Earlier this year Colleen Coates wrote a great piece about employee satisfaction and employee engagement. “A recent study by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that even though employees may be satisfied with their jobs,” she says, “it does not automatically translate into having an engaged workforce.”
Several years ago I worked with a fellow who said something like, “I have a good job. I don’t need to really like my job to be good at it. I look at it as a means to an end—a paycheck.”
To be fair, he was very good at what he did. Although I admired his work, I couldn’t understand his willingness to do something he wasn’t passionate about. Throughout my career, being “satisfied” that I had a job has never been good enough. I want to feel passion for what I’m doing. I want to be engaged. I want to take ownership. And, I don’t think I’m alone. I think my friend was just resigning himself to the fact that he was never going to get around to writing the great American novel, make a living and raise a family all at the same time. In reality, I’m not even sure if he really was “satisfied” at all.
“In fact, while 83 percent of employees said they were generally satisfied with their current positions, only 68 percent claimed to feel passion and excitement and just 53 percent felt tuned in at work,” writes Coates.
As long as project teams are asked to develop exciting new products, introduce game-changing new processes or technological advances, we need team members who are totally engaged in their work. If we can’t do that, we’ll be stuck with boring products and services that provide little, if any, value.
With that in mind, the survey introduced a common thread among a majority of respondents: “Interestingly, 54 percent of respondents said that the aspect of the work experience that was most lacking was communication between employees and management,” said Coates. “This is actually good news, because it is never too late to make strides toward improving communications.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about communication lately. Yesterday’s post, Four Keys to Effective Project Communication, is a great place to start. There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s important to:
- Actually Communicate
- Avoid Forcing People to Read Your Mind
- Admit to What You Do and Don’t Know
- Lay All Your Cards on the Table
But saying that and doing it are often different things. The ability to effectively communicate certainly feels more natural to some than to others. Although everything on my list is important, I thought I’d share some ideas about how to actually communicate with the team. It’s a lot harder to tackle the other three keys if you avoid communication in the first place.
- Don’t worry if it doesn’t feel very natural at first: Like anything worth doing, it might take some time to hone your communication skills. The act of doing it makes it easier. And, your team will appreciate your efforts (even if they don’t say it out loud).
- Schedule time every day to step away from the computer to say hello: I find that if I’m not careful, I keep my head down, buried in the work and forget to say anything to anyone. In fact, I often put headphones on so I can tune everyone out to focus on what I’m doing. If I never take the headphones off and acknowledge that I do collaborate with others, I isolate myself from the rest of the team.
- Watch for opportunities to recognize individuals on the team: Over the course of my career I’ve only seen one or two people who were able to do this well, but they really made an impact and were great leaders. They had a knack for noticing when someone was doing good work and would casually comment about it: “Hi Stacy, I noticed the contributions you made to the last brainstorming session we had were very insightful. You really added to the discussion. Thanks for contributing.” It really doesn’t take much—it just needs to be sincere.
- Don’t give up if your first attempts seem to fall flat: Particularly if this is something new for you. Sometimes it takes a while to gain people’s trust and demonstrate that you’re sincere. As important as team meetings or one-on-one reviews are, they are no substitute for connecting on a personal level. In fact, I think most people crave that kind of connection with the people they work with. I once worked with a guy who made it very clear that he didn’t want to “make friends” with his employees. Business was impersonal and he didn’t want to deal with any of the baggage of a “personal” relationship with anyone. Of course this is just my opinion, but business is personal. It’s all about relationships, social capital and interacting collaboratively. Much of that requires a personal relationship. Needless to say, when it was time for me to move on it was very easy—we had a very impersonal relationship.
Many of the best interactions I’ve had with colleagues, team members and superiors have taken place outside of the traditional context of work discussions. They happen when we’re on the road together, in the cafeteria or casually in the halls. Sometimes those conversations with the boss happened naturally and spontaneously, other times (as I look back) he or she was watching for those kinds of opportunities to start a conversation. Either way, they were very effective at building a relationship with me and helped me engage in my work and perform at a higher level.
I foresee that the project manager of the future will have to be a master of communication. As important as managing process may be, it’s leading the people on the project team that determines whether or not a project is a success or a failure. It might be easy to say, “Communicate,” but hopefully these suggestions will help get the conversations started.
What are you doing to make sure you take time to communicate with your team?