There’s an old adage that goes something like this, “people don’t care about what you know until they know that you care.” This is a defining belief of my leadership philosophy and one that I seriously observe with my direct reports. As a boss, your subordinates want to know that you care for them as people and not just headcount, a practice that has become all to common in light of today’s recessionary times.
While working at one of my former employers, my practice in this area was brought to the attention of HR leadership and at least two articles were written about me and my method of fulfilling this adage. You may think what I’m about to share with you is a little silly at first, but believe me it works! I must admit however, that the idea didn’t originate with me. I read about it once in a magazine article written by a young woman who developed this very technique in her rise to a corporate VP position. Once I learned her technique technique, I applied it at every company I worked for since whenever I had direct reports.
When I take over a new team, one of the first actions I perform is to conduct one-on-one meetings with each team member. The purpose is to get to know them better and for them to get to know me better. During that early session I ask five questions:
- What is your favorite candy bar?
- What is your favorite drink at work?
- What is your favorite drink outside of work?
- What is your favorite place to shop?
- What is your favorite activity that you can speak about in public?
I save each of these answers in their folder and use them to supply personal rewards and recognition whenever their performance merits it. For example, if someone works very late into the evening to keep a promise to a customer, they might find their favorite candy bar and a personal thank you note from me on their desk when they arrive at work the next day. It could also be a cup of their favorite coffee or a gift card to Starbucks. The idea is to show that you noticed what they did and you appreciate the effort. If they observe seasonal holidays, they might receive a gift certificate to their favorite store or to enjoy their favorite activity. It’s all about fostering a good relationship with those who work with you.
Of course, with budgets as they are these days, the cost for these little tokens of appreciation come out of my own pocket. Some of the most appreciated gifts are the simple notes I’ve written. Sometimes I’d go to my boss and ask him/her to write a personal note to the intended recipient. Thank you notes cost near to nothing to write and yet produce immeasurable value.
The biggest problem I ever encountered with this technique is procurement. I’ve had direct reports who grew up outside of the United States. Their favorite candy bars are only available in their home countries. I’m so thankful that I worked in a global environment and developed friendships across the world. I often called some of my friends and asked them to send me cases of whatever candy I needed for a particular person. Believe me, the effort you’ll go through is worth it. Your team will respond well when you treat them kindly.