A person’s a person, no matter how small.
This phrase is so nice, but it packs a big punch.
My husband is an amateur actor, and his latest play opened this past weekend. The play is Seussical the Musical, and it’s awesome! (Seriously! If you’re in the Vancouver area, I highly recommend this production!) While I was completely enthralled by the entire production, I fell in love with the steadfast Horton, who cares so deeply about the teeny, tiny people of Who, who he promised to protect. He defended these tiny people, who were so small their entire world fit on a speck of dust. Others in the jungle refused to listen to Horton. They taunted and abused him, bullying him over his care and concern for the “little” people relying on him. And Horton couldn’t prove the people of Who existed, because their voices were too small to be heard.
"A person's a person, no matter how small" is the most popular line from Horton Hears a Who! (the Dr. Seuss book on which this musical is based) and serves as the major moral theme that Dr. Seuss conveys to his audience. This phrase recurred throughout the play, and every time it did, I couldn’t help but think of the employees who rely on their managers to speak for them and make their voices heard.
The manager is the person who is supposed to be advocating for employees, sharing their ideas and concerns to senior leaders. In other words, managers are like Horton, who should be amplifying those voices that so many people in senior leadership just can’t (or won’t) hear.
Yet, so often, managers let their reports down by failing to make the time to listen to employees and understand their concerns. Endless meetings and massive to-do lists get in the way of communication with team members and carrying their ideas forward. Yet, this is the actual role of a people leader. Their core responsibility is to manage the people on their teams, not the tasks. So, why, then, do so many managers prioritize tasks over people?
I’ve learned it’s a combination of several things:
To begin, most managers have a crushing pile of things to do every day. They are constantly under pressure to do more, and do it quickly, so they neglect the very people they should be developing to help take on some of that workload.
Those managers who agree that one-on-one conversations are important are finding it hard to fit them in due to time/task constraints. Since their company cultures don’t view building relationships as important, these conversations get shuffled to the bottom of the list.
So many managers don’t know where to begin. They get that they should be having these conversations, but they don’t know how to talk to their people, or what to say.
The bullet that concerns me most is the third one—that managers don’t know how to hold conversations with their reports. This concerns me because I also know that connection is the #1 workplace perk sought by employees. They are feeling like the Whoville residents who just want their voices to be heard, and they need their managers to hear them.
Luckily, I have something that will help. Enter the one-on-one conversation.
One on ones are the best way for managers to discuss issues, develop relationships, and connect with their employees. They are the best way to ensure company and employee goals are being met. They also afford the manager an opportunity to provide feedback and coaching, and to share knowledge of what’s coming down the pike for the department and organization. Perhaps most importantly, they give the manager the opportunity to really hear what’s on the minds of the employees who report to them. Are they happy and productive, or are they a flight risk?
But how does one start these conversations? By scheduling them, honouring the time commitments, and asking questions. If this is new to the manager, it can be tough. What do you say? How do you start connecting? It’s simple—just start talking. Open with something personal. Ask about their weekends, and be prepared to share something of your own. Maybe branch out a bit and ask what they like about their work and how they think you could work better together. And check in on their happiness by asking if they feel valued at work. Ooh… that one could open up some interesting conversational points.
If you’d like more suggestions, check out the template I have on my website. It provides you with some possible questions to spark conversation and serve as a jumping off point to getting to know the people on your team.
Once you know them, you’ll also know how to support them and, just like Horton, how to help them be heard, understood, and valued.
Laura Sukorokoff is the owner of C-Change Learning and is a passionate believer in the power of one-on-one conversation to increase employee engagement and improve workplace culture. Check out her manager training programs that will have your managers connecting with, engaging, and inspiring their teams.