You Don’t have to Be a Grammy-Winning Artist to Have Rhythm

A captivating rhythm is a common thread among the winners of last night’s Grammy Awards. They have a steady beat that gets – and keeps – the attention of others.

That formula for success isn’t reserved for Billboard artists.

It applies to managers in the workplace, as well. The best managers have a steady beat in their communication and connections with employees and customers.

They walk the talk daily with a lively step that signals “happy to be here,” “happy to see you” and “happy to be working with you.” They hold ongoing conversations with others about business hits, misses, opportunities and challenges. They stay a part of the team, rather than apart from it.

Consistent outreach will deliver bottom-line benefits. A study of CEO engagement reported by Harvard Business School revealed that for every 1 percent gain in time spent with at least one company associate, productivity improved 1.23 percent. That’s a performance boost that any organization craves.

Here are four practices for connecting with employees and customers. Combined, they will contribute to chart-topping performance—but only if they are part of a manager’s regular rhythm on the job.

No 1. Keep your head up and smile. That seems so basic and simple. But it’s really not. We’re increasingly being sucked in by the screens of our smartphones and tablets. According to a recent study, smartphone users check their phones 34 times a day.

A typical ‘check’ lasts less than 30 seconds and occurs within 10 minutes of the last. That’s a lot of looking down. The net effect is that we see more tops of heads rather than actual faces. So heads up! Whether walking through a hallway or standing in an elevator, put away your smartphone and look at those around you. Let loose a smile, look directly at the other person or persons, and once you make visual contact, voice a pleasant greeting, such as “Hi there, how’s your day going?”  That direct connection will deliver big benefits by forging greater rapport and real relationships in the workplace.

No 2. Ask: How Am I Doing? It was the motto of the late, New York City Mayor Ed Koch. On streets and subways, Koch regularly posed the question to everyday New Yorkers during his three terms in office. It was his trigger for direct feedback on the good and the bad of his leadership. Koch’s question is terrific, and worthy of a manager’s adaption into a phone call, casual conversation or an email exchange.

A word of warning to the thin skinned: the question's negative responses may send you bristling and cause combustion rather than connection. Strengthen your receptivity to the spontaneity of feedback from this kind of question by focusing on its value. It’s likely you’ll learn something new that will help you get better in what you do and how you do. Elevate the question to “how are we doing” and you’ll get ideas that can lead to cost savings and other improvements that enhance productivity.

No 3. Use social media to surface questions.  Here’s a tactic to import from the sports world. Most sports stadiums provide fans a SMS outlet (i.e., text messaging) to report unruly spectators. That’s instant feedback!  Invaluable. Social media platforms promote virtual engagement, enabling you to connect with geographically dispersed employees or customers and keeps them in the game, rather than feeling their distance.

Create a dial-in number for locations to submit comments or questions during a satellite meeting. Offering anonymity allows even the most introverted employees to speak up. Use real-time polling practices during videoconferences to revive and engage employees. This feature allows others to move from spectator to participant by responding to in-session, multiple-choice questions. You can raise the level of engagement by displaying the results directly on the screen. Seeing their feedback will make believers out of employees that you value what they think.

No 4. Eat out. Not out in a restaurant, but out of your office. The norm that I often see while visiting clients’ offices is grab and go—grab a sandwich and go back to your office. Avoid being held hostage by your email inbox. Move away from the computer screen and walk to a break room, cafeteria or outdoor picnic table where you can join other team members for grab and grub. I’ve coached executives at major corporations on how to sit down and fit in with front-line cliques in the company cafeteria.

Often the sight of a high-level leader—approaching with tray in hand -- can paralyze workers and make them mum. Break that cone of silence by choosing an inside seat at the table. Once seated, strike up a conversation with a safety net of questions: open-enders about non-controversial topics, such as favorite Super Bowl ads or—for those in the North East--snow storm Nemo horror stories. After a few minutes, turn the conversation focus to inside matters and pose some questions about challenges and changes on the job.

This is a rich opportunity to learn from associates about how industry, customer or organizational changes are affecting their world. Keep this as a steady-state practice and conversations will open wider to ideas that can make your company even better. Leaders adept in this practice make this an innovation feeder by bringing a real problem to the table and asking for solutions—and help.

Linda Dulye is internationally recognized for helping many companies go spectator free. A former communications leader for GE and Allied Signal, Linda established Dulye & Co. in 1998 with a practical, process-driven approach for improving communications and collaboration through an engaged workforce— a formidable competitive advantage, that she calls a Spectator-Free Workplace™.