I was talking to a friend of mine who runs his own business.
‘You have to be so careful what you say,’ he said. I raised an eyebrow in enquiry.
‘Well, as you asked,’ he continued, without pausing for breath, ‘it’s because employees listen to every word you say and then bring them back up again at just the wrong moment.’
This was quite a coincidence because I’d just come off the ‘phone to a client who had said pretty much the opposite.
‘Renee,’ she said, ‘I don’t know how many times I’ve mentioned in conversation around the office how busy we are, but people just aren’t picking up on it.’
She sounded pretty annoyed so I asked her for more details.
‘We’re really, really busy this month and I have to hit some deadlines. I’m busting my buns to pick up the slack but everyone else is working at the same pace they always do… they don’t seem to be picking up on my signals.’
It’s tricky, isn’t it?
I have two rules I apply in these respective situations:
- If you don’t want something repeated either to you or anyone else for that matter, don’t say it. (And it doesn’t matter if it gets said on a boozy night out, where you might think it’s safe to have a bit of ‘banter’.)
- Subtlety doesn’t work where staff are concerned.
Let’s concentrate on the second rule.
The point is this: if you want your staff to take notice of something so you can then use it later, you can’t do subtle. You have to lay it on the line to them explicitly and in a way they can’t say at a later date ‘I didn’t know what was expected of me.’
My client, by ‘doing subtle’ in the hope that her team picked up on the subliminal messages was, to put it into simple terms, backing a loser.
The cure was easy. The morning after our conversation she got her team together for a team meeting and said:
‘Look you bunch of slackers…’ Actually she didn’t say that, but it would be great, wouldn’t it?
‘Look everyone (was what she actually said) we’re really busy and just for this month I really need you to up your game. What that means is you have to complete each task you’re allocated in the time period given for it…’ and so on.
And it worked.
They picked up on the messages she wanted them to pick up on!