For any company, success is largely dependent on how well workers perform. I’ve long since learned that employees who perform the best are almost always those who are most engaged with their projects and teams. But you might be surprised to find out that one of the biggest contributing factors to the motivation and good feeling of an employee is often their relationship with their manager.
In a study by the OC Tanner Institute, 37 percent of employees reported recognition from management as by far the most important factor for employee motivation. A similar study found that 79 percent of people who quit their jobs do so because they don’t feel appreciated.
The most successful managers understand their responsibility for employee engagement and recognize how good employee relations contribute to a flourishing company.
Unfortunately, evidence also shows that companies are not taking steps to equip their managers to handle the softer aspects of the role. A CareerBuilder survey found that 58 percent of managers reported receiving no training for their current position. While there is no instruction manual or rule book on managing and leading people, my time in the corporate world has taught me that there are steps that you can take to navigate this complicated responsibility.
Setting general expectations creates a frame for a positive working relationship. As a manager joining a new team or welcoming a new employee, you should set aside the time for a one-to-one discussion to discuss pain points and success factors. It should be a two-way discussion, with the employee having space to ask questions and make requests of their own.
This is an opportunity for you to find out what is important to your employee, which will help you understand what will keep them motivated and happy. It also provides an opportunity to establish some clear dos and don’ts that will help them navigate the workplace and maintain a structure that is comfortable for everyone.
Early on in the working relationship, you should establish a set of specific key performance indicators (KPIs) designed to help the employee understand what will make them successful in their role.
KPIs should be specific, measurable, realistic and with agreed review dates. The same applies to feedback on performance. Broad-brush statements like “not good enough” or “must improve” are meaningless if an employee doesn’t know how they can improve.
If an employee is underperforming or struggling to meet agreed KPIs, it can be helpful to break down bigger projects or activities into smaller, more manageable tasks to be tackled day-by-day. Harvard Business Review explains the importance of small, actionable and completable tasks to job satisfaction.
Similarly, “My door is always open” to address problems is a common phrase, and managers who adopt a full open-door policy will find that employees use it often. However, this can be distracting if you have your own workload to complete. Therefore, keeping a balance is vital to maintaining healthy boundaries on time and attention. It may be more productive to have a set time at the start or end of each day for open-door questions and keep core working hours for focused tasks.
General communication strategies.
Effective managers build a cohesive work environment by interacting and engaging with employees. For example, taking a genuine interest in what employees want to share is an excellent place to start. Allowing your team members to share what they wish to, without pressing for additional details, builds trust and sets a tone for open communication.
A common assumption among managers is that employees are as invested in the company as its leadership. Some may be, but others are not and will merely view their job as a means of paying the bills.
Of course, it is fine to expect employees to perform according to the expectations and KPIs you have set for them. Just remember that they are not a business owner, or as invested in the business as the management team. If you are putting additional expectations on them, incentivize them to rise to the occasion. This doesn’t have to be financial. You can compensate them in other ways, such as more time off.
Above all, employees are adults and expect to be treated as such. An open dialogue and clear responsibilities in return for fair remuneration and incentives are not unreasonable expectations.
Incentives work to ensure employees become more invested in the success of the company. This may be financial — bonuses or salary increases — but it could also mean extra time spent on coaching or providing training and development opportunities.
Incentives should be linked to both individual and team success, ensuring that the objectives to attain the incentives are connected to company goals. This way, the employee has a clear line of sight in how their own contribution helps the company to succeed. This reinforces a positive work environment and allows employees to unite around shared goals.
Effective management is challenging, but not impossible.
Over the years, I’ve learned that regardless of the company, management is an inherently difficult position — but it’s not an impossible one. By setting expectations, adopting a healthy flow of communication and identifying long-term goals and priorities, it’s possible to create a constructive work environment that is a safe and fun place to be, improves your relationship with your employees and ultimately allows everyone to thrive.
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