Being a Better Manager

By Lisa Olson

Do you have times when employee morale is low? Do your employees seem unhappy, maybe even scared? These types of issues usually surface when there is too much space between those at the top and those closest to the work.

The gap between the two can cause false assumptions that allow employees to tell untruths. Gossip starts and can get out of control.

Why does this happen?

  • Managers want to spare employees from issues that are complicated or risky so they turn off communication.
  • Managers do not want to admit to others that they have made a mistake.
  • Managers are supposed to know everything and when they do not, they go into hiding.
  • Managers become busy and cannot possibly get all details to all people, all the time.

Unfortunately, the lack of information makes employees feel out of the loop. When things do not go well, they might feel that they will be blamed. Often times, they engage in self-protective and defensive behaviors.

The longer this culture exists, the more deeply rooted these feelings become. Even just one influential employee of influence can have a major negative effect on the entire organization. So what do you do?

There are several answers.

Sharing Your Stories

Many of us would opt for a subtle approach. An example might be sharing your stories. This is a great way to bond with your employees.

For example, when my supervisor came into work late three days in a row, she decided to come into my office and talk to me. As it turns out her mother was elderly and failing. She was the primary care giver for her mother. Her recently added personal responsibilities had caused her to be late.

We all probably have stories of elderly parents or grandparents. I appreciated her honesty and in return for her small confidence, I shared a story about my grandfather.

My supervisor had strong family values. I encouraged her to take care of her own first. We worked out a new temporary schedule that she and I could both live with.

Plug Into the Grapevine

However, the better answer to communication problems is quite simple: plug in. Plug into the grapevine, plug in to the front line – better known as the line of fire.

In today’s office environment, it is possible to network with the right people at the right time in order to get the right job. People are interested in rumor. Managers would be smart to keep tabs on the rumor mill.

That does not mean they should engage in gossip or encourage it. The best way to deal with gossip is to “manage by walking around.” Keep your door open and occasionally eat lunch in the lunchroom with everyone else. Employees will always hear of bad news.

Try to keep gossip healthy, not malicious.

Pick Someone to Job Shadow You

For those of us who have been in the industry for years may think you have paid your dues. You had to start out taking calls and then moved to a supervisor, a customer service rep, or a programmer. You have climbed the ranks so why should you go back to the front line?

Take this test and see what happens.

Pick a day that one of your front line people can spend the day with you. Make sure this person is someone who can communicate well and someone you trust.

Have this person gather questions and comments from others before spending the day with you. You will be amazed at the feedback you get. You will start to understand what is important to your employees. Allow this person to continue to communicate with you on a regular basis.

Meet with Key Staff

A better approach is to plan a meeting for key staff. Towards the end of the meeting, give each person an opportunity offer constructive criticism about your management style, performance, or an area where you need improvement.

When they do this, you must be quiet. If two or more people mention the same thing, you will start to understand how things you do or do not do affect your employees.

I have had several opportunities to implement this feedback process. On one occasion, my employees thought I was always so busy that I did not have time for them.

They were not talking to me because they did not want to bother me. I assumed things were going well so I looked for and found other things to keep me busy.

Work with Them

Nonetheless, shortly after this exercise I decided to spend one day every other week on the operations floor learning and offering suggestions.

On another occasion, I was caught completely off guard. During this time of open feedback, I learned that my behavior had been so radical–in an attempt to make many changes in a short period–that I was perceived as being rude and uncaring.

Perform this exercise three or four times a year. It might be difficult, but it will instill honesty among your staff and open up communications.

Those employees who care about your business will want to improve. Those employees who do not really care will probably quit.

The result will be overall company performance improvement.

[From Connection MagazineSept/Oct 2002]

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