Achieving the highest possible return on human capital must be every manager’s goal.
Sebastian asks: As a new manager, I see that building relationships with my employees is way different than with coworkers. I don’t want to be that stereotypical boss who stays behind a desk except to give criticism. Can you help me figure out how to navigate these new waters?
Joel answers: Sebastian, you’re absolutely right in putting a lot of thought into this issue. Gallop found that one in two American workers has left a job to escape from a boss. Plus, 20% of workers would be happier if their boss left their organization.
Relationships between employees and managers are not only shaped by personalities—they’re also shaped by societal forces you have less control over. The constant demand for talent can shift the power dynamic between employees and bosses, notes Elizabeth Aylott in Employee Relations. Today’s employees expect a lot from a boss, because they know they’re not easy to replace. Here’s how to give them what they’re looking for.
- Be Trustworthy
Trust is important to the employee/manager relationship. Make a habit of following through with all promises on time. When you’ve finished something you told an employee you would do, say so. If you said you would read her proposal, call her into your office and provide effective feedback so she knows you’re supportive of her efforts. Repeatedly being “too busy” to respond to your employees conveys that you don’t make them a priority. Following up with people about the things you’ve pledged to do shows you respect them, fostering good feelings toward you.
- Work Alongside Them
Spend some time working hand-in-hand with employees, so you can really get to know each other’s working styles. You’ll see firsthand how they work best, so you can serve as a better coach. Their respect for you will grow when they see you’re willing to help out with the tasks that many managers may feel they’re above. Plus, you’ll gain a more in-depth view of each team member’s role when you actually see what they do on a daily basis.Use inclusive language, like “Look what we’ve accomplished together” or “What do you think we can achieve today?” This will emphasize that you’re a team.
- Help People to Grow
Show each member of your team that you care about helping them achieve deeper fulfillment from their work. Make time on a quarterly basis to check in about their career satisfaction and any changes they envision in their trajectory. If they’ve decided to make a change, this will help you figure out together how it can mesh with the organization’s needs. These talks will help establish a strong relationship based on mutual consideration. In fact, Gallup reports that employees are almost three times more engaged when managers regularly meet with them one-on-one, either face-to-face or on the phone.As people push their boundaries, offer genuine gratitude for their contributions and efforts.
- Uphold Boundaries
Recognize that the power you hold in your relationships with employees can make it hard for them to say “no” to social invitations. Hanging out with particular employees outside of work can breed resentment in others and signal favoritism. Thus, it’s best to keep employee and manager relationships professional. It’s okay to go to an occasional event at someone’s home, like a holiday party, but socializing with particular people too often can compromise your working relationship. The same goes for social networking—not everyone wants to use Facebook to keep up with professional contacts, so “friending” your employees may not be a welcome move.
- Watch Emerging Trends
Keeping your pulse on emerging and future trends will help you meet employees’ shifting expectations. The younger generations expect a lot of coaching, training, and feedback, for example. Read the latest surveys and reports on what employees want, so you know how to boost their performance and loyalty.
Strong employer and manager relationships require continual effort to grow. Remember that as a manager, you’re not just responsible for getting tasks completed—you need to foster relationships that keep your team strong. When you build these relationships, employees will feel comfortable coming to you with both problems and ideas, improving workplace culture and boosting your team’s capacities.
“It is easier to motivate people to do something difficult than something easy.” ~Sheri L. Dew~
Lydia Asks: I don’t know how to make some of my people feel more invested in their work. I would have thought success alone would be the best motivation, but apparently not. How can I get people to care more about their work?
Joel Answers: Increasing employee engagement is vital to retaining your people and succeeding as a company. Yet many companies’ “employee engagement plan” consists of giving out a survey and then telling managers to make things better, says Gallup. That’s probably why 70% of U.S. workers are not engaged in their work—or are actively disengaged—according to the organization’s data.
Here’s how to build engagement, inspiring your people to achieve more than they thought possible.
- Be Transparent
When employees feel the company is hiding something from them, they feel less invested in their jobs and may start to look elsewhere. If the company is going through a rough time, be transparent. Share your plan and what all employees can do to help. You might be surprised at how much this will build morale, not only helping you weather the storm but emerge from it in better shape than ever.
