Tag Archives: team member

How to Get Employee Engagement

“So, they ran the last manager off in three months?”

“Yes,” replied Julia.

“How do you think you broke through?”

“Well, the story about the previous manager was all pretense. Ralph was posturing to see how I would react.”


“I could have responded the same way, but I didn’t. Instead, I asked him questions about the way things were being done. Fact-based questions allow the ice to be broken. Then I moved from facts to purpose.” Julia’s plan was emerging.

“How did you do that?” I asked.

“First, I asked him about their most significant achievement, as a team. Everybody likes to brag so he told me about a particularly difficult project that had gone very well.” Julia stopped. “And then, I asked him why that was important. The level of the conversation had moved from pretense to purpose. And I had moved it in only four questions.”


“And I still have a long way to go, but it’s a start.”

What do People Care About, in Their Manager?

Julia had a breakthrough, at least she hoped that’s what it was.

“Ralph thought I was going to tell how to do his job,” she said. “I could tell he was baiting me. He had some story about the last manager, how he tried to change things. Ralph seemed proud that, three months later, the team was successful in running him off.”

“How long has Ralph worked here?” I asked.

“Seven years.”

“And you?”

“Seven months, but I have an engineering degree and five years with another company.” Julia was trying not to be defensive.

“Do you think Ralph cares about that?”

Julia slowed her response. “No, not really.”

“So, what was the breakthrough today?”

“Well, he didn’t say he was going to try and run me off, too.”

“Okay, we will call that a start.”
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The Purist Management Tool

“You seem confident in your ability to draw the team member into the conversation?” I asked.

“I feel like it is an important management skill,” said Julia. We had been talking about bringing value to the other members of her team. As a new manager, we anticipated resistance to her leadership.

“Some people call it the art of conversation, but it’s a skill, an essential management skill,” continued Julia. “I think about all the things I can do to make a difference, to influence my team to higher performance, to boost morale. I can’t do it with email, though I have tried. I can’t do it with pep talks, they don’t last very long. I can’t do it by putting teamwork posters on the wall. The strongest tool I have, as a manager, is the skill of conversation.

“It’s the purest of management tools, one person simply talking to another person. If you can’t do that, you can’t be a manager. If you can do that, you can be a great manager.”

“Julia, you talk about it as a skill, as something that can be learned?”

“Yes. Oh, yes,” Julia responded. “I was terrible at it. I mean, I’m not a wallflower, but having purposeful management conversations is something I had to learn. I have discovered some basic elements and patterns. These patterns help me consistently to have conversations about purpose, actions and accountabilities.” I could see through the glass window in the door that two people were standing outside. Team members with questions.

“Let’s pick this up tomorrow. I would like to talk to you more about this conversational structure.”

How to Deal with Pushback

“So, Julia, you are in this conversation, looking for common ground. What if the team member isn’t giving you anything to work with?”

“Impossible,” Julia responded. “Unless, they are stiff arming me.”

Julia was a new manager on a team with nine men and two women. I was anticipating some pushback from some of the vets. This was not going to be easy.

“What do you mean, stiff arming?” I asked

“Sometimes, egos come in to play. They think they have to act tough in front of their co-workers, be uncooperative with the new boss. Maybe if they stiff arm me long enough, I will get fired. But it’s only a pretense. It’s just a game. I have to draw them out of the game and into the conversation.”

“What does that sound like?” I pushed.

“I usually start with fact-based questions. I stay away from opinions and judgments in the beginning. In these fact-based questions, I am looking to build up the tiniest bit of trust. It’s pretty simple, really. I ask a question. They respond. Nothing bad happens. I ask another question. They respond. Nothing bad happens. And the questions are easy

Tell me about your job? What do you do? Where do you get the materials? What machines do you use? On a good day, how many units do you produce?

“After a few minutes, the pretense goes away,” Julia continued. “I have drawn them into the conversation by asking them fact-based questions. It may not be a deep conversation, but at least they are out of the ego game.”

How to Find Common Ground

“Like I said, I will ask them about the way they see themselves in their role on the team,” responded Julia. We had been talking about her new management position.

“And what if you don’t like what you hear?” I asked.

That was a hard question. Julia started her sentence twice before completing it. “I just have to keep digging. Somewhere in there is a small starting point. Somewhere in there is a small place where we can agree.”

“Is that the point of intersection we were talking about?”

“Yes.” Julia was on a roll. “And I have to find it before we can go on. Sometimes you have to go slow before you can go fast. Until I make that connection, until I find that point of intersection, we are not going anywhere in the conversation.”

“And what do you think happens between the two of you when you find that point of intersection?”

“It’s like a little piece of magic. We get something we can build on and move forward with. Until we find that common ground, all we have are differences. You cannot build on differences.”

Who to Hold Accountable?

“You are not a manager so people can report to you,” I announced. The class stood still. “You are a manager to bring value to the problem solving and decision making of your team.”

Slowly, a hand went up in the back of the room. “But how will they know who to report to?” A murmur of chuckles circulated.

“Look,” I started. “When you have a new employee, you think the most important question is, who are they going to report to? That is not the central question. The central question is, which manager will be accountable for their output?”

“Accountable?” came the question from the back of the room.

“I know it’s a foreign concept,” I smiled. “Yes, a manager is that person in the organization held accountable for the output of other people.”

“But if my team member screws up, it’s not my fault?” the back of the room voice defended.

I shook my head. “It’s not a matter of fault. I hold you, as the manager, accountable for the output of your team members. Most organizations get this wrong and that is where the trouble starts.”