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I call them “staffing surprises” and they’re rarely pleasant surprises. You know what I’m talking about; the 5 o’clock knock. Sometimes it’s where an employee shows up at your doorstep, usually during your busiest time, and asks for more money or special exceptions for them on company policies.
And sometimes, it’s to dish the dirt about other employees by sharing the whispering that’s going on at the water cooler, the breakroom or parking lot (or, more likely these days, over text or social media). This is usually about who is upset about what, how or who. None of it is good for your business and frankly, it’s not good for your employees, either.
The good news is there are steps you can take to avoid being blindsided by employee dissatisfaction. To keep staff engaged and ultimately from leaving our company, I learned late (unfortunately, late) in the game to make the time to walk around at least once a week and ask them proactively the following three questions:
1. What’s going right?
2. What’s going wrong?
3. What do I need to know right now?
When you do this as an owner, it automatically makes people feel as if they and their viewpoints are important. To kick this up a notch, listen and try to paraphrase (fancy word for repeat what they said but not in the same exact words) what they are saying so they know for sure they’ve been heard.
You don’t need to repeat everything back to them verbatim (in fact, I recommend you don’t). You just need to do a very quick summary proving you got it. Let’s say you’re speaking with a CSR, and he told you the techs aren’t consistently doing something they know they should per the operating manual. Respond with something like, “What I hear you saying is that the techs need to become better at doing (something).” You get the idea.
You also might consider jotting down some brief notes while they are talking.
Yes, this is Sales 101! It works because we as humans love to know we’ve been heard. And the two best ways you can prove to me, the owner or manager, is to paraphrase what I’ve said and, even better, take notes while I’m talking.
Most importantly, you want to make a point to follow up with them to ensure the issue has been addressed.
Note that this is an “impromptu” meeting where you ask these questions; it’s done as you walk around your office or as you encounter staff in the field. The longest any three-question meeting should ever take is five minutes.
Five additional methods to solicit feedback
Here are some other ways I used to solicit feedback at my own contracting company:
1. I would sit in on staff meetings where employees took turns reading one or two pages aloud from their operating manual (the only way to make sure procedures stay in the culture at your company is this way). Then I’d ask two questions:
• What’s wrong or what do you hate?
• Anyone got an idea how what we’re discussing can be addressed in a better, cheaper or faster way than what’s currently in the manuals?
2. For my managers, I’d ask for their feedback and input on the Steps of Delegation, which is a document laying out exactly what was expected, what resources they had and what the consequences were if they could not perform.
3. I’d go on ride-alongs with my technicians so I could get feedback one-to-ond in real time — not just while they were in their trucks, but also on the actual jobs.
4. I’d sit with inside staff and do side-by-side sales and get feedback from them as we went along.
5. I made office hours available after 5 p.m. for all my staff to schedule appointments with their direct supervisor. If there was conflict, they were welcome to let me know and I’d sit in on the meeting as the supervisor took the lead. I didn’t break the chain of command, but I needed to know what was going on for everyone’s benefit.
Note: It’s amazing how many showed up prepared for these after-5 p.m. sessions. They valued the time as it was now on their time.
This brings me to another point: If you never take any steps to address the answers to the “What’s going wrong?” question, or worse, do something to call that employee out in front of others for continuously griping, you can pretty much kiss this source of insights goodbye. Word will spread like wildfire that it’s all lip service and nothing ever gets fixed. It’s worse than never asking the questions at all.
People love to work at a place where they feel leadership listens to them and responds to their feedback. At the same time, everyone needs to know they won’t always get the answer they want. What they are entitled to hear from you based on their feedback is one of the following three basic answers:
1. Yes, we can do that.
2. Yes, we can do that but not right now. And here’s why: ______________.
3. No, we can’t do that because _____________.
So I’m clear, these changes in my own habits didn’t mean I never experienced any more staffing surprises. What it meant was I was rarely truly surprised anymore. Most times, I could take some positive action sooner, which reduced the stress and dramatically reduced the employee turnover for the people I wanted to help stay on the team.
More importantly, actively soliciting, listening and responding to the feedback from my staff led them to be more engaged, which contributed greatly not just to their success, but also to the success of my company. And if you put these things into place, I absolutely believe it will contribute to the success of your company as well.