Let’s say that the engagement surveys come back, and they point to a problem with a manager. Five of seven people on his team point to issues.
What to do? It’s pretty simple. You present the manager with the scores and make it clear that he must turn around the disengagement. His first step is to meet with the team, both as a group and individually. They’re the ones who can teach him how to manage them.
So he lays his cards on the table and makes himself vulnerable. This is not a lot of fun. He tells them he’s getting bad scores and is determined to do better. He asks, what’s wrong, and how can we fix it?
His first meeting should be with the team, followed by sit-downs with each individual. While it’s great to be open and vulnerable, and to listen, that doesn’t mean that the manager should accept at face value all the criticism from disengaged employees. They’re not always right.
Not long ago at my company, for example, we went through a bunch of assessments and found out that a significant number of people said that we were moving too fast. It was unsettling for them. When we did an analysis, almost all of those who made this complaint scored in the bottom half on performance.
A much smaller number of people, we found, were making the opposite complaint, insisting that we should turbocharge our efforts and move much faster. These people, it turned out, were our engaged superstars. They were the ones we listened to.
We also pay attention, as you might expect, to psychometric assessments. They can help spot likely sources of friction in the management chain—and point out how to eliminate them. Here’s an example: If you look at my profile, whether in Myers-Briggs or Predictive Index, and compare it to the software developers down the hall, we look like different species. I’m in a hurry, and I have high dominance, which means that I prefer things done my way. The developers, on the other hand, are extremely patient and meticulous, and thankfully, most of them are fully engaged in their work. They want the time to get the code just right—and don’t need an impatient CEO sticking his head in their area on a regular basis and asking for progress reports.
We’re a bad mix. This came through loud and clear on the engagement surveys. So I put a person in between us who’s a better match for their personalities and style of work. They don’t see nearly as much of me as they used to, and they’re happy about that.
Asking Simple Questions
It’s amazing how much information you can gather about performance just by asking the employees. One time we added a single request to the engagement survey: List 10 people not in your department who make outstanding contributions to the company.
From this simple question, which cost no money, we received loads of valuable insights. Coworkers know better than anyone who the stars are.
There were people who worked in the deepest bowels of the tech department, who rarely ventured out into the day, who got tremendous scores.
People know. It’s just a question of asking them. And when you can honor the great work done by these people, it boosts morale and the culture of excellence.
But you can hit speed bumps. We have. You might think that a nimble and responsive enterprise would gather data quickly and reward stars by giving them prompt promotions. And that no doubt was true a decade or two ago. However, today’s younger workforce is also focused on fairness and everybody getting a chance.
Excerpt from The Science of Dream Teams: How Talent Optimization Can Drive Engagement, Productivity, and Happiness by Mike Zani, pp. 76-77 (McGraw Hill, July 2021).
Mike Zani is CEO of the Predictive Index, a talent optimization platform that uses over 60 years of science and software to help businesses design high-performing teams and cultures, make objective hiring decisions, and inspire greatness in people. Its 8,000+ clients include Bain Capital, Blue Cross Blue Shield, DoorDash, LVMH, Nissan, Omni Hotels, and VMware. Zani is also the co-founder and partner at Phoenix Strategy Investments, a private investment fund.