How open are your Direct Reports about telling you the good, the bad and the ugly? How easy is it for you to have open conversations with your Direct Reports knowing they will take everything the right way?
Creating a partnership with your Direct Reports is the best way to encourage open, honest conversations to get to the bottom of things quickly and move through them. If either one of you is afraid to speak up and give honest opinions or feedback, then you spend way too much time walking on egg shells and covering up mistakes.
If you want a true partnership with your Direct Reports, one of the best ways to create that structure is to have “Partnership Conversations”. Whether you have a team of people who report to you or you need to influence those who don’t, we all teach people how to work with us. Most of the time it isn’t conscious, but the more conscious we can make it, the more influence we can create through open honest conversation. Becoming clear on who you are as a leader and how you will work with others gives them a structure to work within and can bring out their strengths as well.
To help you prepare for these conversations, I’ll give you a few questions to ask yourself.
What kind of tone do you want to set?
Think about your strengths and values to help you answer this question. What would it be like working with you? What do you like? What do you not like?
This is how one of my clients answered.
“My goal really is to create an environment where it is upbeat and it’s positive. I want to like going to work everyday and I’d like to create an environment where other people like going to work every day. They get to work on interesting projects and talk to nice people and go home at the end of the day and forget about what they’ve done.
I’m a big picture person, so I’m happy to discuss their projects in the broad strokes and what the objectives are and then they can come up with their own work plan and their own timeline as long as it fits with what has to get done. I have an open door policy and I expect people to do their research. I expect people to try and figure out what their project means for them and come and ask me questions and if you need me to work through certain things with you in order to get to a point I’m happy to do that, but come to me with ideas. Or come to me with questions, but I’m not going to do your work for you.”
So what are some things that are important for you to be able to work with others?
The next question to ask yourself is, what are your expectations?
Here is an example of expectations: “My expectations are pretty high, but I give people room to make mistakes. Mistakes happen and I have absolutely no problem when somebody makes mistakes, but if you make the same mistake 7 times then this isn’t going to work. Everyone has a learning curve and everyone needs to learn.
The first time someone works through a situation or project, something is going to come up and stuff is going to get done wrong and that’s ok. That’s part of learning, that’s part of figuring out the best way of doing something with your own systems and everything else. But I don’t have a whole lot of patience for somebody who keeps doing the same thing wrong over and over and over again after they’ve been given feedback and after they’ve been given directions. If you aren’t able to take feedback and direction and incorporate it and deliver on it, I don’t see a place for you on my team.”
Here is the great thing about expectations. When you are in partnership with someone, you can set the expectation for just about anything. So, if a major change comes from above, you can set the expectation that that change will happen and if you are in partnership, your colleagues will be fine with making the change.
I had been working with a director to help him increase his trust and partnership with the members of his department when he was told that he needed to find ways to modify the budget and cut costs. He held a meeting with his staff giving them this news, setting the expectation that the department needed to start saving money and asking for input on ways to do it. Not knowing exactly how the staff would take the news, he could not have been more pleased with the outcome of the meeting.
Staff members completely understood the company was struggling and they were very concerned with what they could do to help. In fact, they started brainstorming and came up with ways of centralizing equipment to save replacement costs. One of the employees mentioned the idea of working an hour less each day. Others said they would be willing to move from third shift to second shift. These last two ideas meant bringing home a smaller paycheck, but they were willing to do that to help the company. Within a month of the meeting, the department was able to implement several of their ideas and they saved $45,000, with full buy-in from the staff.
As a leader, it’s very important to know what your expectations are and to constantly be communicating them from the standpoint of partnership.
The third question to ask yourself is what are your boundaries?
Boundaries don’t come very naturally to us as women since they are more of a masculine trait, but we do have access to them when we use our masculine side. However, setting your boundaries gives you a structure where you can then show up as your best self and you can then spend more time in pull mode instead of pushing all the time.
So think about what you need to bring out your best self. Do you need a good work/life balance? Do you need an environment that is collaborative? Do you need to work with others who are proactive? Do you need to make sure that you eat lunch at a certain time every day?
Once you have figured out what your boundaries are to bring your best self to work, you can then figure out what you need to create those boundaries.
You can create an environment of partnership by clearly defining the tone you want to set, the expectations you want to create and the boundaries you need to bring out your best self. Then, the goal is to spend 80% of your conversations with others talking about these things in relationship to the work getting done so that they have a clear structure on how to work with you and how you can work with them.
If you would like more tips on how to get the best from your Direct Reports, then download my free Magnetic Influence Litmus Test where I share 4 simple questions you can ask yourself to predict your ability to influence, and how to gain that influence.