When I graduated from college, I was hired by a prestigious corporation that had more than 100 years of history in the industry leadership. I participated full time in their award-winning management training program by working in all areas of the company, traveling to many locations, and being taught by their top leaders. A lot of trust and authority was placed in my hands, and I was assured a fast-tracked career.
The person who ran the program recognized my ability to learn quickly, so he asked me to continue working with him instead of taking a job in the field. Other program participants moved on to different managers at other locations. To my surprise, it was not long before they became disengaged or actively disengaged employees. Within the next two years, more than 90 percent of them left the company.
From this experience, I learned that managers often feel incapable of being agents of change in challenging environments. However, this is preciously the time and place they are needed most. A good manager is like a ray of sun in a dark place. They bring hope to their employees and shed much-needed light when challenges abound.
Practical Application: How Can Managers Make a Difference?As talent development leaders, we need to be aware that great relationships between employees and their immediate managers is a key component of employee engagement, which in turn will have a significant impact across your organization. If you or your managers recognize the need to improve relationships, there are many ways to get started.
Tip #1: Face Time Is More Than an App
To develop and maintain healthy working relationships, communication with individual employees is essential. It needs to be clear, consistent, and constructive.
Team meetings, email, and instant messaging are not substitutes for talking one-on-one with employees. While these three things are great ways to share quick facts, assign tasks, and provide general information, they do not work well as tools for developing employee-manager relationships.
Regarding logistics, individual meetings may vary in length, format, and frequency based on the needs of the situation (for instance, remote versus on-site employees; a tenured person versus a new hire; entry-level versus executive).The main thing is they occur regularly. An occasional happenstance meeting or the periodic performance review meeting are not enough on their own to ensure employee engagement.
Tip #2: Open Approach
Good managers are approachable. They share critical information with their teams. They also encourage employees to share important information with them.
They set viable and clear goals; give and receive feedback in a constructive manner; and advocate on the employees’ behalf when resources are required or roadblocks are hindering progress on key priorities.
They also understand that having an open door is not about a physical door being open or shut. Instead, it is about their attitude and active listening skills when employees express concern. They do not have to agree with all employee feedback, but they do need to demonstrate respect by listening to their viewpoints on critical issues.
Tip #3: Teaching and Learning
Great managers take it a step higher by developing their employees and themselves. They provide their teams with the means to learn new skills. If they cannot teach them, they look for alternate solutions such as a department mentor, online training, or cross-training with another team.
They lead by example, demonstrating their knowledge and abilities; acquiring new skills through training and practice; and (when needed) learning from their own mistakes. Moreover, if those mistakes have a significantly negative effect on their employees, they apologize and (if possible) provide a solution to the concern. It should be noted here that if the manager already has healthy relationships with engaged employees (see the first tip), the employees are more apt to overlook the mistake.
What’s Next?You may wonder what happened to the company I mentioned at the beginning of this post. During the last 20 years, I followed them in the news as they lost sight of their roots, stopped innovating, and started making very costly choices. Eventually, they laid off most of their workforce, were removed from the Nasdaq, and declared bankruptcy.
The moral of this story is that managers make a difference. However, the type of difference is based on the choices they make. In the short-term, they may not see the effects of their behaviors on employee engagement. In the long-term, the effects will be resounding and seen by all.
Therefore, if you are a talent development leader, I encourage you to consider your choices and remind your managers of the impact they have on their teams. And whatever your role, look for what is good in your organization and extend a word of encouragement or appreciation to those who are fostering engagement and growth.