A challenge to all managers: Do you know your people?

How happy?

I’m going to risk provoking business leaders everywhere and state that any leader worth her salt knows how happy her people are at work. This is a leader’s most basic responsibility. You shouldn’t need to see a pie chart – you should know already.

The question of “How happy are people in our organization??? is typically handed over to HR who can then distribute a job satisfaction survey that results in a lot of statistics which can then be sliced and diced in any number of way to produce any number of results. You know – “lies, damned lies and statistics???.

I’m not saying these surveys are worthless. Wait a minute: I am saying they’re worthless. They’re a waste of time and money because they very rarely give a company the information or the drive necessary to make positive changes.

As I said, you as a leader/manager shouldn’t need a survey to know how your people are doing so I challenge you to a simple exercise. It goes like this:

  1. Make a list of all the people who report to you. If you can’t remember all their names, that’s a great place to start :o)
  2. Next to each person, put a number from 0-10, based on that person’s happiness at work. 0=desperately unhappy, 10=ecstatic.
  3. Next to each number write what made you choose that score. What have you observed that person doing/saying/not saying that led you to that particular score.

Here’s an example of such a chart:

Alice Smith 8 Always sounds positive at meetings, continually praises co-workers, greets everyone with a loud, cheerful “good morning” every day
John Wallace 4 Very quiet in meetings, has looked tired for weeks, has called in sick often last three months
Mia Jensen ? Good question. Never complains but never looks particularly happy either.
Mike Wagner 9 Always cheerful, arranged that great picnic a month ago. Seems friendly with everyone


Can you do it? Can you do it for all of your people or only for some of them?

If you’re not reasonably confident of all your scores or if you’re unable to rate some of your people’s work-happiness add step 3b:

Step 3b: Observe your people for a few days to gather more data.
Don’t tell them what you’re doing, just observe them. Don’t be weird about it or anything, but take a closer look at your people to find out how happy each of them is. Once you have more data, update your chart.

A while back a survey showed that 60% of all managers felt that dealing with their employees took too much time away from their work. Well guess what: Your employees are your work! Your most important responsibility as a manager is to keep them productive. And that all begins with knowing how they’re doing and how happy they are at work.

Once you’ve observed your people and know how they’re doing, you can go to the last step:

Step 4: Verify your scores.
Have a fifteen-minute chat with each of your people to find out how happy they are. Ask them to rate themselves from 0-10. Also ask them what makes them happy at work and what could make them happier. And don’t forget to ask them what they think of how you’re doing your job!

Do this exercise now and then repeat it periodically. Every three months is great.

As I wrote that last paragraph, I could almost hear the collective cry going up from the leaders reading this: “I don’t have time for your shenanigans – I have too much on my plate already”.

Let’s turn that objection upside down: You don’t have time not to do it. This will cost you fifteen minutes per employee every three months but it will save you enormous amounts of time because you install an early warning system that tells you when things are starting to go badly for your people – instead of when they finally blow up and/or quit. You make them happier at work and your organization/department will reap the benefits.

There are two things you need to be prepared for:

  1. You may be told things about your leadership that you didn’t know and which may not sit well with you. Be open to whatever criticism and/or praise you recieve. You can’t possibly act on all the feedback you get, some of which may even conflict, but you need to receive it openly and constructively. Do not get defensive. When criticized ask follow-up questions to make sure you’ve understood the criticism fully and then thank the person for their honest feedback.
  2. You also need to act on the feedback you get, to show people that you’re committed to improving as a leader and that you’re actually receiving their feedback.

Try it and let me know how it goes.

8 thoughts on “A challenge to all managers: Do you know your people?”

  1. Pingback: Tdenham
  2. I have read about a dozen of your articles so far and have noticed you miss one small thing. You have this assumption that the management cares about the worker as a person. What do you propose to a person that works in a place where it is well known that you can be replaced at any time for any reason and that people who complain tend to get fired? And if they think you are looking for new work/interviewing, they will preemptively fire you.

  3. Steve: Great question. I would get out of Dodge so fast, it would make their head spin.

    No amount of money could get me to work in an unhappy workplace, that has no prospects of improving.

    If leaving is absolutely not an option (and for some people it isn’t), the only recourse is to accept the situation. To remember that you have this job not because it will make you happy, but because you need the money.

    The hunker down, do your job, and find some things outside of work that will make you happy.

    It sucks and I would personally NEVER do it. I’d rather go bankrupt and lose my house than work day in and day out at a job that sucks.

    What do you think?

  4. Good challenge Alex.

    I really like the fact that it starts with paying attention to the people you work with.

    Attentiveness takes energy because we have to see beyond the surface while looking for patterns like you suggest.

    And attentiveness takes courage because we might not like what we see…or hear back as you observe.

    I remember one Christian friend who half-joking talked about praying this prayer: O Lord, help me to meet every need I see….and help me not to see too many.

    Always good read for the heart and mind here: thanks Alex!

  5. I was searching for “Do you know your people?” because i have written a book with this title and it is about same subject – people management. I can say that the book is an extension to the valuable information on this page.

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