Book Notes: 5 Conversations

5 Conversations – How to Transform Trust, Engagement and Performance at Work by Nick Cowley & Nigel Purse
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book kicks off by highlighting that leadership is a relationship – trust, stewardship, concern, understanding and humanity you display towards people and the safe environment you create for them to flourish and grow in.

The book proposes the following definition of engagement:

  • Organisational citizenship – being proud to belong to their organisation and being advocates of its products and services to other potential employees and customers
  • Discretionary effort – to be willing to go the extra mile or put in those additional hours when needed
  • Intention to stay – coupled with a belief that they have room to grow and fulfil their potential and career aspirations within the organisation

What drives high engagement:

  • A strong narrative – where has the organisation come from and where is it going. A clear purpose and vision that individuals are clear where they fit in and contribute to.
  • Engaged managers who
    • Focus their people and give them scope to innovate and contribute
    • Treat their people as individuals – and build individual relationships
    • Coach and stretch their people
  • Employees are heard – information and ideas don’t just flow downwards from the top but travel upwards too. Employees views are actively sought out and are listened to.
  • Organisational integrity – the values on the wall reflect day-to-day behaviours at all levels and in all context both formal and informal.

Relationships are key to humans, we have evolved in a social way:

  • Leaders need to avoid (consciously or unconsciously) demonstrating behaviour that people will perceive as a threat, risk or danger. Humans sense these and kick into a closed, defensive and suspicious state.
  • Leaders need to build positive conditions to appeal to the rewards systems of peoples brains through authentic, honest, two-way conversations and through instilling a trusting environment.
  • Building relationships is key, people are good at detecting insincerity. You need to genuinely understand and relate to the other person. This is not about being soft, but is about honestly seeking a meaningful, high quality relationship.

The book proposes there are five key conversations:

  1. Establishing a trusting relationship
  2. Agreeing mutual expectations
  3. Showing genuine appreciation
  4. Challenging unhelpful behaviour
  5. Building for the future

Smart leaders today engage with employees in a way that resembles ordinary person-to-person conversation more than it does a series of commands from on high.

Leadership Is a conversation, Groysberg and Slind, Harvard Business Review

Sample questions

Establishing a trusting relationship

  • What’s really important to you at work?
  • What do you feel most strongly about?
  • What are you most passionate about?
  • What do you consider your greatest strength?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What do you think is your greatest limitation?
  • What do you really want to be known for?
  • What is it that you really stand for?
  • What’s important to you in building relationships with someone?
  • What matters most to you when trusting others?
  • When do you tend to feel most badly let down by colleagues?
  • What sorts of things destroy a relationship for you?
  • To what extent do you tend to open up to others at work?
  • How easily do you trust others?
  • What one thing could I tell you that would help you trust me?
  • Tell me about a good day at work?
  • What gives you most satisfaction at work?
  • What energises you?
  • Tell me what a bad day at work looks like?
  • What causes you to lose sleep at night?
  • Which emotions do you experience most often?
  • What one question could I ask you that would enable me to really understand you?
  • What one thing can you tell me that might be helpful for me to know about you that I don’t already know?
  • Do you have any unrealised ambitions?
  • What do you most value about working here?
  • What one thing would you change about working here and why?
  • What would you like to be most remembered for?

Agreeing mutual expectations

  • Let me give you an overview of what I’m trying to achieve over the next period, and especially why this matters for me…
  • Can you talk me through the same thing from your point of view? What are you trying to achieve and why is it important to you?
  • Can we explore how we can support each other in achieving our goals? e.g resources, influencing, coaching etc? What would be most useful?
  • How do you think you can best support me?
  • How might we get in each other’s way? Is there anything we should be aware of to avoid this?
  • Can we summarise the expectations we have of each other and how we can hold each other to account for delivering on these expectations?

Showing genuine appreciation

  • Understand and appreciate
    • What’s going really well for you at the moment? What’s been your biggest success in the last few weeks? What’s been your biggest achievement recently? What’s been your biggest challenge?
    • What was the situation? What were the key challenges you faces?
    • What did you say and do that led to success?
    • How did you feel as this was happening/
    • What strengths, talents and skills of yours contributed most to this outcome?
    • What’s the learning you take from this experience?
    • How are you feeling right now?
    • Thank you! I really appreciate your contribution you are making and the skills and commitment you bring to our team
  • Explore
    • What other opportunities are there for you to use these strengths, talents and skills?
    • How else can we play to your strengths?
    • How do you want to develop these skills further?
  • Consolidate
    • What’s the key insight you have gained from the discussion?
    • What learning points should we both take away?
    • What are the action points that we both commit to follow up on?

Challenging unhelpful behaviour

  • Observations – what you saw
  • Feelings – how this made you feel
  • Needs – what are your needs? e.g. support and protect, respect, harmony, reassurance, support
  • Request – the clear request of what you want

Building for the future

  • Purpose/Meaning – understand their need to make a difference
  • Autonomy/Freedom – understanding their needs for freedom e.g. job content, hours
  • Mastery/Learning – what and how do they want to grow
  • Innovation/Exploring – opportunities for creative, discovery, innovation and exploration
  • Collaboration/Inclusivity – how important is this for them to work or lead a team
  • Achievement/Recognition – the need to win, succeed or achieve
  • Work-Life Balance/Wellbeing – what do they want this balance to be or change
  • Advancement/Promotion – the desire to climb the corporate ladder
  • Financial Reward/Security – peoples drive for financial security and benefits
  • Status/Power – understanding their drive for power and satisfaction to exert influence over teams, functions or organisations

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