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The power of knowing what matters to your people

Think about when you’ve had a great manager – what did they do that was so great? How did they make you feel?

In my own experience, a great manager is one who gets to know me: what I enjoy about my role; what my strengths are; what my aspirations and development needs are; and a bit about me as an individual person while sharing a bit about themselves too. In this way we built mutual trust and respect, helping us to work well together and meaning that I felt comfortable talking with them when things weren’t great and I needed some support.

When we use our strengths we feel energised and motivated; so being able to allocate work to your people that enables them to use their strengths will mean they enjoy their work – which in turn means they are more productive. Also, when your people all know their strengths and those of their team colleagues, they can work together to complement and support each other; this builds collaboration as well as social cohesion which is important for great team performance.

Understanding our peoples’ aspirations, performance and development needs helps us to support them to achieve their goals and their desired career progression; which in turn leads to improved engagement and performance.

Knowing our people also helps us to understand how much ‘pressure’ they can take – some people thrive on challenges and tight deadlines, others don’t - and to set achievable goals and stretching goals that are appropriate for them. As a people leader we don’t want to place undue stress on our people as it will only be detrimental to their performance and to your relationship with them.

You’ll also recognise if someone’s behaviour and / or performance changes; and if you’ve got a great relationship with them, based on mutual trust and respect, chances are they’ll be more likely to tell you what’s going on so you can understand what you can do to support them.

So, how do you get to know your people and what matters to them? Here are a few suggestions that I tried and found to be successful:


Complete a Strengths assessment with your team; discuss the outcomes, appreciate each others’ strengths and talk about how you can work together more effectively with this new understanding.


Be fully present in your development and performance conversations: put the phone away, stop thinking about your own work, and focus on the person in front of you. What are they really saying? What can you learn about them?


Know what matters to each person in your team. Ask some powerful questions; for example:

  • What are you passionate about at work?

  • What do you enjoy least?

  • What do you want to do more of?

  • In a year’s time what do you want to have achieved in your role? What will make you proud?

  • If you were guaranteed success, what would you do?

  • What matters to you?

  • What support can I give you?

These ideas are backed up by research too:

  • People who use their strengths at work perform better (CAPPfinity)

  • HBR: If you aspire to be a great leader, be present

  • The Corporate Leadership Council found the two things that managers do that make the most difference to their team’s engagement are: 1) Have energising, dynamic performance conversations; and 2) build and sustain trust.

  • Engaged employees are highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace. They are psychological “owners,” drive performance and innovation, and move the organization forward. (Gallup)

What’s your experience of doing these things?

What else works well for you as a people leader?

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