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Leadership: Whch Employees To Spend Your Time And Energy On
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I was sitting in Natalie's office. She is a direct report of mine. It was Monday and we had just run the gambit of how her son was doing at his first year of college. I had opened the conversation by sharing my fears for my daughter who was heading to middle school. Natalie seemed a bit more tense than normal. I was hoping to offer her some guidance on which employees to spend her time managing as I thought that could lessen her stress and workload.

"So is everything going okay in the department?" I did not want to probe too deeply at first and this was a standard question of my Monday rounds (Friday for that matter as well).

"Yeah," her voice tailed off at the end.

I sat and patiently waited. I knew it was a matter of time before Natalie would articulate her problem.

"It's just that," she continued, "I am not sure my staff is coming together on the new department initiatives."

I nodded.

"I mean, don't get me wrong. I spend about the same time with all of them. It's just that some seem to be getting it better than others." She was quiet a moment before concluding with, "do you understand?"

I furrowed my brow. "So you think that despite your efforts, some staff seem to be getting it more than others?" I tried not to make it sound like an obvious statement.

"Yeah." She was building up steam. "I have some that got it already, and don't even seem to need my help. Then I have some that are sort of getting it, but not as well as the first group. Then I have some that don't even seem to be aware that we have initiated anything." Her voice was raised at the end.

"Natalie," I paused a moment after saying her name. "In any work place, it is pretty common for about a quarter of the workforce, or team, to be actively engaged." I tried to blow the dust off of where I was sitting from, but to no avail, so I continued, "Then you have a little more than half the team that is not totally into the latest initiative. Finally, you have a group of about 20 percent of the team that is actively working against you."

I sat back and let what I had said sink in. Natalie sat a bit taller, pulling her shoulders back. The wrinkles in her face seem to subside. "So what am I suppose to do?" she asked.

A great moment in leadership development is when your leaders begin to ask the questions. "Well," I said. "In my experience, you pay attention to the middle group, the 50% or so that are not actively engaged."

She nodded, processing the information.

"I am not saying to ignore the other groups. I am saying that when it comes down to a time management issue, give your time to the middle group. Your top performers are likely self-motivated and will not require much attention. The bottom 20% or so are not likely to be converted at this time, so spend your time with the group that needs it and is not antagonistic toward your leadership style."

"Sounds like a good idea to me," Natalie said. "Not having to worry about a few employees would be nice. My plate is plenty full already."

"Sure it is," I affirmed. "You can make a real difference with that middle group."

"Well, how would you do that?" she invited my answer.

"One word," I said. "Listen. Listen to them. Ask there fears, ask their goals and ambitions, find out what makes them tick. Don't get too tied up in the questions, just be their to listen to them. Once they are talking to you, you can ask what it would take to get them engaged."

Natalie had a slight smile on her face, "I have less to do, and all I really need to do is listen. Sounds pretty good to me."

"Now it is not all that easy," I said. "You have the difficult job of creating a culture of actively engaged people. Imagine the extraordinary results you will get from your team if they were all actively engaged."

Without missing a beat Natalie chimed, "But what about the bottom 20%?"

"Let's first deal with the larger group, the middle 50 or so percent. Perhaps you will create a culture that brings the bottom along. Or maybe the bottom 20% will just get uncomfortable and leave. That happens a lot when you create a dynamic culture. First things first. Listen to the middle part of your team and let's see if you can get them engaged. Let's save the bottom 20% for another day...or initiative, if you will." I smiled at her.

"Your right. I am going to list my staff and categorize them into groups of engaged, non-engaged, and defiant employees. Then I will spend my time with the middle group." Natalie smiled with satisfaction.

"Great idea," I was being schooled in leadership skills. It warmed my heart. "Let me know how I can help."

"You got me started." Natalie said. "Give me some time with this and we will talk as I get started. Does that work for you?"

"Yup." I got up and started for the door, "Have a good day."

"Thanks. I think I am going to." Her voice sounded almost happy.

Thanks for reading.


Street Talk

How do you determine who to spend time on?

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  about 5 years ago
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