Ask someone about his or her job. Talk to them long enough, and if they work for someone else, expect to hear some disappointment. This predictable pattern is reflected in the job satisfaction trend in the United States. The Gallup Organization tracks employee reported job satisfaction monthly. It reports that while job satisfaction is still fairly high, with 9 of 10 Americans happy in their jobs, the overall trend has been mostly downward since a 2008 peak. The lowest level recorded was in the summer of 2011, with a modest climb upward climb since then. (Note: this research is U.S. based. If someone can suggest global or non U.S. satisfaction research, I’d love to see it for a broader view.)
Gallup uses four questions to measure job satisfaction. These are questions any employer or leader interested in retaining talent should also ask:
1. Do you use strengths in your work every day?
2. Is your supervisor more like a partner?
3. Does your supervisor create an open and trusting work environment?
4. Are you satisfied with your job?
There are many implications for these findings. If you manage someone, they should scream “Hello! Look! Over here!” If someone manages you, they should provoke thinking about what you can do to answer “yes” to each question. The good news is that there is a simple step both manager and employees can take that makes a big difference.
A Common Frustration
In my coaching experience, clients frequently express a frustration that comes from a perception that their unique strengths and experiences are not recognized. They do not use their strengths on the job, and as a result, do not perform to their fullest potential. Recent hires with college or graduate level training complain that leadership experiences gained in internships or volunteer work go underutilized. More experienced employees complain that wisdom or skills gained through stretch assignments, e.g. ex-pat assignments, are wasted in their current roles. The implied assumption is that their manager knows all about their gifts and doesn’t care. I reframe this assumption as the manager doesn’t care about what they don’t know. And, much of what he or she doesn’t know about is about their employees.
How Can This Be?
Isn’t the critical role of a boss to learn as much as he or she can about the talent of people? It is. However, the perfect storm of rapid churn of employees and managers in assignments, the whirl of demands and the allure of “ good enough” decisions traps managers into the tyranny of the predictable. Predictability trumps development in many decisions.
Invest in The Talent Interview
Fortunately, there is a simple investment with a potential for big payoffs for both managers and employees: The Talent Interview. It is one on one, employee led discussion about the employee. It’s the gift of an hour so each employee can share personal perspectives on their skills, and suggests ways their gifts can be better used on the job. Done well, it addresses each of the questions in the Gallup survey. The employee gets to explore opportunities to use his or her strengths. The manager gets a partnership role in their development. And, the interview itself lends to the creation of a more open and trusting environment.
How It Works
Talent Interviews are pretty easy. The manager invites each employee to an hour-long meeting to discuss his or her talent and potential contributions. Questions are provided to guide the employee’s thinking and dig into five topic areas:
1. What does the employee view as his or her strengths?
2. What experiences developed these strengths?
3. How does the employee imagine these strengths can be used in his or her job or on the team?
4. What would the employee like to do next?
5. What help can the manager provide to help the employee showcase their strengths?
Your organization may already provide a Talent Interview template. If not, a sample template is enclosed to download.
Ground Rules for Talent Interviews
Three simple ground rules maximize the benefits of Talent Interviews:
1. No gripes. It is not the occasion for the employee to complain about the job or the manager to complain about the employee’s performance.
2. This is about skills, not titles. A Talent Interview is not an oral reading of a C.V. Employees share what they learned and how, not a list of titles and dates.
3. No promises. The manager uses this occasion to listen, ask questions and develop a deeper understanding of what the employee wants to do.
Invest A Little, Get a Lot
The Talent Interview offers terrific payoffs for both managers and employees. As a manager, it was one of my best investments of time every year. As much as I felt I knew someone, I learned about strengths or potential contributions previously unknown to me. Talent Interviews were filled with pleasant surprises, the ideas people had to develop their strengths and do better work.
A Talent Interview, done well, will encourage understanding, support a performance partnership, and foster connection and trust. It’s worth the hour.