leadership, Rewards & Recognition | Article

A Great People Leader’s Most Important Tool

Giving feedback is likely already a tool in your leadership toolkit. But how meaningful is the feedback you give to employees?

In today’s evolving workplace, one question takes center stage: Do employees perform better when working on-site, remotely, or in a hybrid setup? We believe it is crucial to understand what truly drives employee engagement. While time spent in the office matters, there’s something that matters more: Meaningful feedback.

Gallup’s research during the pandemic revealed a couple things. The first is that employees in collaborative roles working on-site for 2-3 days a week are more engaged and have higher well-being. The second, and the real game-changer, is about the feedback they receive. A whopping 80% of employees who report having received meaningful feedback in the past week are fully engaged, regardless of their physical work location. In fact, meaningful feedback has four times the impact on engagement compared to the number of days spent in the office.

Makes sense, right? The problem is that a recent Gallup study found that only 16% of employees considered their last conversation with their manager to be extremely meaningful. So, what pieces might be missing? What makes feedback truly meaningful?

Five Key Characteristics of Meaningful Conversations

1. Recognition and appreciation for recent work. Shockingly, only 10% of employees are asked how they prefer to be recognized and appreciated. And only 23% feel they receive the right amount of recognition for their efforts. However, those who do receive authentic recognition are four times more likely to be engaged.

2. Collaboration and relationships. In a digital work environment, fostering collaboration and nurturing relationships becomes vital. Gallup discovered that coworker relationships were even more critical in 2022 than pre-pandemic. People leaders  play a pivotal role in facilitating these connections.

3. Goals and priorities. Work expectations are not always clear, especially for younger employees that are new to the workplace. Regular check-ins are essential to fill the gaps as well as to adapt to business needs.

4. Length of conversation. Meaningful conversations can happen in 15 to 30 minutes if they occur frequently. Shorter, more frequent conversations have a more substantial impact than longer, less frequent ones.

5. Employee strengths. Conversations focused on individual strengths and contributions are highly meaningful. Facilitate these discussions so you can maximize each team member’s potential.

It’s clear that feedback is more meaningful when people leaders focus on these elements in their conversations. Ideally, these discussions should occur weekly and be concise. While challenges may arise, address them in a way that inspires and builds trust.

The least meaningful conversation topic for employees is typically discussing their weaknesses. No one enjoys hearing about what they don’t do well. This could be due to the fact that oftentimes these are the only topics managers address. Without prioritizing frequent, uplifting conversations, building trust and safety is an uphill battle.

How to Cultivate Meaningful Conversations as a Weekly Habit

So how can ensure we are engaging in these conversations regularly? Managers already juggle numerous responsibilities, but meaningful conversations are a solution not an additional burden. Here are some methods that Gallup has found to be effective:

1. Implement strengths-based management. This approach simplifies and streamlines the role of leaders. When you act as a coach for your team, you can easily clarify goals and build accountability.

2. Teach simple, science-based insights. Leaders need straightforward insights into what works, especially concerning customer outcomes. Equip your leaders with robust insights about human nature.

3. Create learning modules. Learning modules can help leaders learn how to dive deeper into strengths and performance development. Consider covering topics such as DEI or wellbeing. Offer hands-on experiences so people leaders can practice check-ins with employees.

4. Support peer learning. Leaders can gain valuable insights by sharing their challenges, ideas, and successes with their peers. Learning from others who have faced similar situations can be incredibly beneficial.

Gallup conducted 17 studies on the effectiveness of upskilling managers as described above. The results were remarkable. Leaders who underwent strengths-based upskilling exhibited 10-22% higher engagement levels, 8-18% higher team engagement, 21-28% lower turnover rates, and 20-28% higher likelihood of performance improvement compared to their peers. These effects also compound over time.

Whether you’re a front-line manager or a C-suite executive, make meaningful conversations a weekly habit. Your organization will witness higher engagement, improved performance, and reduced turnover. These are the keys to ensuring sustained success in the ever-evolving world of work.