One of the complaints I’ve been hearing from leaders lately is that they have to spend so much time managing their employees that they don’t have enough time to get the rest of their work done. This is particularly true for Millennialemployees who tend to want more direction and feedback than other generations of employees. Leaders, here are three simple ways to develop your employees to be more self sufficient so that you can get your work done (and they can too).
- 1. Coach with questions.
In sports, you tend to see coaches yelling commands to the players from the sidelines. In business, however, coaching is asking questions to help a person figure out a solution for themselves. Business coaching is distinguished from mentoring as asking versus telling someone how to do something. While mentoring is the best method in some situations, coaching is a good choice when you want someone to figure it out for themselves.
To help someone develop independence, start by asking them what they think they should do instead of telling them how or just plain doing it for them. Guide them through the problem-solving process to teach them how to figure out how to tackle the task. This will help them be able to go through this process next time a task comes their way, even if it is slightly different. You’ve probably heard the proverb about giving a man a fish as opposed to teaching him to fish. I’ve revised it to make the point about office work:
Give your employees a task and keep them busy for a day;
Teach your employees to work and you empower them for a lifetime.
- 2. Give honest feedback.
As much as people want to hear they did a great job, that doesn’t really help them develop. If someone really does a great job, tell them what they did specifically that made it turn out so well. For example:
“You did a great job running the meeting today. You had an agenda and you followed it. You finished up the meeting by making sure all of the action items were assigned to people with dates and accountability for completing the tasks. It was a very productive meeting and I anticipate that people will follow through with their assigned tasks.”
No one likes to hear that they did a bad job, but you can make it as positive an experience as possible by helping someone learn how to do it better. Telling someone they performed badly is not very useful, but telling them specifically what they did, what the unwanted consequences were, what they could do differently next time, and what the desirable consequences would be is extremely useful. Giving feedback is an art and it takes practice.
- 3. Be unavailable (sometimes).
It is amazing how much people can get done in your absence. If you are sick, are travelling, or are working from home, your employees will often find ways to make decisions, gather information, and figure out challenges without you. Being unavailable forces them to work on their own. Of course, employees love managers with “open door” policies. I don’t discourage that. What I recommend, however, is to encourage independence and give your employees opportunities to get along without you from time to time. That may include leaving an emergency number or having someone else they can go to if something too big arises—and not checking in every 15 minutes.
Sometimes being unavailable is more about you than about your team. If you have the tendency to need to control or micromanage, then the onus is on you to back off and trust your team. The more you engage in coaching your team members with questions and giving them honest feedback, the more you will be able to trust them to do a good job.
Managers may complain about their Millennial employees needing more feedback and direction, but Millennials are also fast learners and eager to develop. If you invest a little bit of time on the front end, you may end up with a star performing team before you know it.