You can't create a high-performance culture without first building a supportive culture. In part three of our four-part series on how to have world class one to one conversations, we'll be looking at how to be a supportive presence when talking to people in your business.
We’ve learned about the foundations of a great conversation, and we’ve looked at ways to deeply understand the people you’re talking to. Now we’re going to show you how you’re going to use your conversations to develop your team members.
To develop a person or a team, your conversations must balance two things: challenge and support.
You’re there to push and challenge your team to be better, while also being on-hand to catch them if they fail, and support them when things go wrong – because no matter the line of business you are in, eventually they will.
Having said that, start with support. Supporting someone without challenging them is a little pointless – but challenging someone without supporting them is a fast-track to creating an environment where people are scared of failure and unable to take risks. This is a potential disaster, so make sure you’re confident in the culture of supportiveness you have built before you start laying on the challenges.
In the first part of this series, I advised you to approach your conversations knowing your goal. Once you’re in a conversation, however, you are going to need to be flexible. Keep the goal in mind, but understand that sometimes a person’s needs supercede the needs of you or your company.
If there’s an issue occupying their brain, then charging ahead with your own goals will not be productive. It may be frustrating to put your own goals on hold, but in the long-run, you’ll get more done by helping them unblock whatever is on their mind.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Go with your gut. If you suspect there’s something preying on someone’s mind, you’re almost certainly right.
- Provide space for them to talk. Asking open questions like “is there anything else I can help with?” or “is there anything else on your mind?” gives them the space to talk, but doesn’t pressure them into discussing something they might not be comfortable airing.
- Don’t rush them. Leave good gaps between meetings and make sure you book enough time for your catch-ups. If someone is explaining an issue that is important to them, having to cut the meeting short is a disaster.
If a member of your team feels like they’re able to bring up a sensitive issue in a conversation with you, you’ve achieved a lot. Situations like this are a vote of confidence in the culture of trust and openness you have fostered. The worst thing you can do now is to appear to judge them for the issue they have brought to you.
Trusting relationships take months to build, and moments to break apart. Judging someone is by far the easiest way to break them. Here’s how to avoid it:
- Questions, not opinions. Do not offer your opinion on something unless you’re specifically asked for it. Instead, ask questions. You can develop your opinion in your own time: right now, the priority is getting as much information as possible.
- Use others’ experiences, not your own. If you’re giving advice, using examples can help – but you should avoid making it personal. So don’t pull examples from their colleagues or worse, from you – it will feel like they’re being compared, and probably in an unfavourable light. Instead, give examples from people they don’t know personally (if needs be, use your own experiences, but attribute them to someone else – such as “a friend of mine” or “a colleague I once worked with”).
Lean into Failure
Admirably, much of the business community has accepted that failure is an inevitable, useful and necessary part of running a business – especially a small business.
However, it’s one thing to say this. It’s another thing altogether to actually bake this ethos into your company culture, but it’s vital. A culture which embraces failure in a proactive manner will allow you to tackle the unknown, the unsure and the scary, and will be able to react quickly and appropriately when things inevitably go wrong.
Building that culture starts in your one to one conversations:
- Openly and unashamedly discuss your own failings. If you want your team to be comfortable with failure, you have to start by demonstrating that you are comfortable with it.
- Control your reactions to failure. Anger or annoyance – even when expressed through micro-reactions – are fatal. Be hyper-conscious of your demeanour.
- Make post-mortems an official process. Having prepared systems for dealing with failure in a positive capacity can remove a lot of the anxiety people may feel when owning up to or discussing a problem.
People who are worried about losing their jobs do not take risks. If you want people to produce their best work and dream up creative solutions, they need to feel safe and secure in their jobs.
One to one conversations are the perfect opportunity to create this feeling. You should:
- Ensure that everyone knows what success looks like. Unclear expectations make people worried that they’re not fulfilling their role. Don’t beat about the bush: tell people in the clearest terms possible what you want from them.
- Give regular and responsive feedback. If someone is doing something wrong, tell them as soon as possible. Don’t wait for yearly reviews.
- Be transparent and direct about your hiring and growth plans. If someone suspects that something outside their control might be affecting their job security, they’ll worry. Clarity, even if it’s about something which threatens their job security, is always better than keeping people guessing – people who are guessing will often assume the worst.
Believe in your team
This one is the real secret sauce. The most common difference between good teams and great teams is simple: great teams know that their leaders believe in them. Teams thrive when they can tell that you’re fully invested in them.
This isn’t something you can fake, but it is something you can build. Here’s your route to really believing in your team:
- Hire people you’re excited about. Yes, this one is obvious, but it’s never a bad idea to remind yourself of how important top-tier hiring is to a business.
- Spend time with your team. The more you know about somebody, the more you’ll find to be excited by. Worried that you’re not invested enough in someone? Spend some time chatting to them about something completely unrelated to work.
- Show your belief. Regularly tell people that you have faith in them, and encourage them to set ambitious goals for themselves.
- Look for every possible opportunity to allow someone to step up and take on more responsibilities. They’ll often surprise you.
Know what you can & can’t help with
This is the last point, but probably the most important: there is a line.
There will be lots of stuff going on in the lives of people in your teams which you can’t and shouldn’t try to support. People who run businesses are not there to act as counsellors or therapists. Learn when you’re out of your depth and feel confident in suggesting someone look for advice elsewhere. I've found The Sanctus Directory to be invaluable in situations like this – it's a fantastic, all-encompassing list of mental health services.
If you nail all of this, then you’re ready to move onto the final (and most exciting) part: how to challenge your team in just the right way to produce spectacular personal development.