- Get into the Trenches
If you’re hiding behind your desk all day, you’re missing opportunities to contribute more as a manager. Build your working relationships by wandering through the office, asking people how they’re doing and listening to their ideas. Ask them if they need help, showing you have no qualms about rolling up your sleeves and pitching in with whatever’s needed. It’ll earn you tremendous respect and create a true sense of working as a team, increasing employees’ engagement in their jobs.
- Allow Your Stars to Shine
Give your team a problem to tackle, so they can generate their own creative solutions. If you need to bring an idea to upper management, create the idea as a team. Give credit where it’s due when you present it, of course—execs will be impressed that you’re fostering ingenuity among your people, and your team will feel valued. Your employees will also relish the chance to contribute in meaningful ways to the organization’s success, and your top talent will soar when their creative abilities are unleashed.
- Share Gratitude Often
The power of gratitude in the workplace. Say thank you often, and be specific about what you appreciate in people. If someone just completed a project, point out the qualities and talents she used in seeing it through—and do this in front of her peers. Give frequent feedback about what people are doing well, along with guidance in areas where they’re growing.
- Give People the Chance to Self-Critique
When an employee could have performed better, give him the opportunity to self-critique by explaining what he thinks he should have done differently. Then help him figure out how to get there. Failure itself usually gives people new insights; your job is to help them integrate these insights into their future performance. Addressing failures or shortcomings in this way feels empowering to employees, as you’re trusting them to help figure out a new plan.
- Create Social Opportunities
Give people the chance to share about their lives and aspirations in a less formal way by creating social opportunities. Having a pizza party for lunch after a team accomplishment will encourage everyone to gather in one place and chat. Taking a few employees out for lunch each week will also give you a chance to connect—and by handpicking people who don’t know each other well encourages new relationships. Asking your team to select a volunteer opportunity to take part in together is another idea. By fostering relationships, you’ll increasing their sense of comradery, which will make motivation and engagement skyrocket.
- Get Silly
If you just send a humdrum email about an employee’s accomplishments, coworkers might barely glance at it. Instead, celebrate these moments in unexpected ways. The Society for Human Resource Management describes how in one company, a group of people parade around with kazoos, horns, and cow bells proclaiming the news. Getting a little wacky turns it into a fun moment for everyone, and makes them take notice.
As you can see, these factors aren’t related to compensation. Higher pay and benefits don’t drive engagement—relationships and communication do. By boosting employees’ engagement, you’ll be increasing their loyalty to the organization and raising the bar for what you can achieve together.
“Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.” ~Colin Powell~
Maura wants to expand her influence in her company, but she’s realizing some major barriers have existed there for years. “Maybe I should just find a new job in a company with a different culture,” she said to a trusted colleague over coffee. “I think you should stick it out,” said her colleague. “In any organization, you’re going to run into challenges to expanding your leadership influence. Effective leaders strive to pinpoint and overcome these challenges, her colleague added. Sometimes they eliminate an issue; other times, they learn to work with it. Here are four roadblocks to overcome for effective leadership influence.
- The company needs a shared vision.
The vision is where it all begins. If all employees in your organization don’t share a strong vision, they’re not really clear on what they’re working toward together. That affects their clarity on roles and their individual and department goals and objectives, as well as overall morale. If you’re trying to expand your influence in a workplace that has no clear shared vision, motivating people will prove challenging. Plus, your ability to win the respect and approval of executives will be compromised if you don’t know what they envision the organization becoming. The solution: Talk with executives about the company’s strategy and vision, so you can understand it, speak to it, and communicate it to other members of the organization. Then set goals with your people that reflect this vision.
- Dysfunctional office politics dominate company culture.
Unhealthy relationships and communication barriers make it harder to gain influence. If you’re trying to build a rapport with high-level execs, but many of them don’t get along, it may be hard to make connections with them. If managers play favorites, or favor certain types of projects just because they happen to like them more, you might have trouble making your ideas heard. However, you can still make yourself an indispensable part of the team, working to bring innovative solutions to the table to solve the big problems. You should also cultivate a team of allies who are influential players in the organization, and work to build positive relationships with everyone else. The effectiveness of your leadership, and thus, your influence, will grow when you have a strong rapport with everyone.
- Roles and responsibilities are unclear.
