Why asking, “How are you feeling today?” is so important for managers leading through change
When you’re driving change to your stakeholders—be it the executive team, your employees, the board, or even the customers—the situation comes with its own gravitational force.
“You have every opportunity to lose trust and to see it erode. So being genuine and getting it right really matters,” Anna Binder, Asana’s Head of People, explains to me in her matter-of-fact style during a recent phone call.
Binder has led the company through tremendous periods of growth and change since joining six years ago. Managing a team through those periods of change comes down to being crystal clear on why you’re making those decisions in the first place.
“You have every opportunity to lose trust and to see it erode. So being genuine and getting it right really matters.”
Once leaders are clear on changes they want to make—large or small—they have to create spaces and channels for employees to express how they feel about them.
“Space is when I’m going to actually take a moment to ask you, ‘How does this feel to you in terms of what your expectations were?'” Binder says.
When it comes to channels, she says creating a dedicated Slack channel allows leaders to give their people room to express their feelings. It also does not allow those feelings “to become so large and so overwhelming that it’s like water spreading across the table,” she says.
Creating channels is just as important as expressing your emotions, Binder says.
“A lot of people ask, ‘How do you do it? How do you get these awards? How do you get such great Glassdoor reviews?’ If you create channels of communication internally, where people can get their questions answered and have clarity, they will—even if they don’t like the answer—be satisfied, and they will feel heard,” Binder says. “And if you don’t create that, they will go to external public forums and complain about it. And frankly, that may be understandable because it’s your responsibility as a leader to create a space for listening internally.”
That candor is one of the reasons Binder has been trusted at Asana during tremendous periods of growth and change.
Binder also puts a management spin on the old “Rule of 7” marketing strategy that declares a customer has to first hear a company’s name seven times before making a buying decision.
Another strategy is to train your managers not to ask employees, “How are you doing?” Instead, they should ask, “How are you feeling today?” That subtle tweak often yields dramatically different responses.
“Communicate important things seven times in seven different ways until you’re exhausted and blue in the face—and maybe slightly annoyed—because you’re repeating it so often,” she tells The Workback.
Below is an abbreviated Q&A with Asana’s Head of People that was conducted with Binder in July 2022.
It seems that work culture is shifting, where more managers are open to creating space for employee feelings at work.
I think if you go to our parents’ generation and look at the corporate workspaces they were in, there was no room or interest in the whole human. There was no interest in how somebody was feeling. I even think it’s very, very recent that the word “feelings” has entered the vernacular of the corporate work world.
One way to view that is to say, “We have become softer.” Another way to say it is, “If you want to win in the marketplace, if you want to achieve amazing results, if you want to achieve your mission, if you want to beat your competition—you need to be running like a very, very fine-tuned, humming machine.” It is short-sighted to think that human beings can separate their productivity, impact, and creativity from their emotional well-being.
I think that progressive companies and leaders see an investment in understanding feelings and promoting mental health as a selfish way to support employees doing their best work. I think it’s good business practice.
You talk bout the “10,000 decisions” leaders must make to achieve their business goals. What’s a top-of-mind decision for leaders in times of change?
I often think of myself as a chief communications officer. I have access to so much information and a lot of context that gives me confidence and connection.
I think constantly, “How do I get that to other people?” We’ve got employees in Singapore, Dublin, and New York, all over the world, and they may not have all the context I have, and they deserve it. Of course, you’re balancing that with “information overload,” but I think my job is a lot about communication.
“In the absence of clear communication and information, people make up their own stories. And those stories aren’t good.”
In the absence of clear communication and information, people make up their own stories. And those stories aren’t good. So as a leader, you have a choice. You can let that play out and let people make their own stories. Or you can say, “I’m going to exhaust myself and annoy myself with how often I’m repeating myself because I’m going to get this message out, this information out, this clarity out. I am all about the latter as I think it’s a core part of the job.
What’s the first step for leadership teams facing the prospect of managing in periods of change?
As leaders, we first have to say, “Hey, let’s make a list of things we know will change. And let’s be honest with ourselves about those things. Some of those changes are positive, and some of them are negative. During this transition, there will be a lot of F.U.D.—fear, uncertainty, and doubt—and the roadmap will be affected. Let’s just call it what it is.”
If you’re honest with yourselves as a leadership team about those things, and you have the courage and, frankly, grace to say those things out loud to yourself and your employees, you will prepare your people for the change—and some of the heartbreak that might happen with change.
In preparing your people for change, you engender trust and confidence.