Here’s a conversation starter for any one-to-one’s you’re having where individuals seem quite dissatisfied or unhappy in their role.

Ask them where their happy place is.

This can be work-related or personal but, fundamentally, identifying what would bring out the best in them. What brings them joy? When are they “in the zone” and feeling at their best?

The key is then to understand what it’ll take to get there, are there any obvious next steps for the individual, any impediments you can help them get past.

Being their happy place, it should motivate them to take those steps too, truly owning their actions and working towards that goal.

It’s also worth understanding what’s achievable. You might not get directly to the destination but the journey should be more enjoyable.

I tried this in a chat recently when someone wasn’t entirely satisfied in their role. I asked them this exact question then they started thinking about it, going through ideal scenarios in their day job, picking out moments like pairing, coaching, optimising code, trying new techniques.

Some of the actions from this conversation were really easy to proceed with, others needed more investigations to take away. But the individual had the motivation to own these actions as it would bring them joy.

This is one of the reasons I use Enjoyment in the PETALS framework. Individuals can use the regular reflection to identify if they’re enjoying their work or teams can even share common ground to bring the joy.

Keeping a close eye on enjoyment from a personal or leading perspective can try to improve job satisfaction and retention. It may motivate people to look elsewhere, not ideal, but you can at least try to explore better options for them as a manager before that situation occurs.

Use this question next time you feel like your direct report or mentee needs some encouragement and watch out for the sparkle in their eyes. ✨

(Photo credit: Brooke Cagle on Unsplash)