Listening to and learning from your employees uncovers opportunities for your business and helps your leaders improve their performance management abilities. The more you listen, the more you learn what people think, how they feel and how best you can help aid them in developing their skills so they can keep growing as a professional. Yes, listening is really that impactful!

When our Root researchers listen to how highly productive employees go about their days, we can begin to identify the specific behaviors – which might seem insignificant at first glance – that enable those employees to perform better than their peers. We spend time with average employees, too. As we key into those factors that are causing them to get stuck in a performance rut, we often find it comes to what they understand and what they don’t in regards to their organization’s strategy.

After all of this listening, my team and I present our findings to leaders at the organization. Often, they are surprised to hear how confused people are about the big picture or how they’re unable to connect their individual roles to helping the business succeed. In fact, nine out of 10 times, the following words fall out of someone’s mouth: “But we’ve already told them about that strategy shift! That email I sent could not have been any clearer.”  Well, the people have spoken … and apparently your message wasn’t as clear as you thought!


There’s a common belief in the marketing and business worlds that people have to hear something seven times before it really sticks1. And there’s a lot of truth to that. Hitting a message just once, whether it is a piece of individual feedback shared during a one-to-one meeting or a memo emailed to a team about a major change, is utterly ineffective. Simply repeating the same message in the same way also lacks impact. These tactics will not help you meet any Performance Management goals. But, there IS a way to communicate with your people successfully – and help you become better leaders to boot. And it’s not as complicated as you might think.

My team and I have spent many hours working with managers across pretty much every industry out there – from B2B sales force managers, to the managers of operating rooms, to those managing the frontline of retail and hospitality. During these interactions, it has become very clear that how you share your message, the methods and mediums you choose, is equally as important as the frequency with which you share it. The key is to add a little spice … a little variety goes a really long way!

The more you talk with your people about something, the more opportunities your team has to process the information, ask questions and think more deeply about what it means to them. By changing up the delivery method, you are ensuring that you catch their attention and appeal to the different ways your team members learn. Understanding is critical to engagement. And, as we all know from studies, data and real-life experience, engaged employees are happier. They’re more productive. And they’ll stick around longer, working harder for you.

Since every organization and team is unique, you’ll need to test out the variety of communications that work best for your team. The key is to pick at least three different methods. Think of it like those old Chinese restaurant menus that allow you to create your own custom meal by choosing from a variety of items: pick one option from Column A and two from Column B. Well, consider applying that same process to your message delivery. The only restriction is that you MUST choose at least one method that includes two-way conversation – after all, stellar managers don’t tell; they discuss and listen. This one action alone can help a leader only moderately skilled in performance management to increase his or her effectiveness!


We recently interviewed the highest-performing managers of airport gate agents for a major U.S. airline. When asked about the biggest change they had to communicate to their teams, one manager immediately said, “Oh, it’s definitely the ban on hoverboards.” Say, what?

That seems pretty cut and dry – don’t let hoverboards on the plane, right? But for the gate agents, handling that ban meant coming up with strategies on how to handle upset customers effectively, how to clearly explain why hoverboards weren’t allowed and how to help customers deal with their hoverboards before boarding. (By the way, steps on how to deal with those issues were not included in the new policy passed down from Corporate.)

Luckily, this manager was agile enough to handle the challenge on his own. With very little preparation, he was ready to jump into action to ensure his teams were prepared to handle this new situation. First, he emailed the change to them. Then he walked from gate to gate to remind agents, answer questions and talk through strategies for assisting customers inconvenienced by the ban. He also put examples of how to deal with the situation in writing on break room tables.

By using multiple methods to communicate the issue and the solutions, this agile manager was able to effectively get his team through the change with minimal negative impact to morale or customer experience.

There’s no doubt that even the most minor change can create a load of problems. Leaders who can function on the fly to communicate effectively before, during and after change, will help their teams seamlessly maneuver most bumps (click here for a few more amazing examples of varied, agile communications at work). Alternatively, managers and leaders who simply pass along the information just once can lead their teams straight into a tornado of issues.

Here’s the good news: arming your teams with the knowledge to handle change with minimal discomfort and discord is totally do-able! It boils down to being varied in your delivery and agile enough to respond to real-time changes. With smart communication, a bit of elbow grease and a commitment to ensuring your people not only hear what you’re saying but also understand what to do and why, you’ll be able to coach them through any change – big or small. Even if it’s telling a teenager their hoverboard has got to go.

September 6, 2016


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