaining valuable insights.
“At our client-appreciation events, I made sure that both the front-line team [of salespeople] and behind-the-scenes team [account managers] attended,” says business coach and inspirational speaker Nancy Brunetti, who built a successful financial firm with just 10 employees.
“Typically, it’s the sales team that gets all the glory, but it’s the account managers who have to deal with the ups and downs and ugly details of someone’s account," she says. "At our client-appreciation events, our clients would hug their account managers not just their sales rep."
"I love client-appreciation events because it provides the opportunity for the unseen team members to be seen," Brunetti adds. "The ancillary benefit of a client-appreciation event is that it can turn into a staff-appreciation event.”
2. Hold weekly individual appointments. Weekly staff meetings are a fairly normal occurrence in business. Everyone comes in, recieves an update and shares information. But group meetings aren’t enough to truly be in touch with employees.
Some people wish to discuss issues and relationship dynamics but aren't comfortable sharing in front of everyone.
While managers will typically tell staff, “I have an open door policy and everyone knows that they can come to me with anything," that's not always effective.
Many individuals avoiding awkward situations. Your staff may not want to bother you with a small matter. But a small concern can grow big enough to become an official issue that needs to be dealt with -- suddenly requiring more time and energy than if it had been fixed earlier. An open-door policy could easily be misused as a “see me when the stuff hits the fan” policy.
Brunetti suggests avoiding a reactionary culture and management style by allocating one hour a week with each direct report. “These are standing appointments," she says. "They don’t have to use the entire hour, but it’s there if they need it,” she says. That way little issues don't become major ones and individual status meetings can help ensure annual reviews come with no surprises.
If you interact only with your team in group meetings, important issues are likely not being discussed and communication can break down, Brunetti says.
3. Shadow and report. It's a cliché to say that it's virtually impossible to understand someone until you walk a mile in that person's shoes. Yet the statement carries some truth worth leveraging.
Take a page from the CBS show Undercover Boss. Don't go incognito inside your organization, but once a year set aside a day to shadow key staffers. See the world through their eyes.
If you have a large team and can’t commit to that many days of observation, assign shadow partners. Pair up members of your team and have them shadow one another for a full day.Then ask them to report back to you on their observations and insights about what works well and areas for possible improvement.
Shadow partnering isn’t designed for tattletales. Instead, the purpose is to look for procedural improvements and build empathy for the roles others perform.