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.
“Leadership is not about a title or a designation. It’s about impact, influence and inspiration. Impact involves getting results, influence is about spreading the passion you have for your work, and you have to inspire team-mates and customers.” ~Robin S. Sharma~
Jackie had just accepted a promotion and was working to develop a grasp of whom she needed to influence in her organization. She knew that influencing stakeholders, both internal and external, is critical to any leader’s success, and that building strong working relationships strengthens influence. Her mentor helped her to map out the key people she needed to influence at this stage in her career, and this is what they came up with.
Influencing executives helps a leader to build broad support for her projects and ideas and to gain financial backing when necessary. When a leader sells her ideas to executives, they in turn influence shareholders and directors, as they typically have closer contact with them. Therefore, by influencing an executive, a leader influences others who are high on the organizational hierarchy. Plus, these executives often have direct influence over promotions, so gaining influence with them is critical to career advancement. Learning to think like executives, understand their vision, and articulate ideas with confidence are key aspects of gaining influence with them.
When a leader has influence with clients, they trust her ideas and advice. They’re more likely to support taking calculated risks and trying new ideas that the leader supports. Reliability is a key factor in gaining influence with clients. Building a strong rapport with them is another. Strong relationships allow a client to understand how a leader thinks and what she cares about, building a bond of trust. These relationships also allow leaders to gain input from customers that lets them better serve their needs.
- Sales departments
It’s important for leaders to influence their sales departments so these departments truly have confidence in their company’s products or services. When the sales department believes in what the company is doing, it will convey that enthusiasm to customers or clients. Leaders need to make sure sales departments are thoroughly educated about products and services as well as their value. This knowledge will help them convey a sense of confidence to customers and clients.
- Finance departments
Finance departments are another group of stakeholders that leaders must influence in order to gain their trust as well. This trust allows them to work as partners to allocate financial support to projects. Leaders must show the finance department that their projects are good investments for the company. Additionally, they should thoroughly educate them in the rationale for pursuing particular projects, so finance personnel can articulate it to others in the company, further building buy-in.
- Other colleagues
All colleagues in the workplace are stakeholders that a leader needs to influence. Building strong relationships throughout the workplace will help a leader gain buy-in for projects and ideas. Further, it will prime him to move into a more advanced leadership position, because the people he’ll be supervising already have a high level of respect for him.
- Suppliers and contractors
Leaders must build strong relationships with suppliers and contractors as well. They’ll gain more leverage with these parties as they convince them that the company’s endeavors will prove lucrative far into the future. These parties want to build relationships with companies that will continue reaching higher levels of success, meaning they can grow together. When leaders convinces suppliers and contractors that the company’s growth will continue, they’ll have more room to negotiate with them as well as a stable base of support.
As Jackie worked on influencing these key stakeholders, she found herself becoming more respected as a leader in her company. At first, she had to make a conscious effort to think about how to approach these stakeholders on a daily basis, but after a while, it began coming naturally. Often a colleague would reach out to her to discuss a company project or new idea, so she was no longer doing all the legwork in building these relationships. As her influence grew, people began coming to her more often, and she did her part to maintain strong ongoing relationships with them all.
Joel’s leadership coaching will help you reach the key stakeholders in your organization. He’s an expert on how company’s leaders can use their influence with key stakeholders.
Have you found it especially easy or challenging to gain influence with any particular groups of stakeholders? Share your experiences here.
“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?
“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” ~Andrew Carnegie~
David had realized that departments in his company functioned as silos. Information was getting trapped rather than shared; the way communication was supposed to flow was unclear. Building relationships across departments would be a great way to expand his influence, his mentor told him. “Influence isn’t just about leveraging authority,” she said. “It’s about building relationships that make people want to listen to your ideas, and not just with people in your department. This means building cross-functional relationships with people working throughout the organization, in a range of departments and levels of hierarchy. You might not work with them closely, but you all depend on each other.”
- Understand what they do. Learn about the functions of other areas of your organization, and why they’re important. Have one-on-one conversations with key players in other organizational areas to ask them about what they do. Then, help them understand your own department’s focus in turn. This knowledge will position you to serve as a bridge between departments, conveying the responsibilities of other organizational areas to the people with whom you work closely. Understanding one another’s roles will build respect and encourage collaboration where appropriate. Plus, understanding the path of the workflow through the company will give you a bird’s eye view of its operations, preparing you to advance in the organizational hierarchy.