It’s hard to build influence and be an impactful leader if you’re not quite sure what you’re doing. First and foremost, you need to have clarity in your own role in the organization—and your boss needs to be on the same page. Talk with your boss to make sure you both agree on your role and responsibilities. If you have questions about the roles and responsibilities of others, bring this up with your boss as well. If you speak with higher level executives, point out the need for increased clarity about roles and responsibilities. Ask questions about roles during meetings to clarify what each person on the team will do. Reaching out to people in other departments to ask them what they view as their role may also give you clarity. Plus, if it reveals any discrepancy between your boss’s view and their own, you can ask your boss or an exec to help iron out the issue.
- Workflow processes are undefined.
For various departments to successfully work together toward an end goal, you need a clear work schedule. Your timeline needs to show when each step needs to be accomplished, and how the project needs to be moved forward after each step. The whole team needs clarity about who relies on whom, when, and why. All team members will feel more driven when they understand exactly what the team needs them to do, and when. Without this information, the project is likely to flounder. That means you should never assume that people have clarity on the workflow process—you should spell out every step, create notes or a flow chart detailing it, and make sure everyone has a copy for future reference.
Maura found that asking questions about important issues like roles and vision demonstrated her leadership potential by showing she was thinking about the big picture. Strengthening the workflow processes of the team she managed boosted her track record as a leader. Like Maura, don’t be afraid to question the way things are—you might be the first who has had the courage to do it. Your leadership effectiveness and influence will grow as you work to strengthen people’s understanding of how the organization functions and what it’s working toward.
Have you worked to overcome these challenges? What were your results—did you begin seeing your leadership influence grow?
“As the leader, part of the job is to be visible and willing to communicate with everyone. ~ Bill Walsh ~
Diego Asks: I’m a fairly new boss in a large organization. Sometimes it seems like I’m invisible. My superiors don’t seem to interact much with me. And my employees go on in the old ways and don’t listen to me much. How can I be a better leader?
Joel Answers: Diego, it’s insightful that you don’t blame your boss or employees for the situation. That makes it easier for you to take control. When you lead effectively, they can’t possible ignore you!
Let’s break this down into three steps: evaluate, implement, and become.
- Evaluate. First, take this simple self-test. These are some key good leader qualities to check for. You can find the full test in my book How to be a Great Boss.
- Do I praise my employees for a job well done?
- Do is discipline in public or private?
- Do I give feedback?
- Do I give employees a chance to improve?
- Can I fire people when necessary?
- How well do I share credit?
- Am I helping my employees learn? Do I mentor?
- Implement. Once you have decided which areas you want to work on first, create a weekly “Take Action Now” list. Start focusing on the things you can change immediately. First, it helps you take control faster. Second, immediately people see the difference in you. Your credibility and visibility as a leader increase. People take notice.
- Become. Ultimately, there are seven qualities in a good leader. Diego, you will want to work on incorporating these characteristics into your leadership style to the point that this is the kind of person you are. When you adapt these great leadership qualities as part of your makeup you become too good to ignore.
- Empowers employees. Help your employees make the most of themselves. Give them chances to excel. Let them take risk. Don’t micro-manage.
- Provides growth opportunities. The best leaders recognize their employee’s capabilities and give them opportunities to stretch. They choose tasks that will help them grow, not overwhelm them.
- Trains through feedback. Employees can’t read your mind. Your best help is to clearly explain how they’ve met your expectations. Then teach them what they must do to do better. Or tell them what excellent things they need to do more of.
- Makes the tough choices. You can’t hope to be Mr. Popularity. Carefully analyze decisions and find what’s best for the company. Then walk forward in this decision with confidence— regardless of other’s opinions.
- Gives thanks. Good leaders give thanks and show appreciation. It’s such a little effort and it makes such a big difference with your team.
- Creates a positive workplace culture. Workers can’t thrive in fear and intimidation. When you give clear feedback and strong encouragement you create a hopeful, positive place to work. Create the expectation that every worker is and will try their best.
- Shows them the future. Workers are more likely to give full effort when they can see the results will be good for them. Take time to map their ascension plan with them. Talk about promotions and opportunities.
Diego, you asked a great question. Leaders aren’t born. Good leaders adapt qualities that add great value to whatever company is fortunate enough to hire them. Their employees love to work for them. They automatically gain visibility and status. I promise you as you master these skills, you’ll be too good to ignore.
