Years ago, when I first started leading management seminars, I was surprised when a manager in the back of the room raised her hand and said: “What you’re recommending really makes sense and I agree with it …”
Then her voice inflection went up, signaling that a “but…” was about to follow.
And it did:
“…but…I’m afraid that if I start doing these things, my team will think I’m just doing them because I heard you were supposed to do them at this seminar.”
She was afraid that if she started acting differently, based on what she had learned in the seminar, they would think she was being phony.
To combat this fear, I came up with a simple process seminar participants could use to take away the suspense of being “caught in the act” of applying what they’d learned.
They could simply TELL their team they would be acting differently based on what they learned at the seminar.
I now recommend to participants that they let their team know they will be trying out new behaviors, and to ask for their feedback. Doing that takes away all the suspense of whether their team will wonder what’s going on.
They simply announce that that, of course, they will be applying what they learned at the seminar—since that’s the whole point of going to a seminar!
I call this the “You Know I Went to the Management Seminar” Conversation. Here’s how you might start it off:
“You know I went to a management seminar yesterday. Well, one of the things we did was talk about things managers do that drive employees crazy, as well as things good managers do that bring out the best in people. As part of that, we were asked to look at what negative things we might be doing and to ask our team to give us feedback on both the things we do they wish we wouldn’t, as well as the good things we do and should keep on doing.
…Some of the negative practices I recognized in myself were forgetting to point out the really great things you and the others do, and not just pointing out the things I don’t like or the things I want you to change. I DO notice and appreciate the good stuff…I just forget to mention it. I also recognize I need to do a much better job of listening and asking questions rather than doing all the talking. The other thing I am going to focus on is asking for more input from you and the others on the team since you obviously see things I don’t since you’re in the trenches day in and day out…
I would appreciate your thoughts about those three things, and also what other things I might want to look at and change …How about if we schedule a meeting later on this week, so you have some time to think about what you want to say?”
Being this open with your direct reports probably will make you feel a bit vulnerable. I’ve had managers say they would never ask for feedback because it would make them appear weak. Actually, the opposite is true. Think about people you respect. Do they pretend they’re perfect and have no room for improvement or do they demonstrate self-awareness by acknowledging they have areas they’re working on and by asking for feedback?
If you’re like the rest of us, you have MORE respect for someone who is willing to look at themselves and grow. Having managers tell their teams what they are working on and asking for feedback also makes them more bondable, in the sense of employees feeling a strong emotional connection to them. When employees have that emotional bond to their manager, they care more deeply about doing a great job and pleasing their manager.
Since research from Gallup and other firms repeatedly has shown that employees who believe their manager cares about them are more highly engaged, simply having this conversation helps increase an employee’s engagement level.
Because it communicates “I care about my impact on you and want to make it as positive as possible” and “I respect you enough to want your feedback.”
So the next time you attend a management development seminar, help yourself transfer what you learned in the classroom to real life by engaging your team members in a “You Know I Went To a Management Seminar Conversation.” While it might feel awkward at first, the results will make it worthwhile.