Ask: What’s on your plate? — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Ask: What’s on your plate?

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Most employees will not volunteer the information that you’ve piled on too much work.

If the load is intolerable, they’ll suffer in silence, snipe behind your back, leave when they can, or all of the above. You probably won’t get their best work, either.

To counter these possibilities, manager Ramon Padilla decided to conduct regular “plate checks” with employees to make sure he wasn’t burning them out.

By asking, “How full is your plate?” he preserves the team’s sense of humor and creates a kind of shorthand so that people can poke their heads in his door and say, “Hey, no more room on the plate unless somebody helps me eat these mashed potatoes.”

At weekly staff meetings, Padilla starts with these questions:

  1. What’s on your plate?
  2. How is it?
  3. What’s keeping you from clearing your plate?

Padilla likes these questions because they lighten up the conversation while addressing serious issues, such as “Do you need a different utensil?” or “If I have to eat this one more time, I’m going to throw up.”

With this kind of comfort level, employees now feel bold enough to say, “Can you get the client to submit this in a different format?”

Something that simple may get them into the Clean Plate Club.

— Adapted from The Power of Pause, Nance Guilmartin, Jossey-Bass.

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