Engaging with staff and building corporate culture

May, 2022

By: Frank Olsson

President New Zealand Europe Business Council

Your staff and workforce are the people who collectively deliver success for your business. The more engaged they are, the more enthusiastic, the more they know, and more importantly, the more they learn and develop, the better your enterprise will fare. When a climate of team spirit, paired with learning and development are prevalent, your results will be better, all things being equal.

I have, for many years practiced interviewing all my staff individually to pick their brains on what we can do better to ensure anything that inhibits progress is addressed and remedied. These are not performance interviews, but rather a quest for corporate improvement. They are about opportunity, not accountability. They are forward-looking! How can we do better together and how can we ensure the balance sheet and market value of each and every one of us goes up from one month to the next? Focusing on enhancing and raising the capability of each team member will combine the benefits of better results and prospects for individuals and the business.

The one-on-one session with staff ensures that all are listened to and treated with care and respect. It removes barriers for a continued pursuit of improvement between staff and managers. You also get to know your staff and their concerns through the process which can only be positive. It may be tempting to talk to direct reports only, but it is crucial to talk to non-direct reports as well. The reality is that all staff can and want to strive for improvement if treated well, and the benefits can be staggering. It is unrealistic for a CEO to interview thousands of staff, but for up to 100 people, this is both possible and desirable.

Taking time to talk to all staff about corporate and personal growth opportunities is so much better than any staff survey. Normally, it may seem efficient to have people fill out a survey, but the quality of personal interaction through an interview is very much superior to a survey. Generic questions often lack in validity and relevance, and the personal interaction and bonding by a one-on-one meeting is an important part of the value creation. When things are worth doing, they are normally worth doing well, rather than expeditiously.

These are the format and questions I have used in my leadership roles in many countries and constituencies:

Name: ________________________                                    Date:  ________________

  1. What are the most enjoyable aspects of your work?
  2. What are the least enjoyable aspects of your work?
  3. Have you ever done any training? Would you like to?
  4. Is this a good place to work? Why?
  5. What changes are needed to make it a great place to work?
  6. Is there anything you want your manager to do differently?
  7. Is there anything that stands in the way of your success? Is there anything I can do about this?
  8. Do you have any suggestions as to how we can do things better?
  9. What is your view on the level of communication?
  10. Do you have any other comments or questions?

By spreading these ten questions over one page there is some room to note the staff members response as the ‘chat’ progresses. After the conclusion, in 10-20 minutes, I would immediately type these responses for analysis later.

With 100 staff, these sessions can generate 1,000 ideas for how to lift the game. The time allocated will be 30 – 40 hours, and I have found this to be time well spent and rewarding. The responses can be organized by question or by department and constitute a great management tool in pursuit of excellence. Managers are asked to work through comments with staff and come up with a plan for addressing issues raised.

The chance to learn things about the business and remove inhibitors of success make it among the best things you can do with your time as an executive. Staff equals leverage, and only when all contribute their energies and faculties to the full can the best results be achieved.

I have used a similar approach for key customers feedback, calling them and asking for a few minutes for questions on the relationship. Again, a one-on-one enquiry is so much more effective than a generic approach. It also reminds the CEO and senior management that their role is to serve customers and staff. It is humbling to call customers and ask how we may improve. It conveys, “we are keen to contribute to your success”.

One of the most important tasks for any leader is to try to add value to their staff in pursuit of ever-improving outcomes.

Frank Olsson
Author of the Leadership Book: Learning to dance – Corporate Style, how to humanize business and get more out of life

Share on print
Share on email
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin