As a manager, we are tasked with making our resources do the most, perform at the best possible rate, get the most return for our investment. Employees are an organization’s most valuable resource. Interestingly, one of the best tools a manager might find to gain the greatest access to an employee might just be a coffee cup. The simple act of taking someone to coffee gives you an opportunity to sit with him or her, listen, and learn. It is this kind of conversation that might be one of the most powerful motivators – the biggest bang for your buck. This simple act can head off conflict and violence. Sharing a cup of coffee is simple but it gives you a great opportunity to learn important information about yourself, your employees, your company, and even your competitors.
Coffee with Your Employees
Meeting with each key employee and direct report is certainly very important. However, these meetings are frequently interrupted because both you and the employee are so busy and someone always has a “crisis” that needs one or the other to deal with it. You know you’d get a lot more done if you could just do it without interruptions. So, get out of your office, take the other person out for a cup of coffee.
While I worked in Monterey Park, California, there was a small sandwich shop across the street. Although the trip across the street was like a very life-like and human form of frogger, the shop provided an excellent and close place to have a short one-on-one discussion. The options weren’t limited to this one shop, there was another just up the road. Still, your cup of coffee doesn’t have to be outside of the building. Sneaking off to the breakroom to “buy” that cup of coffee and sit at one of the tables is certainly sufficient. Additionally, there’s no chance of getting too close to an errant car.
Coffee is not Always Coffee
“Grabbing a cup of joe” doesn’t have to mean coffee, which is very good since I don’t even drink the stuff. If you or your employee is like me, or just wants a break from the stuff, there are plenty of alternatives. This isn’t about consuming coffee. The whole point is about getting away from all the distractions for a little bit, so the beverage doesn’t really matter at all. Bottle water, sports drinks, fruit juices and sodas are all acceptable. It should be something relatively inexpensive that is readily available, can be served quickly and something you can linger over while you talk.
Coffee Has no Alcohol
You certainly want to avoid alcohol. Regardless of the time of day, going out for a “beer” or “having a glass of wine” makes it more of a social event than a business meeting. Additionally, you are not going to be nearly as productive if either of you is impaired. The temptation to get the other person to relax a little so they’ll be more open with you through alcohol is unethical and dishonest. Being open and honest with your employees will produce the same results without the potential legal problems.
Listen. Really listen.
OK, you’re at the coffee shop instead of your office. It is very important to remember why you’re there. You’re there to learn something from the other person. Your purpose or the information you’re after might be one of many different things. It might be just as important to check their temperature as it is to check the coffee’s – find out if they are overstressed and why. The one common thread to all of these goals is keeping your mouth shut and letting him or her talk. Your mouth needs to be shut for your ears to be open.
Remember you left your office so you could focus all your attention on what they are saying – don’t let distractions interrupt you here either. Occasionally repeat statements of theirs back to them to show you are listening and encourage them to keep talking. Interestingly, the Japanese have a word for this. It is aizuchi.
Manage the “Coffee Cup”