John – “Hey Sally, how was your weekend?”
Sally – “Hey John, my arm started to talk to me and told me to buy a lottery ticket.”
John – “Say what?”
In the middle of your day, if you were to perk your ears up, after a few minutes you would probably pick up on the nearby water cooler conversation. Similar to John and Sally above, if you are just tuning in, it will probably sound bizarre.
As someone who adamantly detests water cooler talk, I can proudly say I have minimized all of it in my corporate career. That means packing my lunch every day, working alone at my desk, and rejecting nearly all requests for coffee or lunch. I am surprised that anyone even liked me in the company. Surely enough, I was penalized for this behavior in an annual review stating my antisocial behavior is not appropriate if I want to be a leader in the workplace. From this situation, I remained resentful for several years until I had my own company.
A Problem Arises
My company worked the same way I worked. No fat. Simply do what you are told, on time, and everything will be okay. Everyone works remotely so it consisted of sending out emails of what were the action items each week and reviewing progress reports. However, I had problems with retention. Every month I would lose an employee. While that may not sound like much to most, I had a 6-person team. As a result, losing someone would really a hit us on ramp up costs, recruiting, and just plain time.
One day, an employee of mine suggested that I do team calls. ‘Team calls? Why?!’ I thought. It made no sense. What did they have to know outside of just doing their jobs? Fortunately, I reluctantly listened, and I told her to find a time for 30 minutes where everyone can talk about their weeks. When I jumped on the call, unexpectedly everyone was there, full-time, part-time and even contractors we hired a week ago. Everyone was excited, except for me.
To kick off the meeting, I started in a standard Scrum format. Each person talks about the events for the past week, positives and ending with blockers. I started with myself covering the three points and asked the employee who suggested the meeting to go next. From there, each person spoke for about a minute sharing what happened over their week.
However, something strange happened. Towards the end, an employee who was very outspoken asked me a question. It was about the lead source and the time allocated to complete the project. It was far too little money for the time spent and the entire team struggled to complete the task on time. And that’s when she said it.
“That’s why people are leaving” she concluded.
“What do you mean” I stumbled.
“We have been looking for these leads sometimes 8 hours a batch.”
Shoot I thought. I believed it was taking them 2 hours. No wonder why they are leaving. They were at 25% paygrade.
Later that week, I changed the cost for the project to a more reasonable rate and saw an immediate rise in retention.
Each subsequent meeting, I would learn a little more about the team and their personal lives. Essentially, pragmatically scheduling time to have water cooler talk. The more I learned about them, the more they seemed to show an interest in the business and the overall growth. This resulted in employees suggesting ideas and different approaches of how the business can be improved. Now, they don’t wait for the meetings and just send me emails with ideas.
Why haven’t I done this sooner?
To further increase retention, I then started to have one on ones with each employee learning about their personal lives and share some about mine. It felt so counter intuitive, but it made complete sense. You care about your employees, they will care about your business.
The Moral of the Story
Many companies suffer from poor cultures and falling behind changing times. By ‘setting up consistent meetings information began flowing in the company and strengthened the culture.’ This led to me learning about the many ways that we could improve the company by having open dialogue with employees.
Water cooler talk helped saved my business by strengthening the culture and opening up knowledge transfer. Hopefully when you hear the term ‘Water Cooler Talk’ in the future, you will see it as an asset rather than a liability.
Jeff Butler Internationally respected speaker and consultant, Jeff Butler helps bridge generational gaps between Millennials and companies looking for their talent and patronage. Butler has quickly built his reputation as a memorable presenter with tangible solutions for attracting, retaining, and engaging Millennials as employees and customers. Within just the past three years, he has spoken at two TEDx events and multiple Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Amazon, and LinkedIn.