Make Yourself a Managerial Mind Reader with F.O.C.U.S.

kimseelingsmith Human Resources, Issue 14 - Nov/Dec 2014 Leave a Comment

International HR expert Kim Smith shares five ‘FOCUSed’ conversations for greater employee engagement and productivity

Kim-Headshot-2-(1)Did you know that only a fraction of your staff is bringing their ‘A game’ to work every day? According to companies like Aon Hewitt and the Gallup Organization, this number is about one in five. The rest? At best they are bringing their B or C games to work; at worst, their main goal is to keep from getting fired.

This is the employee engagement crisis in which we now find ourselves. Countless companies dedicate a sizeable chunk of their annual budgets to solving employee engagement issues, when in reality most of these issues (as well as performance and behavioral problems) can be solved through conversation: five conversations, to be precise.

Most managers don’t talk to their staff frequently enough, don’t know how to talk to them, or what to talk about. Managers are unsure how to plug into their employees’ minds and figure out what they really want—what they need to be fully engaged.

There are no psychic forces at work. Getting into the minds of your employees to glean needed information and to increase productivity can be as simple as conducting the following five FOCUSed conversations.

Conversation No. 1: Feedback

There are two types of feedback that fall under this conversation. First, give praise where praise is due. Studies have shown that a vast majority of employees do not feel appreciated enough for the job they do. Praise, it seems, is a scarce commodity in the workplace. So if your staff is doing a good job, be sure to let them know.

Conversely, one of the key factors in employee engagement is the ability to have your say. Be receptive to your staff members’ feedback. Who knows, they may just come up with a brilliant idea that makes a huge difference for the team and company.

Conversation No. 2: Objectives

Most performance issues stem from a disconnect between what the manager and what the staff member perceives as meeting objectives. To drastically reduce performance issues, managers must both clearly define and articulate expectations.

Your employees need to know what they must do to be successful in their jobs, and how that success will be measured. And you need to have a clearly defined yardstick by which to objectively measure performance. Aligning their expectations with yours will result in less frustration and anxiety on both of your parts.

Conversation No. 3: Career Development

Many studies list career development within the top three factors that employees gauge to determine whether to stay with their current employer or look for another job. Yet, many managers avoid this topic like the plague for one of three reasons:

  • They don’t understand how to manage their own careers.
  • They are afraid that if they help staff manage their careers better, those individuals will surpass them on the corporate ladder
  • They avoid talking about career development because they don’t feel they can meet the employee’s expectations. This is especially true in smaller companies or niche functions where limited vertical career opportunity is available.

Helping staff manage their careers makes good business sense. Ensuring that they understand what opportunities exist within your company (something they may not recognize without your help) will inhibit them from looking outside of it.

Find out what your employees’ priorities are and have open, honest conversations about how your company can help them achieve their goals, even with any constraints you may have. Suggest and recommend internal opportunities by which to learn, grow and develop, and they will at least delay—if not avoid—seeking out external ones.

Conversation No. 4: Underlying Motivators

The underlying motivators conversation helps to uncover those intrinsic factors—“currencies of choice”—that science has shown to be more highly motivating than extrinsic ones such as pay and benefits. By tapping into each individual’s currencies of choice, you will help uncover what he or she needs to “go the extra mile.” Conversely, once they do, they need to be recognized appropriately for it. The old adage, “Praise in public, correct in private” is only half true. Many people don’t respond well to public recognition.

Identify the drivers of each individual staff member to unlock productivity and unleash potential.  Then recognize them appropriately when they do go beyond the call of duty.

Conversation No. 5: Strengths

According to The Gallup Organization, teams whose members play to their strengths most of the time are:

  • 50% more likely to have low employee turnover;
  • 38% more likely to be highly productive; and
  • 44% more likely to earn high customer satisfaction scores.

Strengths can be defined as the innate abilities or behavioral patterns that are neurologically hardwired into our brains between the ages of three and 15. The context of the behavior will change over time, but the patterns remain the same. So those children who share their toys in the sandbox at the age of five may very well become 15-year-olds who volunteer with a local charity. In 20 more years, they may become the 35-year-olds who are the most collaborative in the workplace.

Strength identification requires a very minor time commitment: As little as two hours per week can make a world of difference.

If you can help your staff determine behaviors that come naturally to them, you will find that their stress is decreased and that they become more productive.


There is no reason to spend mass amounts of time and money on so-called engagement programs when all it takes is tapping into the minds of your personnel. By first hiring the right staff and then employing the five FOCUSed conversations, managers will significantly increase overall employee engagement. Communicate with your staff frequently, effectively and about the things that really matter to them.

Kim Seeling Smith is an international human resources expert and author of the newly released book “Mind Reading for Managers: 5 FOCUSed Conversations for Greater Employee Engagement and Productivity.” With her expansive knowledge of human capital practices in today’s market, Seeling Smith helps companies build healthy work environments and increase employee engagement and productivity in our digitally connected, globally oriented world. For more information, visit

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