A good leader knows the qualities necessary to take it to the next level. What have you done to stand out and lead? Share your experiences below.
“Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person – not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied
customers, which leads to profitability.” ~Anne M. Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox~
Client Theresa asks:
Over the past year, two great employees on my team quit their new job. I was floored. I didn’t see any signs that they were unhappy. We lost a huge amount of talent, and it set us back substantially. How can I improve employee retention?
Coach Joel answers:
Theresa, the six biggest reasons why employees choose to quit their new job within the first 180 days relates to their job satisfaction. Keep employees happy and fulfilled in their work, and retention is likely to be high. However, if your company is failing in even one of these six ways, it’s likely to push employees to look for better opportunities elsewhere. The good news is that as their manager, you have the ability to remedy any of these six major issues that may be influencing employees’ decisions to leave. Of course, you should also be asking your unhappy employees why they’ve quit their new job when they leave, which might highlight other areas in which to improve.
- Lack of opportunities to grow
To thrive in their workplace, employees need opportunities to grow their skills and talent. This isn’t just about career advancement. It’s about feeling satisfied by their work and taking pride in their ability to improve their performance and increase their responsibility. Employees need to work toward goals that are ambitious but achievable, so they’ll feel driven to come to work each day. Setting work performance goals together will ensure they stay motivated.
- Poor working relationships
A poor relationship with a boss or coworkers will make an employee dread coming to work. Furthermore, when an employee has a poor relationship with a boss, she won’t benefit from the guidance and encouragement that a good boss provides. As the manager, you need to overcome any personality conflicts that exist in order to provide the best support possible for your people. Additionally, you need to take note of any clashes that are arising between coworkers, and to mediate these situations as needed. Set the tone for a harmonious workplace culture by cultivating strong relationships with all of your employees, and make it clear that you expect the same from them.
- Not understanding the big picture
When employees don’t understand how their contributions fit into the overall vision of the company, they won’t take as much pride in their work. For their work to feel meaningful, they need to have a strong grasp of how it fits into the company’s goals. That’s why it’s important to talk about vision at team meetings and one-on-one check-ins. Help employees understand how each team objective fits into the vision, and how their own daily work fits into the big picture, and watch their enthusiasm for their work grow.
- Not feeling respected and appreciated
A few words of genuine appreciation each day can make a tremendous difference. Make “thank you” a core part of your vocabulary, and say it for the little things as well as the big things. When employees go the extra mile, recognize them for it in an extra special way. Send an email to the whole workplace that explains what they did, or take a couple of moments during a workplace event to tell everyone about it. These gestures cost nothing and take little time, yet they make a dramatic difference in employees’ level of job satisfaction. Recognizing their contributions to the whole team, including higher-ups, will also boost their opportunities for advancement, which employees will truly appreciate.
- Not having their needs met
If you don’t periodically check in with employees about what they need, they might not feel they can voice their needs. This can lead to a downward spiral of frustration and despair, leading unhappy employees to quit their new job because they don’t see another option. A parent with young children who is having difficulty balancing family and work demands might want flex-time or the ability to telecommute part-time, for instance. Ask employees how they need to feel more supported, and engage in creative brainstorming with them to find solutions.
- Fears about the future
The direction the company is headed in will also influence employees’ decision to stay or jump ship. If promotion opportunities are slim, or there’s a chance their job could be eliminated, they’ll naturally start looking elsewhere. You may not have control over these issues, but you can and should communicate with higher-ups about employees’ need for reassurance. Transparency is key—if employees are left in the dark about potential changes, the rumor mill will create fear and uncertainty. Seeking input and solutions from employees will make them feel invested in the change rather than blindsided by it.
Again, the good news is that when you eliminate these six factors that lead people to quit their new job, unhappy employees are likely to stay. You’ll also have a team of more loyal, dedicated, and passionate employees. By addressing these issues, you’ll become a stronger leader who gets better results from your people.
Call to Action:
Ask yourself which of these six areas you need to improve in. Consider a surveying your employees to find out what would make them more satisfied, too. Then, take at least one step every day to remedy the problem. Email Joel to discuss your progress.
Have you tried implementing the solutions described in this article? How did employees respond?