How to Manage Better in Just 20 Minutes

Last Updated Apr 23, 2009 4:30 PM EDT

Do you know what your employees value and what motivates them? If not, you're missing an opportunity to optimize your relationship with your staff.

Frode Heimen recently suggested a 20-minute exercise to gain insight into your employees, and I think it's a great way to both help you manage and help them thrive.

The premise is simple: Ask an employee to write down the names of four people who have had a huge positive impact on his life -- peoples he respects, admires, or looks up to. The people can be famous (Barack Obama) or mundane (Mom), real or fictional, dead or alive.

Next, ask your employee about each name, one at a time. Who is this person? Why is he or she important to you? What qualities does this person hold? Once you figure out why your employee has named this person, write down the key values revealed.

For example, if your employee says, "I can talk to this person about anything," write down "trust." If your employee admires the inventive spirit, you might jot down "innovation" or "creativity." Write down as many values as you can for each person on your employee's list.

When you're finished with the exercise, note which three attributes appear most frequently. These are likely to be the three core values of the person on the other side of the table, since we tend to be drawn to people whose qualities mirror our own.

How can you use this information? Says Heimen,

"Focus on the strengths. This is the key. If safety and family values are strong, the person might need to know that the job is safe, and this is something you should emphasize during talks. If ambitions and winner instincts are strong, they will love to get feedback on how to improve, and when they do great it is important to show that you notice it. It would be a great boost for them to know that they are close to achieving their goals or to beat competition. (Some) might need a predictable day at the office; others should focus on the well-being of others."
If you practice this approach (use your friends and family as guinea pigs), you should soon be able to suss out what makes your employees tick in 20 minutes or less.

Give it a try and let me know how it works.

  • CC Holland

    CC Holland is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and a number of national magazines. Online, she was a columnist for and writes regularly for and BNET. On the other side of the journalism desk, she's been a managing editor for ZDNet, CNet, and KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, where she earned an APTRA Best News Web Site award.