- Learn about their goals and objectives. A key component of building cross-functional teams is learning the goals and objectives of other organizational areas. Ask key players in other departments what they’re working toward. Share your own goals and objectives as well. When you understand what they wish to achieve, you’ll see how they fit into the company’s vision more clearly. You’ll also know how you can support each other in achieving your departmental goals.
- Celebrate their accomplishments. When you hear of another department’s success in an endeavor, congratulate the people with whom you’re cultivating relationships and share your appreciation. Make sure your own people know about the success as well. Send an email saying that your whole department is excited to hear about the success, or pick up the phone and make a quick call. Acknowledgement and gratitude play a huge role in building strong relationships.
- Establish strong communication channels. Work to pinpoint how communication could improve between departments or levels of hierarchy. Talk with the people you’re building relationships with to get their perspective. Improving your communication skills might mean making sure people in your department knows how it’s supposed to flow, or setting up new guidelines. Getting everyone on the same page about how to communicate will go a long way toward strengthening relationships.
- Ask what they need. Positioning yourself as someone who helps others get what they need to get the job done will make them see you as a leader. They’ll see you as the best person in your department to reach out to when they have something to discuss. Besides, in a world where people are used to others making demands of them, being asked about their own needs is a breath of fresh air. They’ll appreciate the sentiment greatly.
Working to build cross-functional working relationships will show you’re serious about leadership, as creating open communication channels is a vital part of active leadership. Plus, it will build your knowledge of the whole organization, priming you for advancement. David found himself gaining respect from higher level executives as he worked to build these relationships. Eventually, he was promoted to a higher level of management, and his strong knowledge of the different areas of the organization had positioned him to succeed in this role.
Want one-on-one advice for implementing these strategies in your workplace? Learn about Joel’s executive coaching program.
Do departments communicate effectively in your organization, or do they operate as silos? Have you tried any of these tactics to improve the situation? Share your experiences here.
“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” ~James Humes~
Mei had just scheduled a one-on-one meeting with an upper-level executive in her company. She didn’t get much face time with high-level executives, so when communicating with them, she knew she had to make it count. She understood that talking with senior executives was a great strategy for boosting her visibility at work. She immediately called her mentor and asked for advice. Her mentor walked her through these six essential strategies for making the most of the meeting.
- Get to the point. Make your point clear at the start, rather than slowly meandering toward it. By letting the exec know exactly why you’re sitting down together, you’ll make the most of her time. Don’t be long-winded—keep your words short and sweet. Mentally rehearse what you’ll say beforehand, and write notes if that helps you, to keep yourself on point as you present your ideas. Presenting your ideas eloquently, and showing how they align with the big picture, will impress the exec. Plus, you’ll leave time in the conversation for dialogue.
- Ask questions to gain clarity about what the executive needs to hear. This will allow you to customize your message to what the leader needs to know. For instance, ask if he’s familiar with a project before launching into a description of it, so you’re not telling him things he already knows. At the beginning of your session, ask if he has particular concerns or interests that you could speak to. If he really wants to hear about project X, and you spend fifteen minutes talking about project Z, you might not have impressed him as much as you hoped.
- Listen to what the executive is and isn’t saying. When communicating with high-level executives, you’ll get feedback not only from what they say, but from what they don’t say. If the executive hasn’t commented on what you see as the most exciting part of your plan, try to discern her feelings about it. If you sense hesitation about an idea, ask how she feels about it, so you’ll have the opportunity to provide additional data or other information to back you up.
- Be natural. Your voice and body language should radiate confidence, but don’t act like you’re on a stage. Execs will see right through that. If you look like you’re performing, they’ll try to figure out what’s amiss. Be optimistic but honest about areas that need improvement.
- Let the executive know how to support you. Make the executive feel like an ongoing part of your team by letting him know how he can support you. You might need support in bringing your ideas to higher-level executives. Asking for help, and voicing your needs clearly, shows you’re serious about bringing your plan to fruition.
- Make a follow-up plan. The exec will feel like an ongoing part of your project if you have a plan for how you’ll check in about it. Set a follow-up meeting a month out, or say that you’ll email him once you reach a particular milestone to talk about the next steps.
By using these strategies, Mei came across as professional and competent to the executive—just the kind of person this leader wants to work with in the future. Plus, her mentor noted, communicating well with executives in high-level positions could open up new opportunities for her in the organization. The executive might even become an advocate for her in the future if they continue developing a strong working relationship.
Have you had the chance to speak with high-level executives in your organization? Did you use any of these strategies? Share your experiences here.