Relationships and communication drive the world…we all realize this. I am not simply referring to “who you know” although certainly that comes to mind. I am referring more to the fact that every single day, we have opportunities to create, sustain, strengthen, damage or dissolve relationships. We have chances at every turn to do positive things and choose actions that impact lives. The most subtle interaction that we take for granted could invigorate another person and be a turning point for their career, or their life. The simplest interaction can have profound impact. I am certain you can think back to several (seemingly small) interactions in life that have altered your path. Hopefully, these were for the positive, but we all know it can certainly work the opposite way.
Real Stories That Alter Paths
Let’s relate this to the workplace with several quick examples from my past to which I am certain you can relate.
Story #1: I was about three months into my staffing/recruiting career. I was failing, horrifically. I was 23, unmotivated, a little lost in life during my transition from college to the working world, and simply under-performing. I had a manager that pulled me aside one day (after a couple verbal discussions) to discuss with me that I wasn’t ramping up my billing quickly enough. She asked me to take a walk and we went to another area of the company property and sat at a picnic table. She looked me in the eyes, told me how it was, and also offered to listen to “what was going on” because I was not performing as advertised in my interview. Immediately I was taken aback and defensive, but after the interaction, I realized that she had an interest in me, and in helping me turn this new career around. She could have terminated me and hired someone else or let me continue to fail to strengthen her case for eventual termination. She did neither, and invested a bit in me emotionally. I went on to become a senior manager in that company just two years later. A simple, direct and genuine discussion that many would overlook resulted in me steering my career towards significant success.
Increase Employee Engagement with Continuous Goal Management
Story #2: I was about two years into my corporate Human Resources (HR) career when it suddenly struck me on a rather slow day that if I wanted, I could totally see my employee file. It was more of a sudden curiosity that struck me rather than this crazy (seemingly obvious) revelation. I went to the filing cabinet (yes, I am that old – electronic employee files were just starting to gain ground), grabbed my file, and headed back to my desk. On the left inside tab was my resume from my initial interview. As I was about to breeze past it, I noticed a note my manager wrote in the upper right corner in all capital letters. It simply said “POTENTIAL.” This is a word that I am not sure I ever heard someone say to me, or about me. I still to this day feel an immense sense of pride and motivation to live up to that. I think about it all the time, and am incredibly thankful and humbled that someone so talented thought this about me.
Story #3: Fast forward to present day. Here I am at Deltek. I made a total career change at age 40, transitioning from being a senior HR practitioner to the Human Capital Management (HCM) product management world. This was a transition that many would not have made. I was divorced, splitting custody of my wonderful kids, and a one income household. Why would I take a near twenty year career in HR and make this move at this time when there was so much risk? What if I failed? How would I take care of my kids and support us? Even with those concerns in mind, I was determined to be successful in this new path and demonstrate to myself and my kids that I could do this, that it can be done at any age, and that I could succeed at a very challenging career. It was only about two weeks into this position and my head was spinning. All new acronyms (a ton of them) to learn, the technology seemed intimidating, and I was sure certain people were wondering how I got this position. I had a regularly scheduled 1-on-1 discussion with my new manager who had recruited me. I remember vividly that I was relaying some initial observations and I asked her for direction on how I should tackle product strategy. Two weeks, brand new to this career and organization, my manager said to me, “I trust your decisions and that you will make the right ones.” I thought to myself, “who says that two weeks in to an employee?” I was brand new, I hadn’t earned this trust yet, and there was no reason for me to receive this trust (at least in my mind). It was that near twenty-year career and all that came with it that earned the trust, and there was absolutely no way I was not going to deliver.
Three situations, all extremely different, and yet all have a commonality. In every situation, there was a simple interaction (verbal or written); one word, one line, or a quick discussion that shaped not just my career, but my life. I love my career and the path I have taken. I have enjoyed a ton of success that I can honestly attribute to a handful of individuals who simply took an interest in my development. They spoke to me consistently in a genuine manner, and helped me get to where I am.
Communication Is the Past, Present and Future
It is these opportunities to connect and influence that we need to act on. In order to do this, as HR professionals and leaders, we must build and foster the right processes and culture that help create stories like the above. Note that not a single one of my most defining moments in my career had anything to do with notes or comments from a performance appraisal. To this day, I cannot remember a single comment any manager has ever made on a performance appraisal, not one. What I can remember, and what has impacted my career are the moments of compassion and investment.
To be direct, if you have not adopted the Continuous Feedback process in your organization, you are most likely missing out on creating more moments like the above. If your primary performance management tool is still appraisals, you have very little opportunity to create similar impact. Relying largely on an antiquated, non-specific, disingenuous and untimely method of employee engagement, development and measurement is costing your business. Continuous Feedback and ongoing communication have transformed the workplace with a mechanism that fosters opportunities for stories like the above.
To close, I want to note that on a personal level as a father to two amazing kids, I recognize just how important key relationships and communication are. My kids look to me for so many things: support, leadership, development and encouragement. Do the four items I just mentioned sound like anything else? Just like being a leader in the workplace, all of these items rely on constant communication and feedback to foster growth, encourage learning, development and success. There are so many similarities between personal and professional lives, although we are taught often times to keep them separate. That doesn’t mean though that the skills and processes are not transferable. My challenge to you is this. Are you developing, implementing and fostering processes that can lead to positive impacts on lives? If not, it is definitely time for transformation.