Relationships often define our happiness and our outlook on life. We are taught, from the time we enter kindergarten, that we must relate to others. We must share our toys, respect others’ space and defer to authority. College psychology professors teach us that our relationships with our parents will profoundly impact our levels of success in life. Romantic relationships open doors to new happiness or heartbreak. The one relationship that probably affects our daily lives more than any other is the relationship with a boss.
Almost everyone has had a bad relationship with a boss drive us away from what was otherwise a good job or company. But consider how many times you have hung on to a bad job when the relationship with your boss was strong!
In customer service jobs all across America, the relationship between the frontline employee and the direct manager is a key element in the happiness of the employee. In his book, Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford To Live Without (Gallup Press, 2006), Tom Rath evaluated more than 5 million Gallup surveys and found that “when employees have close friendships with their boss, they are more than twice as likely to be satisfied with their jobs.” This level of happiness converts into the positive treatment of customers, which drives the bottom line.
‘Ask yourself: Who was the best manager you ever worked for?’
Relational leadership is not the easy way to manage; autocratic or dictatorial leadership is a much easier path to follow. Yet, while “because I said so” may have worked for my dad, it does not work with today’s employee. I have found, over the past 25 years, that most employees want to feel that they are adding value and having an impact on the success of the company. The best ones want to know “why” and want to be able to participate in making decisions.
The first step in relational leadership is to take the time to get to know your employees. What are their passions? What are their needs and aspirations in the job? The next step is to show your employees that their opinions and insight are valuable. Instead of demanding success, the frontline manager must coach the employee.
“More time with me”
As a consultant, I speak to customer service employees across America. When I ask them what they would like to change about their daily interactions with their managers, they most frequently say they’d like their bosses to “spend more time with me, to let me know if I am doing a good job and to help me understand how to do better.”
Executives at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts understand the value of the employee and recently embarked on a new program in their call center to build stronger relationships among coaches, supervisors, managers and the customer-facing agents. One-on-one meetings focused on the employee’s perspective first, with a goal of calibrating the employees’ expectations with the company’s need to satisfy customers. Senior Manager Sheryl Nasiatka knew that these efforts were paying off, in less than 90 days, when she interviewed an agent for a new team lead position. The agent had been with the company for just more than a year and was anxious to become part of the management team.
She asked, “How will you establish yourself as a leader on the team, or how will you build rapport with your associates?” The agent responded, “I think it is important to really know your team. I would make an effort to personally learn who they are, who their family is and what’s important to them outside of work. That’s what makes a connection, and that’s what builds trust, loyalty and teamwork.” Nasiatka knew the “relationship thing” was working when it had made its way three levels deep into the organization.
Of course, there is a need to balance privacy considerations, but I am not talking about snooping into the employee’s life outside of work; I am talking about paying attention to the daily discussions that naturally occur in the workplace and reflect their passions in life.
Ask yourself: Who was the best manager you ever worked for? Did he or she know you as a person? Did he or she care about your success and seek to support your aspirations in life?
Take this quick quiz to test your knowledge of your team: List the people who report to you, and write a sentence to answer the question for each team member in each of these areas:
- Person. What is his or her passion is life? What is the most important event in his or her personal life in the past three months?
- Player. Is he or she a team player? What are the life skills that you can share with him or her that will allow this person to become a better player on your team?
- Performer. What can you do to help improve this employee’s skills? What is the one thing that you will focus over the next 30 days to allow this person to become a better performer?
Building relationships is not rocket science or a deep methodology for management skills. It’s merely a good approach to helping your people realize their potential. Follow in the footsteps of the great managers in your life; know your people and seek to support their successes and passions.