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How to Learn More about the People Who Work for You
by Wally Bock

Sharon is a manager in a retail store. Phil has just become a foreman on the shop floor of a large manufacturer. Chris has just been promoted to team leader. They've all heard that they'll do better if they learn about the people who work for them. They just don't know how.

Show up a lot.

Management is a contact sport. You can't do it by remote control or by email. You've got to get out and spend time with your people.

When you spend time with your people, you learn what they can do. It's one thing to read a report comparing your subordinates' test results in different areas or checking out their work history for ideas about what they do well. It's quite another to watch one of them struggle to master a task, or deal with a customer.

Seeing your people in action helps you learn about them. You learn what they can do and not do. You learn what they're good at. You can correct bad behavior before it becomes a habit. If you show up a lot you can catch them doing things right so you can encourage good behavior.

Showing up a lot helps your people learn about you. Every time you show up you have the opportunity to tell your people what really matters. Just don't try to tell them too much.

Craft two or three short messages that you can repeat over and over. Apply your messages to the situations you find. Use every encounter to counsel, correct, instruct and encourage.

Develop a system.

You'll find it easier to learn about your people if you have a simple system that will help you determine what behavior of yours is most likely to get the results you want. When I was putting together my first supervisory skills training program over twenty years ago, I went looking for a system that was both sophisticated and easy to use without requiring you to go back to the book or administer paper-and-pencil tests.

The system outlined in Tony Alessandra and Michael O'Connor's book The Platinum Rule meets those tests. The book lays out a simple system that will help you classify folks based on their Social Style. All you need to do is observe whether they make decisions fast or slow and whether they're more naturally relationship oriented or task oriented.

With those simple judgments, you'll be able to make some key decisions. You'll know whether what you can do to treat them the way they want to be treated. That's what Alessandra and O'Connor call the Platinum Rule.

Don't just use the system to analyze your subordinates. Have people you know use it to give you feedback on your own style

Learn what your natural style is and how people are likely to react to it. That way you can tailor your approach to make it most likely that you'll get the results you want.

Keep records.

Don't trust your memory. Some folks naturally remember all the details about others, but most of us don't. We need help and notes are a help that's both easy and inexpensive.

Cultivate the habit of taking notes after every encounter with someone who works for you. This is not "documentation," the notes that you may use for discipline or development. These are simple notes about likes, dislikes, habits and interests that will help you manage better.

Pay attention to common interests. I've found that most managers have something in common with everyone who works for them. Find it, and you've got a ready-made source of interesting conversation.

Getting to know your people is important, but it's not hard all you have to do is show up a lot, have a system for thinking about behavior and keep records.

Wally Bock may be contacted at

Wally Bock works with a limited number of managers to help them improve their personal and business results ( and speaks to audiences in the US and elsewhere. He also writes the Three Star Leadership blog ( Wally's free People Forms will help you do a better job of learning about your people. (


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