The most important relationship at work, besides that among co-workers, is that of managers with the people they supervise. The influence that managers have, whether they realize it and acknowledge it or not, can enhance or tear down the performance of their work team.
I saw this powerful connection when I worked with anti-union campaigns where, in 90% of the campaigns I ran, the reason employees decided to seek out a union had nothing to do with wages and benefits but everything to do with how they were treated by their immediate supervisor.
This is actually a very good thing because, as a manager, you want to be able to influence your employees. You want to motivate them to perform at the highest level, and that means you have to approach them in specific ways so that they feel an obligation to perform at that level. When I say obliged, I don’t mean enforced. You can’t force people to perform. You can scare them, but that’s short term and will ultimately backfire. Instead, you want your behavior to influence theirs.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, that’s very easy to do. From the moment you pull your car inside the parking lot, if not before, somebody is looking at you, trying to make a determination based solely on the way you look as to how they should perform for the day. A manager’s influence on the ability to generate a positive attitude or a negative attitude is incalculable. Is the boss smiling? Did she say hello when she walked in? Does he look tired or grumpy at 9 in the morning? Should we avoid the boss today, perhaps not discussing a potential problem because he looks annoyed already?
Quite often, a manager has no idea of the impression he gives. He may think that his department has no problems, but his employees actually avoid coming to him with problems because they believe he is unapproachable. And that may be because the he doesn’t smile or doesn’t have good communication or good interpersonal skills. One way to help managers understand how they are viewed is through a 360 degree performance review. This review gets feedback from the manager’s boss and peers, as well as from the manager’s employees, and it provides a factual basis to make recommendations for change.
Once the manager has the awareness, he needs to have an action plan that details how he can develop these skills. Many managers have never been taught these skills and perhaps didn’t need them as critically in a previous non-supervisory job. Many management and leadership programs offer these softer skills, and company mentors can be invaluable in providing additional coaching. Follow up on the increased awareness change of behavior is critical, but is too often forgotten.
Don’t be mistaken: this kind of change is hard. Think about the 80% of people who fail with their New Year’s Resolutions—if it is too hard to do, they may have all the good intentions, but they stop. Think of the golfer working with a pro on a new swing to improve his overall game. It used to be fun playing golf, but now he gets discouraged and reverts to his old game. The same thing happens with managers when they know they have to change. They need to go to a pro, or mentor, and then they have to be accountable for following through on what they’ve learned, no matter how hard it is.
Typically, you’ll find three kinds of managers who could benefit from learning the softer skills of management. The first are the ones that employees complain about and quit on but who refuse to accept responsibility for the problem. Instead, these managers blame the employees. The employees, a manager may say, should adjust to the manager’s style, not the other way around.
Next, you have the successful managers. They have been effective, and because of that success, they are the hardest people to convince to change. You can try to explain that with change, they’d be more successful, but they are reluctant to go through the pain of change in order to have perhaps only incremental success.
Last, you have managers who are eager to learn these skills, even if that growth is a difficult process.
As the leader, you must stand firm in your efforts to continue developing your managers, regardless of their protests. We live in a kind of chaos where what worked yesterday and made us successful is clearly not working today. The previous school of management, which was command and control, made sense when the workforce was not as evolved as it is now. With today’s educated workforce, we are asking more of our employees. We want them to cross train jobs, be innovative, be creative, and look for ways to improve the business. To motivate these employees to put forth this effort, the managers must encourage and influence the employees in that direction and therefore must have the skills to necessary to help everyone move forward.
In a sense, managers and supervisors are always on stage when they are at work, conscious of how their actions and behaviors are viewed. They must don a work persona and intentionally use their skills to play the part of effective coaches. But taking on this role is indeed worth it when it motivates your team to its best performance.