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Author: Karen Rae Short

Tips for Building Employee Relationships

Fotolia 48743829 XS2As a speaker and business coach, I have had the pleasure of working with hundreds of “people” managers. Their titles include Team Leader, Supervisor, Manager, Project Lead, Director or VP, some with years of experience and some preparing to assume a position as people manager for the first time. In every workshop, there are questions around building good relationships with each member of the team.

In today’s multi-generational workplace, there is not one single set of expectations. Each individual will have different perceptions for their own role, their relationships with team members and management, along with different goals/ambitions and motivators.

Over time, I have developed a series of questions that in my own experience have helped me establish a positive working relationship with my own teams. There are some variations on when and how to engage in these discussions, based on the following factors:

  • Are you (the people manager) new to the company/department/team? If so, there are no previous relationships or experiences that may impact building the team. This can be good or bad, it depends on how you introduce yourself to the team. Good in that there is no “history” and you can start with a clean slate. Potentially bad in that you are the new “kid on the block” and all eyes will be watching, some hopeful that you will not be a success.
  • Are you (the manager) being promoted from within and moving up from peer to manager? If so, how have the team members responded to the announcement? This can also be good or bad, and again it depends on how you handle any issues/concerns from “the past”, and how you transition from peer to leader.
  • In either situation, are there any team members with what might be described as “baggage”? In other words, do they have expectations of the manager that may get in the way of building a positive relationship with you?
  • Are you both leader and team member? In other words, do you still assume some team member responsibilities while also acting as the team’s supervisor or manager? In this instance, you have to be very specific about clarifying your role in each conversation, i.e. “I’m speaking as your manager now” or “I’m speaking as a team member now”.

Whatever the circumstance, there are some questions you can ask that will give you information designed to help you build a positive relationship with each team member That list of questions could include:

  1. What do you like most about your current role and why?
    Imagine what you can do with this knowledge. When you are assigning new tasks, setting up schedules, if you are able to provide each person with the opportunity to do more of what they enjoy, you are increasing your credibility in their eyes.
  2. What do you like least about your current role and why?
    If you are able to decrease this type of work, you again are a hero. If you can’t, you are able to acknowledge that you know they don’t really like the work, and are counting on them to do a great job because they are the best person to do it. If you are able to discuss a plan where they cross-train others to do this work, you are building their skill set in new areas and showing them that you are doing your best to respond to their preferences.
  3. If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
    This may seem to be a repeat of the previous question, but it does sometimes bring up other topics. For instance, their working environment could be a concern, or an issue with a colleague. It gives you an opportunity to explore further, and to show your interest in their success.
  4. What are your short and long-term goals, and how can I help?
    A key question, especially for employees with career ambition, and many do have them regardless of their age or generational ‘attitude’. We sometimes overlook excellent candidates for growth because they have been in a certain role for some time and we “assume” that they have no desire to grow. Sometimes, it is that they have not been asked and believe that the door is no longer open to them. Such a waste of talent and ability.
  5. How do you like to receive feedback? Positive as well as Negative/Constructive?
    This is a very key question. If we don’t have the answer, we can often make a situation more difficult when our goal is to improve communication. For instance, if you give an employee praise in public and s/he is not comfortable with public accolades, that person could be thinking, “well, I’m not going to exceed expectations again if s/he going to embarrass me like this”! The negative/constructive feedback should take place in private without exception (okay, maybe if a person is about to cut off his/her/someone’s left arm, you’d jump in right then and there in front of others!). Be specific and address behaviours, not personality. For instance “you’ve been late by up to 15 minutes 3 times in the last two weeks”; not “you’re lazy and can’t get to work on time”.
  6. What motivates you to come to this job every day (other than $$ & location)?
    If you understand what truly makes a person come to work and feel engaged and valued every day, you’ll be able to create more of a motivational environment. Various studies have indicated that high wages is not at the top of the list as an employee motivator. In fact, it is generally half way down the top ten list, preceded by a feeling of being part of something that matters, open communication, a boss who supports me, opportunities for growth and advancement, etc. If you can identify and capitalize on each person’s true motivators, you will develop a highly competent team of individuals who are inspired to grow with the organization…and make you look good at the same time!
  7. What type of support/coaching do you want from me?
    Some will want a lot, some a little. Some will prefer to work things out on their own, others to take courses. You don’t have to be the coach; it is your responsibility to ensure that they receive the support they need to be successful…and to make you look good too.
  8. Anything else that will help us to work well together?
    Another important question that may result in a surprising answer. It is well worth asking, especially if you surface information that can make or break a relationship.

