What’s one of the biggest challenges in small business today? Keeping employees motivated and productive, says Marty Grunder, President and CEO of Grunder Landscaping Co., in Dayton, Ohio.

Knowing how difficult this can be, Marty shared a few lessons on how to create a high-energy, productive atmosphere at work.

Lesson #1: Make Time For Individuals to Express How They Feel

Marty says that one of the most useful tools his team has started to use is one-on-one meetings with a bit of structure built into them.

Making time for these open, candid conversations provides a space for both leader and individual team member to give regular feedback. “They’re telling us what they think of their job and we’re telling them what we think of their job,” says Marty.

“Having those conversations and asking frank questions when you’re sitting eye to eye with someone is powerful. You can say, ‘Hey, in the last month, these are the mistakes that were made. What happened? Is something bothering you? Are you okay?’” explains Marty. “The meetings can be an accountability tool at times. And they can also help uncover and eliminate problems that can lead to a lack of motivation or a lack of productivity.”

Lesson #2: Listen & Act On What You Learn From Team Members

“The feedback goes both ways,” says Marty. For example, during one such one-on-one meeting with a key member of his team, Marty discovered the individual did not feel appreciated.

Hearing this, Marty realized he hadn’t really shown his gratitude to this team member in recent months. “He’s an excellent employee and he’s been with the company for 15 years,” says Marty.

“I became more aware. It was on me. It wasn’t on him,” says Marty. “I had not shown the appreciation I should have and I wasn’t including him in some discussions that he should have been in.”

Marty’s willingness to listen to his employee’s thoughts and feelings, and his efforts to follow up on the insight he gained, helped their relationship grow. Six months later, the relationship is stronger than ever and there’s a great deal of mutual respect and trust between them.

Lesson #3: To Support the Right Leadership Behaviors, Focus On Your People

The guidelines for Grunder Landscaping’s one-on-ones include scheduling them regularly, never missing a meeting, and keeping the primary focus on the team member. Taking notes and consistently following up after the meeting are two critical components, explains Marty. Doing so will help you encourage the high-energy leadership behaviors you’d like to consistently see in your people.

If the meeting is scheduled for 30 minutes, for example, the time might break down as follows:

  • 10 minutes for the team member
  • 10 minutes for you, the leader (which does require preparation)
  • 10 minutes for career growth and development

To prepare for meetings with team members, a leader will refer back to the notes they took during their last session.

Lesson #4: Become More Aware With Empowering Questions

Leaders at Grunder are committed to preparing and following up—that’s part of the formula for success, says Marty. Prior to each one-on-one meeting, leaders ask themselves: What notes should I make now? How might I ask that question?

They might also ask themselves:

  • What do I need to be sure to communicate to this team member?
  • What positive feedback can I give? Any corrective feedback?
  • Is there something I can delegate?
  • What project, task, or work can be helpful to their development?

The underlying aim is to better understand how a team member is doing—and, in turn, to support that person so that they can maintain high energy and do their best work.

“In our one-on-ones, we go over the notes from the prior meeting and make sure we are both doing what we said we would do. What’s going well? What’s not? What distractions are there that may be keeping the employee from doing what he does best?” explains Marty. “And then we go over updates on items we are currently working on.”

Examples of empowering questions that leaders may ask include:

  • Where do you think I can be the most helpful?
  • What have you been working on?
  • How are you going to approach this?
  • What are your plans to get there?
  • What have you learned on this project?
  • What areas of your work are you confident about?

Marty says his company’s work in this area has just begun, but he’s already seeing a team that is more energized. “We hope to have all our managers holding one-on-ones in the next year because the meetings have been so valuable.”

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