Interacting with Employees: How to Use the Past, Present, and Future
The holidays are a time of reflection. For many, it’s an opportunity to get with family and friends to recount stories of the past and to share hopes and dreams for the future. It’s also a time filled with traditions, both new and old. As we enter a new year, it feels appropriate to discuss past, present, and future opportunities with your employees.
The past provides an opportunity for you to understand who your employees are, why they might feel the way they do about certain matters, and how to motivate them most effectively. Building relations requires us to look into the past and a willingness of others to let us in.
This point was made clear to a manager in a research lab several years ago. One of his employees unexpectedly passed from a non-work-related event. While at the funeral, the manager learned a great deal about the employee that he regrettably didn’t know. The employee was a Bronze Star recipient and had received a Purple Heart for military service.
The manager felt regret for taking the time to get to know the employee better and remorse for not acknowledging his service when he had the chance. For him, that was a defining moment and one that forever changed how he interacts with his direct reports.
The past helps us better understand the individual – who they are, where they’ve been, and what makes them tick.
The present provides an ideal opportunity to recognize exceptional performance and to demonstrate value and appreciation for those who report to us. Employee engagement, satisfaction, and motivation are all experiences which are directly tied to emotions. How important are our employees' emotions? It’s been estimated that 85-95% of our daily actions are dictated by how we feel – not what we might think about a given situation or circumstance.
Look for ways to create positive interactions with employees in real time. This connects them to the performance and behaviors you hope to promote and see repeated often. Time and distance are not your friends when reinforcing desired actions. Seize the opportunity to show value and appreciation at the very moment it presents itself.
No one likes criticism. There is a natural human tendency to feel (and often become) defensive when we believe fault or blame is being pinned on our shoulders. This is evidenced by countless examples of heated arguments started with finger pointing and accusations rooted in the past.
When dealing with behavioral or performance issues requiring the employee to change, position the discussion such that you both agree on what needs to happen going forward, not what has happened in the past. It’s hard to argue with someone who expresses interest in your well-being and offers advice on ways to achieve it. While the direction may not always be welcomed, it can have a lasting impression – especially when given genuinely and sincerely.
The most important step in any journey is often the first. The law of physics suggests that a body in motion tends to stay in motion. If you’ve set a personal or professional goal involving growth and improvement for the upcoming year, take that first step. It doesn’t have to be a quantum leap – it just needs to create forward momentum.
Happy New Year!