What Your Boss Should Know About You

Want employees to be more satisfied with their jobs? Want them to work harder and perform better? Don’t know how to make it happen?

Ask them.

Ask someone about his or her job. Talk to them long enough, and if they work for someone else, expect to hear some disappointment.  This predictable pattern is reflected in the job satisfaction trend in the United States. The Gallup Organization tracks employee reported job satisfaction monthly. It reports that while job satisfaction is still fairly high, with 9 of 10 Americans happy in their jobs, the overall trend has been mostly downward since a 2008 peak. The lowest level recorded was in the summer of 2011, with a modest climb upward climb since then.  (Note: this research is U.S. based.  If someone can suggest global or non U.S. satisfaction research, I’d love to see it for a broader view.)

Gallup uses four questions to measure job satisfaction. These are questions any employer or leader interested in retaining talent should also ask:
1. Do you use strengths in your work every day?
2. Is your supervisor more like a partner?
3. Does your supervisor create an open and trusting work environment?
4. Are you satisfied with your job?

There are many implications for these findings. If you manage someone, they should scream “Hello! Look! Over here!” If someone manages you, they should provoke thinking about what you can do to answer “yes” to each question. The good news is that there is a simple step both manager and employees can take that makes a big difference.

A Common Frustration

In my coaching experience, clients frequently express a frustration that comes from a perception that their unique strengths and experiences are not recognized. They do not use their strengths on the job, and as a result, do not perform to their fullest potential. Recent hires with college or graduate level training complain that leadership experiences gained in internships or volunteer work go underutilized.  More experienced employees complain that wisdom or skills gained through stretch assignments, e.g. ex-pat assignments, are wasted in their current roles. The implied assumption is that their manager knows all about their gifts and doesn’t care. I reframe this assumption as the manager doesn’t care about what they don’t know. And, much of what he or she doesn’t know about is about their employees.

How Can This Be?

Isn’t the critical role of a boss to learn as much as he or she can about the talent of people? It is. However, the perfect storm of rapid churn of employees and managers in assignments, the whirl of demands and the allure of “ good enough” decisions traps managers into the tyranny of the predictable. Predictability trumps development in many decisions.

Invest in The Talent Interview

Fortunately, there is a simple investment with a potential for big payoffs for both managers and employees: The Talent Interview. It is one on one, employee led discussion about the employee. It’s the gift of an hour so each employee can share personal perspectives on their skills, and suggests ways their gifts can be better used on the job. Done well, it addresses each of the questions in the Gallup survey. The employee gets to explore opportunities to use his or her strengths.  The manager gets a partnership role in their development. And, the interview itself lends to the creation of a more open and trusting environment.

How It Works

Talent Interviews are pretty easy. The manager invites each employee to an hour-long meeting to discuss his or her talent and potential contributions. Questions are provided to guide the employee’s thinking and dig into five topic areas:

1. What does the employee view as his or her strengths?
2. What experiences developed these strengths?
3. How does the employee imagine these strengths can be used in his or her job or on the team?
4. What would the employee like to do next?
5. What help can the manager provide to help the employee showcase their strengths?

Your organization may already provide a Talent Interview template. If not, a sample template is enclosed to download.

Talent Interviews

Ground Rules for Talent Interviews

Three simple ground rules maximize the benefits of Talent Interviews:
1. No gripes. It is not the occasion for the employee to complain about the job or the manager to complain about the employee’s performance.
2. This is about skills, not titles.  A Talent Interview is not an oral reading of a C.V.  Employees share what they learned and how, not a list of titles and dates.
3. No promises. The manager uses this occasion to listen, ask questions and develop a deeper understanding of what the employee wants to do.

Invest A Little, Get a Lot

The Talent Interview offers terrific payoffs for both managers and employees. As a manager, it was one of my best investments of time every year. As much as I felt I knew someone, I learned about strengths or potential contributions previously unknown to me. Talent Interviews were filled with pleasant surprises, the ideas people had to develop their strengths and do better work.

A Talent Interview, done well, will encourage understanding, support a performance partnership, and foster connection and trust. It’s worth the hour.

10 thoughts on “What Your Boss Should Know About You

  1. Hi Susan – a great article. A simple context that makes a lot of sense. I feel this is something I do intuitively as I have felt the benefit of similar questions, however the more robust format and context has provided me with additional tools. A genuine connection with those in your team is critical in leadership, yet often does not exist. This will help to provide a real connection and depth of understanding regarding what your employee wants, not what we think he or she wants.

    Steve Riddle: http://www.coachstation.com.au

    • Thanks for stopping by and for the feedback, Steve. I’m glad you like this idea.

      An organization I worked for required this conversation once a year. It seemed to help that 1) employees were expected to come in and discuss their strengths 2) a format guided the conversation. Of course, the conversation can take off, but everyone was prepared for the basics and 3) employees had license to show off work the manager might not have been aware of.

  2. I guess I talk to my people so much that i assume I know the answers to these questions, but it would certainly be a worthwhile exercise to actually ask them. I would hate to be assuming incorrectly. Great post!

    • You seem like a great manager, so you probably do know a lot about your people.

      Sometimes, as a manager, I was trying to keep so many balls in the air that I did not have the employee perspective on how they could and wanted to work differently. Plus, it was an hour where I could learn and understand how work could be done in a better way. Sometimes, we were able to make it happen and sometimes not, but I always left with good ideas.

  3. The advice here is stellar. Having a shared understanding of strengths and weaknesses between boss and subordinate is critical to development and succession planning.

    My only caveat is that sometimes employees have an exaggerated view of their own strengths. Perhaps some type of rigourous testing of strengths could help provide context to this type of discussion. Using self-reported tools like Gallup’s Strengths Finder only goes so far. A 360 feedback on strengths might also provide some real meat to the conversation.

    The real learning occurs when the boss/subordinate identify where they disagree about a strength – and forces some pretty important conversations. Painful, but helpful.

    Thanks for the stimulating post.


    • Thanks for the valued point, Colleen. I’d take it further and suggest that a purely self identification of strengths is often inaccurate. That’s why it’s so important to discuss what someone did to develop their strengths and offer examples.

      The idea is to test the employee on using his or her strengths on the job in a relatively low risk way. If, in fact, the employee really doesn’t have a strength in the area, he or she at least had a shot.

  4. Pingback: 5 Easy Steps to Finding the Right Talent | Roberts Communications Blog

  5. Pingback: If you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree… – Lead.Learn.Live.

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