159: [Solo] Why & How to Get to Know Your Employees to Increase Engagement and Performance

ep159 why and how to get to know your employees to increase engagement and performance TalentGrow Show with Halelly Azulay

A mistake many busy leaders make is to just focus on getting the work done. They fall into the role of task master and interact with their team members on a task-basis only.

Your workplace interactions with your employees should be about more than just work tasks. The more that your team members feel like you care to see and know them as humans (not just workers), the more they feel a brain-based need to reciprocate that same care and attention. Caring, vulnerability, curiosity, kindness, and caring build trust.

In this solo episode of the TalentGrow Show, I share a personal story from a recent workshop in which learning this lesson deeply moved the participants and generated insights and commitments to change. I discuss why you should increase your intimacy with your team members – to know them better – and how to get started (plus what NOT to do).

Take a listen, weigh in with your own opinion, and share with others!

What you’ll learn:

  • Why Halelly is proud that she made grown men and women cry (at work, no less)

  • What is the significance of connecting with people on your team on a deeper, more human level?

  • Turns out humans need to feel a sense of connection at work. Why?

    • Greater connection leads to greater trust.

    • Greater trust leads to greater commitment.

    • Greater commitment leads to greater engagement.

    • Greater engagement leads to better performance.


  • What’s your biggest A-ha or takeaway from this episode?

  • What other ideas do you have for getting to know your employees better?

  • Would you like to submit a topic for a future solo episode? You can use the voice messaging widget right here on the website and then I can even play your audio (with your permission, of course) on the episode! Or you can send me an email, or a ‘contact us’ form on this site, or a comment-based question, or a tweet…. You get the picture. Anyway you like it, I would love to hear your question!

About Halelly Azulay

Have we met? I'm Halelly Azulay. I'm an author, speaker, facilitator, and leadership development strategist and an expert in leadership, communication skills, and emotional intelligence. I am the author of two books, Employee Development on a Shoestring (ATD Press) and Strength to Strength: How Working from Your Strengths Can Help You Lead a More Fulfilling Life. My books, workshops and retreats build on my 20+ years of professional experience in communication and leadership development in corporate, government, nonprofit and academic organizations.

I am the president of TalentGrow LLC, a consulting company focused on developing leaders and teams, especially for enterprises experiencing explosive growth or expansion. TalentGrow specializes in people leadership skills, which include communication skills, teambuilding, coaching and emotional intelligence. TalentGrow works with all organizational levels, including C-level leaders, frontline managers, and individual contributors.

People hire me to speak at conferences and meetings and to facilitate leadership workshops, but what I love most is to help fast growing organizations create a leadership development strategy and approach.

I'm a contributing author to numerous books, articles and blogs. I was described as a “Leadership Development Guru” by TD Magazine. I blog, publish a leadership podcast (um, hello?!), and have a popular free weekly subscription newsletter – so you should definitely sign up at www.tinyurl.com/talentgrow.


Episode 159 Solo

[MUSIC] Announcer: Welcome to the TalentGrow Show, where you can get actionable results-oriented insight and advice on how to take your leadership, communication and people skills to the next level and become the kind of leader people want to follow. And now, your host and leadership development strategist, Halelly Azulay.

Halelly: Hey there TalentGrowers. Welcome back to another episode of the TalentGrow Show. This is Halelly Azulay. I’m your leadership development strategist here at TalentGrow. That’s my company I founded in 2006 to develop leaders that people actually want to follow and my company, TalentGrow, sponsors this podcast so that it can be free to you every Tuesday morning. This episode is a solo episode and it probably will be a pretty short one.

I really wanted to talk to you about something that I just experienced as I’m recording it – you’re going to be hearing it a couple of weeks later – but I just came back from a very wonderful experience, a four-day leadership development program that I conducted for a new client of mine, and took a group of people through an experience where they learned how to become better leaders and managers. Some of these people have actually been in a leadership role, 10 or 30 years, one of them, but their organization has really never provided them with this kind of professional development opportunity in a formal manner. They picked up along the way, as most people do, which is fine, but not sufficient. It was really great because we had a lot of engagement. People really received the workshop well and I have a confession to make – I made grown people cry. It was really moving. It was the very final day of the program, at the end, and we were reflecting on any kind of significant insight or personal shift and a couple of the people got so emotional about their commitment to change and the changes that have happened in them and the realizations they’ve had that they started crying as they shared what their insight was and their commitment to taking an action in the next month to begin ratcheting up their own leadership skills.

One of the themes that really, really resonated with this group, I thought maybe we could talk about it here so I can share that with you as well. It was this idea, or the question really, how well do you know your employees? The people on your team. How intimately do you know them? How much of a trusting relationship have you formed with them?

This particular group was no different than any other group that I meet in that they felt totally overwhelmed, overworked, stressed out, having to do more with less, all the time, and so naturally their focus as leaders, as managers, as supervisors, is to focus on the tasks that need to be done and on the deadlines and on orchestrating the work and managing projects. When they interact with their employees, it is often from a place of giving instructions, directing work, guiding, maybe training or maybe correcting things that have been done incorrectly. Many of their interactions – to this point – have not necessarily been the kind that we talked about in the workshop that I wanted to share here with you, that help develop a deeper level of trust.

Now, why do you even need that? We talked about engagement. It’s not the first time that I’m going to speak about it here on the show, but this idea of employee engagement, when you think about what does that even mean? Engagement is the state of doing work with discretionary effort. Being committed to the goals of the organization, of the team, and putting in effort that is above the minimum necessary. Discretionary effort. Working extra hard. Being extra committed. When people are engaged at their job, they give 100 percent. If you believe in the cliché of the non-mathematical giving 110 percent, 120 percent, whatever you like to say. When people are disengaged or unengaged, they typically do the minimum necessary to keep their job. Some people are actively disengaged and they actually do things that are sabotaging the organization or just outright harassing or detrimental. Most people just kind of keep their head low and just do their job and many people are dedicated employees, but they don’t feel a strong connection.

