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When life is particularly stressful – like, I don’t know, when you are faced with a possible change of government, Hayne Report and FASEA all at once – it’s easy to let the basics slide.

But of course, that’s when you need them most. Without a steady base from which to work, your life will get increasingly difficult.

In many practices, that steady base is of course your staff. Making sure they are happy at work, doing a quality job and dealing well with all the change is absolutely essential to your own ability to be happy at work, do a quality job.

One way to do this is to make sure that you meet with each of your staff individually each month and make sure those meetings count. And by count, I mean making sure that you are having a proper conversation and not just chatting for 30 minutes about random stuff.

There’s a simple way to make sure you have quality conversations and therefore a quality relationship with each of your staff. It’s called ‘start, stop, keep’. Here’s how it works.

Before each monthly meeting, both you and your team member write down what you would like the other person to start, stop and keep doing. No more than two or three points for each. And yes, this does mean that you will be getting feedback about your own performance each month.

When your meeting comes around and your team member reads out and explains their ‘start, stop, keep’ to you. You don’t comment, you just listen. Which is tough if you’re a talker like me. Unless of course, you don’t understand something, in which case you ask for clarification, using another of my favourite phrases ‘tell me more about that’. And at the end, make sure you commit to what you are going to change (or continue) in the next month.

And then it’s your turn. Same rules apply. Make sure that the feedback you give is concrete and actionable. Don’t say things like, ‘I don’t feel you have enough respect for me.’ Instead say, ‘I hate starting meetings late, so I would like you to be in the meeting room ready to start at the agreed time.’ Your job is to break down anything you’re not happy with into actions, so that your team member knows exactly what you want them to do differently.

Issues get deeper

A funny thing often happens when you implement this approach. The first few meetings will be very high level, with your staff members telling you easy stuff that isn’t really a big deal. Whether they are conscious of it or not, they will be testing the waters to see what happens when you are delivered negative feedback. Do you take it onboard? Do you actually do something different?

After a couple of meetings, where you have proven that yes, you welcome feedback and yes, you will try to modify your own behaviour in response, you will start to find that your people will bring up deeper issues.

This is where the magic really happens. You are now not only developing deeper connections with your people, but you might just find that they have fantastic ideas about how to improve your business and yourself, that they have been holding back for fear of a bad reaction. You are also more likely to find out if they are considering leaving, or want to go part time, or aren’t happy with their salary or the million other things that we all have going on in our own heads when it comes to work.

The other benefit of course, is that annual performance reviews become just about obsolete, because everyone knows how they are tracking during the year. And on a darker note, make sure you keep copies of the feedback (both ways) each month, as it builds a consistent picture of feedback that you’re giving your people (and that they are giving you), should you find yourself in a performance review situation.

In short, making sure your staff are happy campers is absolutely imperative if you want your clients to be looked after properly. In fact, some larger firms are combining their HR and marketing teams, because if you don’t have happy people, then all the marketing in the world is for nought.

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