From 1933 to 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a series of 30 radio addresses called “Fireside Chats.” These nighttime chats were aimed at easing Americans’ fears in the midst of the Great Depression and World War II. While Roosevelt exuded warmth during the radio addresses, he actually wasn’t sitting by a fireplace.
According to History.com, the “Fireside Chat” name “perfectly evoked the comforting intent behind Roosevelt’s words, as well as their informal, conversational tone.”
I’ve adopted the same type of “informal, conversational tone” in the “Fireside Chats” that I conduct every six months with every single person who works at SpareFoot. I originally started doing these chats because I felt the need to maintain a one-on-one level of visibility into what was happening around the company as our team grew. That was back when we had 12 people; we now have more than 90.
During the Fireside Chats this August and September, I sat down one-on-one with our company’s 90-plus employees to give feedback about their performance, if appropriate; talk about what’s going well; listen to their concerns; and answer their questions. Each chat lasted about 30 minutes.
To ensure we made the most of the time, I sent everyone at the company a survey via Google Docs in advance of the chats. In the survey, I asked them to tell me what’s going really well for them and what keeps them up at night, and asked them to set a goal for themselves that we’ll review during the next Fireside Chat in six months. Asking folks to fill out these surveys before their scheduled chats leads to higher-quality conversations, since employees have gotten a chance to truly think about what they want to discuss.
So, why spend 45 hours over the course of two weeks holding Fireside Chats? It gives me valuable insight into what’s happening at SpareFoot and encourages our people to share their thoughts in a non-threatening atmosphere. Furthermore, the Fireside Chats enable me to forge deeper relationships with everyone who works for me.
A key takeaway I picked up during one series of Fireside Chats is that new employees knew next to nothing about the history of the company. To remedy that, we launched a “boot camp” for new employees. During each boot camp, we introduce new employees to every department at the company and share the story of SpareFoot’s evolution. That way, every employee is on the same page when it comes to our roots and our operations.
Studies show that many employees are reluctant to bring up problems in the workplace or to suggest improvements. So you just might want to look at adding something like Fireside Chats to your workplace.
“A lot of managers think that if they treat their staff respectfully and tell them, ‘My door is always open,’ that should be enough to make their employees trust them,” Ethan Burris, assistant professor of management at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business, told the school’s magazine in 2009. “But our research shows that employees need more than that in order to feel safe to speak up.”
By holding Fireside Chats every six months, I hope everyone at SpareFoot feels it’s safe to speak up—no matter what is said.