When we get people to feel that strong connection and get them to work from that place of engagement, where they care so deeply and give that extra discretionary effort, obviously, that creates work quality that is improved, it improves productivity, it improves efficiency, it improves effectiveness, it has a positive upward spiraling affect on other people on the team, it creates greater commitment to the organizational mission, it actually creates more satisfied customers if these folks interact with the customers and certainly their internal clients feel that extra commitment. There are many ways to get there, and there are many ways in which we’re getting in the way of greater engagement.

One of the most impactful and easy to implement ways to create better engagement is to build trusted relationships. To build trusted relationships, you have to show that you know your people, that you see them, and that you care about them. You have to develop trust with them. You have to trust them and they have to trust you. One of the easiest ways to get started down this path is to consider that you can get to know them better and show interest in them beyond just the dry work skills and work tasks and interactions about the work. Interactions about them, as humans. About what they care about, what they are passionate about, what their hopes and aspirations are, what their concerns are, what their fears are, what their goals are, what challenges them. These are the kinds of interactions that sometimes will even catch them off guard if you haven’t really been in the habit of doing that, but will go such a long way to deepen the bond, to build deeper intimacy in your relationship with your employees and to help them see you as someone who sees them as who they are and cares to help them or cares to know that they are well. When they do, it will trigger a reciprocity effect in them where they will want to do the same for you. It’s kind of a biological thing. It’s not necessarily a rational thinking thing. It’s a much deeper level human need to feel connected and related to others and to reciprocate when we feel that someone shows us vulnerability, kindness, curiosity and interest.

So we did an exercise where I had folks reflect on a series of questions and actually think about a particular employee, so I’ll share this with you and maybe you can do it too. Think about a particular employee on your team – you should do this with every employee, but just for now, think about one, not that you know the best. Not your go-to best bud on the team, but somebody who is sort of in the middle. Think about what do you know about them? Do you know what they like and dislike? Do you know their hobbies? Do you know about their family? Do you know what they do on the weekends or during vacations for fun? Do you know what their career goals are? Do you know what they thought they would be when they would grow up, when they were a child? Do you know what their fears are or what they are very passionate about? Do you know what frustrates them? Do you know what they need that they are not getting right now at work? There are so many ways you can start to recognize, and this is the reaction that I had from these folks. They said, “I thought I knew my people,” but going through this exercise, many of them were just dumbfounded by how many of the answers they did not know to these questions. They said, “I don’t know my people that well.” The goal is not to make you feel ashamed or inadequate in any way. The goal is to say, “Oh, here’s an opportunity to start to gain new insights,” and it’s something that, luckily, you can do immediately and in a very easy and a baby step kind of way.

I definitely don’t suggest you sit down your employees and start interrogating them about their hopes and fears and deepest worries, because they’re going to probably look for the door and start running. You’re going to freak them out. That’s too much all at once. You need to build up to it. But you can think about some maybe relatively easy, surface-level, work-safe kinds of questions that you can ask people and you can do those in between in the seams kind of interactions you have with them. Like, “Hey, how was your weekend?” Or you can do a quick exercise at the beginning of your one-on-one meetings with them or in your team meetings where people share something they feel okay sharing about themselves, and then make a point to remember it and ask them about it again. It’s little incremental steps where you show curiosity and interest, you show that you care, that help you begin to build a better picture of who this person is. But you also help to build a bond of reciprocal trust between you and that person that can enhance the relationship and enhance the engagement and commitment. So, it’s not the whole picture, but it’s a very easy and important step along the way.

I wanted to share that with you because it was impactful to this group I just shared about, and it’s impactful to many of the people that I coach and train.

I would love to hear from you. What did you think about this idea? What do you think you know about your team right now or what level of intimacy and trust do you already have and what do you plan to do to deepen it? I would always welcome your feedback, your comments, whether in an email, in the comments section on the show notes page for this episode, via social media, using the little voicemail widget that I have on my website on every page, the little black tab on the right. Whatever you like, but I’d love to hear from you. And of course, as always, I’d love to hear what you would like to learn about in a future episode that I share with you, whether it’s a solo episode or an interview with a guest.

That’s it for today’s short solo episode of the TalentGrow Show. I hope you enjoyed it and that it came in handy. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist here at TalentGrow and this is the TalentGrow Show. I appreciate you listening, and I thank you for your attention. Until the next time, make today great.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the TalentGrow Show, where we help you develop your talent to become the kind of leader that people want to follow. For more information, visit TalentGrow.com.

Get my free guide, "10 Mistakes Leaders Make and How to Avoid Them" and receive my weekly newsletter full of actionable tips, links and ideas for taking your leadership and communication skills to the next level!

Don't forget to LEAVE A RATING/REVIEW ON iTUNES! It’s easy to do (here’s how to do it in 4 easy steps). Thank you!!

Like the Facebook page of The TalentGrow Show!
Join the Facebook group – The TalentGrowers Community!
Intro/outro music: "Why-Y" by Esta

You Might Also Like These Posts:

142: Leadership Lessons from a Personal Trainer – Building a Highly Motivated Team with Dan Kubo

104: Wired to Connect -- The Neuroscience of Team Leadership with Dr. Britt Andreatta

84: Do Big Things – Mobilize Hearts and Minds and Make an Epic Impact as a Leader with Craig Ross

Make more “Me too!” moments