What matters to you? What are you passionate about achieving in your business? What is it you want your employees to ‘get’ and to do better than anyone else? What is it you want your clients and customers to understand about you? What do you offer that is different from anyone else? What is really important about it?
How much time do you spend discussing, emphasising, encouraging and rewarding these things? Managing people takes so much of your time that you would rather spend on your business. But, coaching, guiding and encouraging the people who make your business work is your business. And nothing is more important than helping them focus on what really matters.
A friend of mine was principal of a primary school. Because she recognised that each child was different, had different learning styles and different ways of understanding (multiple intelligences, as it was understood then) she continually emphasised to her teachers the importance of ensuring that every aspect of every lesson was presented through as many of the different ‘intelligences’ as possible.
Staff meetings discussed multiple intelligences; conferences focussed on multiple intelligences; posters reminded teachers, children and parents of the importance of a varied approach to learning. The message was clear: whatever you are teaching, make sure each child understands and is excited to learn more.
In her Grade one class, my wife, Jen, ‘wastes’ valuable class time on Birthday Circles. It take a huge amount of time. Why?
We might think it’s about recognising children and building self-esteem. But for Jen, there is something much more important at work. During the Birthday Circle, each child says something they appreciate about the person celebrating their birthday – and they are not allowed to repeat what others have said. At the beginning of the year, one hears simple things: ‘I like your smile;’ ‘I like your hair.’ But by the end of the year children have become more confident and creative in their unique responses to their peers. And when visitors come to talk to the class, the children all want to thank the speaker. And they do so with meaningful reference to the talk given that is often missing in the thanks adults offer. These are important life skills learned in ‘wasted’ class time.
What are you ‘wasting’ your time on? Let me suggest three things to get the ball rolling.
Look for steps in the right direction
What are people doing right? As someone has said, ‘catch someone doing something right.’ If all we do is shout when people are doing things wrong, people will focus solely on avoiding mistakes. If we start to encourage steps in the right direction, people will soon get the message about what really matters.
Listen to success stories
Listening takes time. It is tempting to say, ‘Yes, yes; but stop talking. Just get back to work and do more of it.’ But stories are powerful tools in changing behaviour. Allowing employees to talk to you about what they are doing (brag even) allows them (and you) to check that they are on the right track.
Share the stories
Testimonials from our customers are like gold in a marketing campaign; why should we treat testimony from our staff as any less important in getting our message across? Find ways to share their stories. How has an individual or a department begun to implement the things that matter? Use bulletin boards or your intranet, send out an email or use your newsletter. Be creative, but get the message out.
[See also: ‘Hiring: wasting time and getting great results’, a Simply Communicate article.