If you know that there are some issues, it may be better to schedule the one-on-one meetings before holding the group meeting. In the private meetings, you will address the issues/concerns with the individual and develop a plan to overcome them.

Someone wanted your job

Let’s say for instance that one team member is disgruntled because s/he didn’t get the promotion and is showing through her/his behaviour that s/he is not motivated, perhaps going to your manager (the former manager) instead of involving you, not meeting performance requirements, etc. Dealing with this quickly and early is important, especially if s/he is a strong influence on the team. The questions would be pretty much the same, and if the concerns do not surface in the responses, bring them up. Some possible approaches are:

“I understand that you applied for this position and I’d like to talk with you about that….did you receive any feedback about why you were not selected? How do you feel about it? Are you still interested in moving up/taking on more responsibilities? My job is to help you progress and grow in your role and if you want my assistance, I’ll be happy to work with you. You are a valued member of the team and it is important for us to find a way to work well together so that we both succeed.”

If the person is responsive, make sure that you follow through. If the person is negative/unwilling to participate, it is important for you to address the performance issues, letting him/her know that the behaviours are not acceptable. Schedule a follow up meeting to discuss how s/he will ensure that his/her performance improves.

Assuming that there are no “skeletons in the closet”, you’ll probably find that each team member is inspired by your introduction and asking these questions. Frequently, managers learn from the first two questions that they can juggle some tasks and be a hero in team members’ eyes when they get to do more of what they like and less of what they don’t like. The fact that you ask about their goals and how you can help them get there shows them that you are not concerned about them trying to make you look ineffective, or that you plan to keep all the best work for yourself.

Working with Former Peers

If you are managing former peers, it is important to clarify how your role and relationships will be different. It doesn’t mean that you cannot continue with relationships, it does mean that you cannot be perceived as showing favouritism to one person because you are personal friends. It means that you have to clarify that you cannot give one person the best projects, allow them to take extra benefits i.e. arrive late/leave early, or expect you to share information with them that you cannot share with the rest of the team.

It also means that you may have to remove yourself from some conversations. For instance, if you used to participate in discussions that are tantamount to “company gossip” or “boss bashing”, you’re the boss now! If your team engages in social gatherings, it would not be wise for you to maintain your reputation as the “best beer drinker” or the like!

Employee has “Attitude”

Sadly, there will be other attitude or difficult behaviours to deal with from time to time. If you have the “8 questions” information, then your conversation about inappropriate behaviour can focus on their needs and how their behaviour can negatively impact their goals. For instance, if an employee wants a raise or promotion and is not meeting standards of performance or making inappropriate negative statements, part of your discussion will be to ask them how they think their actions will impact their career goals.

Bottom line is…

As people managers, our job is to “achieve results with and through others”. Not only do we have to plan, organize, delegate and monitor to ensure that goals are met, we have to do this in a way that is energizing, inspiring, supportive and motivating. In other words, we have to provide the right amount of direction or control and support or involvement to let people be their best, and adjust the amount as they become more competent, confident and motivated so that they don’t think we are micro managing or under-supporting. It is a fine balance that, well learned, results in building a team that is inspired to work together with purpose to reach common goals. And it feels really good!

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