Have you ever had a manager who, while they maybe did their jobs well and competently led a team or department, didn’t seem to know you at all? Maybe it was something they said, maybe it was a lack of acknowledgment of a major milestone. Chances are, you probably don’t look back on that manager as one of your best. As we know, feeling like you can bring your whole self to work is one of the hallmarks of an engaged employee, and if part of that whole self is ignored in the workplace, that engagement is likely to decline.
Thankfully, getting to know your employees doesn’t need to be awkward or time-consuming. By making just a few small tweaks to work styles, managers can create deeper connections with their team, and make it easy to follow the Platinum Rule (forget the golden one): Treat others the way they want to be treated. As Forbes contributor John Hall admits, “Some [leaders] find it difficult to personally connect with employees while still maintaining a position of authority.” Luckily, there are simple ways to do both.
First let’s set an important expectation: not all employees want their leader to know everything about them. That’s OK. What’s most important here is that as a leader, you’re connecting with employees in a way that resonates with them. HR leaders know that organizations often state they want people with diverse backgrounds on their teams — but then coach people to behave uniformly. A truly diverse organization values a range of communication and working styles, as we learned when it comes to increasing employee morale. Therefore, when it comes to getting to know your team, ensure your approach is flexible.
As Hall mentioned, the fear of compromising authority often prevents leaders from connecting with their employees beyond a superficial level. However, one of the most important ways to deepen employee trust and respect is to relate to them, instead of acting like you’re above them. Your employees aren’t going to forget you’re their manager. However, you both have lives outside of work: families, friends, sports, hobbies, pets, and other unique interests. In addition, managers weren’t always managers, most likely. Surely you can relate to your employees when they are balancing competing priorities at work, are contemplating their next career move, or need assistance integrating work and personal lives. Never fear being relatable.
Another seemingly small but impactful change you can implement immediately: don’t forget the little things. Effective leaders should already know that recognition is paramount to building employee engagement and performance, but recognition and acknowledgment shouldn’t be attributed exclusively to work achievements. Things happen in your employees’ lives all the time that are important to them, and if that employee has brought it up at work, you should be asking about it. For example, maybe they’ve mentioned they are moving or purchasing a house, maybe they’re adopting a pet, or their child has a big soccer tournament this weekend. Few things are as validating on a Monday morning than when your leader cares enough to ask specifically about something that was important to you.
Lastly, trust that even while your employees may have busy work and personal lives, they are getting their work done. And while you may think, “Well, I delegate tasks, so I already trust my employees with that work,” it doesn’t end there. If you delegate work without giving your employees the ability to own the decisions on how to best execute the tasks assigned, you aren’t really delegating at all. Give your employees leadership opportunities and trust that they will deliver. When you’ve done the thoughtful legwork to get to know your team, how they work, what gives them energy, and how they integrate their work and home lives, trusting them to do their jobs should come second nature.
Getting to know the members of your team better costs nothing and has a great impact on performance and culture. Notice that the suggestions above are applicable to teams regardless of their geography as well; whether your team sits together in one office or whether you have a team of entirely remote workers, you can and should use these techniques to deepen connections. Active engagement, performance, and motivation will naturally follow.
To learn even more about why high-performing organizations excel, tune into our upcoming webinar, Building a High-Performance Organization.