Get Out of Your Office to Foster Happier Employees
I had the chance the other day to talk with John Heer and get his thoughts one year after he won the prestigious Harry S Hertz Leadership Award, given by the Baldrige Foundation to leaders who exhibit behaviors that have inspired, encouraged, challenged, and empowered others to achieve performance excellence.
Heer is the current owner and lead at P3 Leadership, LLC, a consulting company that believes that world-class results come from the focus on people who have a passion and a purpose.
John believes that the most important approach to improving a company’s bottom line is to focus on the people and culture. He defined culture simply as “how employees and leaders behave when no one is looking,” and talked in detail about how he used the principles of servant leadership to foster an improving culture.
In our discussions, I specifically asked him how a new leader could engage employees. His first response: “Get out of the office” and engage front line employees. He talked about his own experiences in the mostly centralized setting of a hospital-based health system. Here are three examples:
[if !supportLists]- [endif]Find employees where they gather and work and take a few minutes to interact….
[if !supportLists]o [endif]John talked about how he would walk up behind the desk of a nursing unit and start asking questions – how’s the day going? Anything interesting going on? Leaving these questions opened ended allowed the responders to decide if they wanted to talk about an interesting patient personality, a resource need for their job, or life away from work.
[if !supportLists]- [endif]Eat lunch with different employee groups without bringing the PPT or a specific message.
[if !supportLists]o [endif]Eating for a few minutes with 4 to 10 employees on a regular basis, 2-3 times per week if possible, gave John not only the insight to the people he was eating, but also provided others watching a key understanding of his leadership style and commitment to the organization. He specifically noted the difference between called lunch meetings (“Town Halls”, etc.) and simply going to the cafeteria, buying lunch, then randomly choosing a table to sit down and interact while eating.
[if !supportLists]- [endif]Be personally active with New Employee Orientation.
[if !supportLists]o [endif]John spent up to 2 hours every other week talking with new employees to the organization. He talked about the culture, the critical success factors, how decisions are made, the ability to personally affect a customer’s life, and more. John viewed this time not only to ensure people heard from him personally what was important to him about culture, etc., but also to provide an immediate example of how he was willing to take the time to show his focus on employees and their value to the organization.
Of course, getting out of the office and talking with employees is easier when the company has a centralized office setting. It can be more of a challenge to interact in a multi-office or remote work-from-home setting, but the idea is the same. Engaging employees is simply about time, attitude, and commitment.
In a virtual environment, an organizational leader should still be using technology on daily basis to interact with employees in a personal way. Even if they only talk business, picking up the phone, using an online chat room, video conferencing, etc., will all enhance the personal nature of the relationship more than email or simple ‘meeting only’ conference calls.
Whether in a centralized or remote setting, leaders who make a concentrated effort to get away from the traditional meetings and behind closed doors office work and spend time interacting with the staff are more likely to have employees who are engaged with a sense of belonging.