Everywhere I turn, leadership coaches, bloggers and podcast guests are doling out this unilateral advice: “Be sure to check-in with each member of your team at least once per day during this pandemic.”
Although well-intentioned, this admonishment is bad advice for many managers.
Check-ins could easily be perceived as “check-ons” or “check-offs”
First, let’s state the obvious: It sets managers up for failure when they can’t maintain that momentum, particularly when they have so many direct reports that it’s tough to even try.
But there’s a bigger problem with the advice: If you haven’t built a foundation of trust and concern prior to now, such check-ins could easily be perceived as “check-ons” – where employees think you’re just suspicious of whether they’re working – or “check-offs,” where they assume you’re simply checking the box.
With a recent study revealing that nearly half of all managers rarely meet one-on-one with their direct reports, chances are good that you’re among the managers who may be adding stress, anxiety and frustration with your added “presence.”
So how do you provide support without creating suspicion? Here are five suggestions:
Admit it. The next time you meet, admit you haven’t been as engaged with them as you should have been, and ask them to hold you accountable for doing a better job in the future. Then, go beyond just asking how they’re doing: ask about adjustments they and their family have had to make, what the biggest challenges have been, and how you can help. And ask them how often they’d like to have check-in conversations.
Expect the unexpected during team meetings. Thin out your agenda to allow time for disruptions from pets, partners, parents and precocious kids. Embrace disruptions when they arise so that team members aren’t embarrassed. Relish in them, laugh about them, swap stories, and build connections through the collective craziness.
Similarly, encourage the team to share quotes, fun personal stories, suggested courses or books, or links to funny memes or videos (work appropriate, of course!)…whatever has made them smile or lifted their spirits during these trying times.
Call instead of email when you have a legitimate question, and use that times to find out more about what they’re experiencing that day. Caveat: if they prefer texting or instant messaging, ask them if they’re able to hop on a quick call.
Put them first. Yes, business will return to normal, as will meetings and travel plans, but for nonessential workers, practice saying (and meaning), “Based on what you’re comfortable with…” before asking them to take actions that may conflict with their personal sense of safety or with local / state government guidelines. Pushing them with a “business-must-go-on” attitude could make them feel like a commodity as opposed to part of a caring community.
Bottom line: You won’t fool anyone with forced moments of concern, so focus on building a real relationship that will last long after this pandemic subsides (and it will!).