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It's been a few years since I have been a manager.  I work in the IT industry and I managed groups consisting of tech support members, from help desk to desktop support to network and server techs.

I always got favorable reviews as a manager.  I was hands on enough to be involved and know what was going on, yet not so much a micro manager that my team did not have the flexibility to put their own style into their work.

Two things that I always did.  Always:

  1. Provide consistent feedback.  Nothing infuriates me more as a manager that does not provide feedback on a regular basis, instead choosing to point out faults (or as I would call them, areas of opportunity) during a review.  This blindsides employees and I refused to have any of it.  I always made sure to provide feedback, both positive and negative, on a timely basis.  With this, employees were able to improve or build on their strengths all the time, not just after a certain period.  I'm also proud to say that I never had an employee once tell me during a performance review: “I'm surprised to hear that.”
  2. Stay in touch with employees.  It's important to have regular interaction with employees.  I am less a fan of one-on-one meetings or weekly team meetings as I am chatting now and then to see how things are progressing, what's being worked on, and to figure out anything else of importance.

This leads into the $8 a month.  Because, I realized that a very effective way of doing this is to let employees come to me.  Give them an incentive to stop by and chat.

How did I do this?

A big tub of animal crackers on my desk.

Yes, I became known as ‘the animal cracker' guy.

Once people knew that I had animal crackers, a good portion of the team would stop by to grab a quick snack.  If I was at my desk, I'd always say hi and chat with the employee about what was going on.

The animal cracker strategy worked great.  Many people will take what I said above about interacting with employees outside of formal meetings, and will do by walking around.  This is certainly necessary regardless of whether you have animal crackers (and of course for the people who don't eat animal crackers), but there's still a fundamental difference in having your employees come to you.  They're not on guard.

Even walking around informally means that I'm going up to someone at their desk.  If they're busy, they're not going to want to be interrupted and may not engage me in a conversation about how things are going to the extent that they would if they came to my office.

If you have an extra $8 per month and manage a group of employees in an office environment, keep doing what you're doing, but add in a bucket of animal crackers. I believe you'll find that your interactions with a good portion of your employees will improve.

And if you don't like animal crackers, substitute pretzels.  I'd avoid chocolate or candy only because they'll resent you for providing sweets and the subsequent weight loss that goes along with it 🙂