It’s people and their associated behaviors—not just spreadsheets and action plans—that drive successful projects. An effective manager-employee connection is vital: everyone has times when they need support, direction, and encouragement to stay energized and committed. Still, the notion of managers establishing and sustaining relationships with their people is often overshadowed by the day-to-day work of managing projects.
Here are four relationship building practices managers can use to help employees stay focused, stay energized, and COPE with workplace demands.
- Career planning. When employees believe there are options for advancement, they are more likely to have a high level of commitment. But it is important to remember that career advancement means different things to different people. One person might have a desire to lead others while another is content to be a specialist without supervisory responsibility. Successful leaders open a dialogue about specific options that are important to each employee, review potential paths to achieving goals, and maintain an ongoing conversation.
- Open door approach. Next, employees need to see the manager as easily accessible. An open door approach is a relationship building tool that enables a trusting, two-way dialogue. This can be achieved through MBWA (management by walking around—somewhat of a lost art); one-on-one meetings that create a safe harbor for exchange; reserving time in the office for employees to visit as desired; and using 360-degree feedback. Reserved office hours might take many of us back to university days when professors welcomed a visit to discuss a class assignment or clarify a topic. In addition to gathering needed information, these hours were conducive to relationship building—students knew they would be welcome without appointment or concern about interrupting workflow.
- Problem solving. The open door approach not only creates an environment and opportunity for exchange, it also provides a forum for problem solving. Problem solving often requires the support of others—and its success can depend upon the extent and effectiveness of the manager-employee relationship. If a solution calls for a change in policy, an allocation of resources, or something else requiring a manager’s involvement, the presence of a quality manager-employee relationship will smooth the process.
- Engaged Innovation. Innovation can move the agency needle on breakthroughs related to delivering the best public service. Often the answer to recurring and persistent issues can be found at the point of delivery: customer-facing employees will likely have ideas on how to remove obstacles to success. Bringing these innovative ideas forward requires engagement on the part of the manager and the employee—and the level of engagement is based on the success of their relationship.
Every agency should explore the degree to which leaders acknowledge, understand, and participate in relationship building. This is not a “nice-to-have” task; effective manager-employee relationships should be an important component of every workplace.