A few years ago I had a speaking engagement in Singapore so I took my family. As we walked through a small market we came to a vendor selling something that to the locals must have seemed as common as a bowl of Ramen Noodles. Black uppercase letters proclaimed: “Fish Head Soup: 5 USD.” My son’s eight-year-old sensibilities were shocked. “Why would someone eat the head of a fish?” he asked.
I explained that in some cultures eating habits were simply different than ours, and that some of our culinary customs would seem just as odd to the people here. Nevertheless, he was adamant he would not try the soup. After all, he had never seen anything like it before.
Apply this idea for just a moment to our business cultures. We throw most new employees into the deep end of our team cultural pool, and many quickly drown in the “this is how it’s done around here” of the new environment. If the employee doesn’t buy-in to the views of the new culture, he will most likely lose his early level of excitement and engagement that every employee brings to a new job. What follows will be a period of appearing to fit in without really changing his beliefs about the way the work world should be.
For All In, we interviewed former clinical psychologist Dr. Kevin Fleming about this strange phenomenon we might call “lip-service buy-in,” that in which people do a ‘cost/benefit ratio dance’ to minimize the dissonance they feel by doing the least amount of work necessary to seem like a team player.
We asked the doctor how managers might get people to really buy in to a new culture. He explained that managers must first understand that the brain, in its complexity, is wired to feel right but not necessarily be right; and that a new employee might hold strong to her beliefs even if a better idea is presented. In short, if you immediately start to push your culture on new employees, many might superficially buy in, but whenever it suits their purpose they will ignore your direction. To truly get your team members ‘all in,’ he reasons that you must make them feel like valuable individuals. In short, teach them about your culture, but also respect their beliefs and opinions, and open up to their ideas and suggestions.
To this end, our friend Quint Studer in his book, Hardwiring Excellence, provides four very good engagement questions to better value new employees as well as learn from their past experience. We never cease to be amazed at the conversations they’ve inspired. Try asking each new employee these questions after three months of service.
The first is: “Have we lived up to our promises to you? When we recruited you, we told you that this would be a great place to work. Are we what we told you we would be?” Then seal your lips and listen. No rebuttals are allowed.
Next ask: “You have a fresh perspective. I want to know what you think we do best around here.” By this point, the conversation should really be rolling. These are great open-ended questions as long as you keep an open mind.
The third question is perhaps our favorite: “At your other jobs, I’m sure you saw things that worked really well. Is there anything you’ve seen elsewhere that we might be able to use here to make our company better?” You are asking them to be actively engaged in solving the problems of your company and making their work areas better. You are also showing how open you are to new ideas.
The fourth question is the clincher: “Have we done anything in the last 90 days that might cause you to leave us?” Right up front you are asking them: Are you going to stay?
Great questions, right? Don’t forget to Think Orange!