All it takes is a donut. Now that I’ve got your attention I want to talk about getting employees to open up and have meaningful conversations.
As I have discussed in a previous post, my department is currently going through a reorganization and bringing our Parks department under the purview of the Public Works department. I have spent ample time in the Parks office learning the Parks operations and getting to know the staff.
I have observed in the early part of my career, that employees are often skeptical of the “kid” who started as an intern and made his way into a full-time role. It has been simiilar integrating a department, staff seem to be leery of my purpose in this process and often avoid any real conversation with me. I’m not sure if it’s because they think I’m a mole or but it is a difficult situation. I don’t need to be friends with everyone at work but I need to be able to have a conversation with my peers, more than “hey how’s it going?”.
I have tried different approaches to connect with my co-workers in any organization I’ve ever been a part of. Whether is swapping hunting/fishing stories, talking about the beloved Green Bay Packers or my most recent vehicle issues I spent the weekend trying to fix. But my favorite and probably most successful will always be donuts.
Donuts lure the most skeptical individuals to say thank you. From there it’s up to me to strike up a conversation (insert previously mentioned topics). My most recent encounter was with one of the Parks Department employees who has been there for twenty years and “has seen it all.” I felt that he was skeptical of my purpose and how I might impact his position in the department.
I lured him in with a delicious donut on a Friday morning and he felt he was in a comfortable environment, and we started to talk about our weekend plans (which turned out to be eerily similar). One thing led to another and he opened up about his twenty years working for the Parks Department and what’s happened in his time and how he believes Parks could be improved through this transitional period. I learned a lot from the conversation and asked I could share his ideas with our Director.
To me, the best part of conversations like this is the history that can be learned in a short period of time and getting honest feedback from a front-line employee who takes pride in his work. The knowledge I gained from our twenty-minute conversation is invaluable as I help the organization move forward with the reorganization. Most importantly, I created a relationship based on mutual respect for another’s position within the organization. He knows that he can come to me with issues within the Parks and can trust that I address them properly and I know that I have an engaged coworker, as long as I bring donuts once in a while!