5 Things Managers Should Say to Employees

November 17, 2010

With nearly ten percent unemployment, it may seem ludicrous that a manager needs to say anything nice to employees these days. But you might consider the upside of treating your people well in hard times as well as good times.

In an earlier post, I wrote about things an employee should say to his or her boss. This provoked some harsh feedback because many readers may have thought I was referring to an employer as opposed to an immediate supervisor or manager. The immediate supervisor is someone who very likely also has a boss and therefore knows what it’s like to be in your shoes.

Unfortunately, there is a great divide between what employees want versus what their bosses think they want. And this has been consistent for a long time.

A survey on the discrepancy between what employees want versus what managers think employees want was conducted in 1946 by Foreman Facts, from the Labor Relations Institute of NY. This study was replicated with similar results by Ken Kovach (1980); Valerie Wilson, Achievers International (1988); Bob Nelson, Blanchard Training & Development (1991); and Sheryl & Don Grimme, GHR Training Solutions (1997-2001).

What Employees Say They Want (in order)
1. Full appreciation for work done
2. Feeling ‘part’ of things
3. Sympathetic help on personal issues
4. Job security
5. Good wages
6. Interesting work
7. Promotion/growth opportunities
8. Personal loyalty to workers
9. Good working conditions
10. Tactful discipline

What Managers Think Employees Want (in order)
1. Good wages
2. Job security
3. Promotion/growth opportunities
4. Good working conditions
5. Interesting work
6. Personal loyalty to workers
7. Tactful discipline
8. Full appreciation for work done
9. Sympathetic help on personal issues
10. Feeling ‘part’ of things.

If you just look at the top three things that employees say they want from their managers, you can see that these are at the bottom of what managers think employees want.

As someone who has worked in both for-profit and non-profit organizations, it always amazed me how little businesses use praise in the way it is often used in non-profits. A genuine “thank you” or “nice job on that project” can truly make someone’s day and often make an employee feel more satisfied and productive in his or her job.

Managers often forget that what motivates them are the same things that motivate their people. Employees want to be recognized and appreciated. They want to be treated humanely. And they want to be integral to the organization. Bottom line: it’s not always about the money.

Here are five things a manager should say to employees:

  1. “How can I help?” Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard developed the Situational Leadership Model on the importance of providing a combination of direction and support depending on where the employee is at a given time and position. Ask your employees what they need from you to perform their best.
  2. “Great job on . . .” Use specificity to make your praise authentic and meaningful. Everyone craves appreciation and receiving it can be more powerful in motivating an employee than just about anything else.
  3. “You seem particularly happy/sad/irritated . . .” Insert something genuine here to show you are paying attention to feelings. Say it in a way that communicates you are concerned and then really listen for understanding.
  4. “I want your input on . . .” This can make an employee feel engaged and appreciated in the organization like nothing else. But don’t say it unless you mean it and will consider what they say.
  5. “Thank you.” These two words are never used enough in the workplace. Using them more often is not simply for common courtesy, but as a way of connecting and showing appreciation for a job well done.

Employees and managers are more stressed than ever, working faster and with fewer resources. And lots of managers mistakenly think they are too busy to give praise, show appreciation, or truly connect with their employees.

But the best managers—ones who are able to effectively direct and support employees, recognize and appreciate them when appropriate, and remain sensitive to their emotional needs—are likely to get the most out of their people and thereby increase their own value to the organization.

What about you? Does this ring true for you who manage other people? As an employee, would you be more satisfied, motivated, and productive if you heard these things from your boss?

Seven Things You Should Say to Your Boss

October 26, 2010

Working for someone else can be challenging no matter how good the boss may be. Nurturing this relationship can be important for your immediate job satisfaction as well as keep advancement opportunities front and center.

With this in mind, there are many things you should never say to your boss. For example, “this is not my job, it’s not my problem, or it can’t be done.” These will only aggravate your boss and demonstrate that you are not a team player and cannot be trusted to get the work completed.

Building a positive relationship with your boss can be vital to your general well being but, like any relationship, it takes time and energy.

Every manager or supervisor is likely to appreciate certain qualities in an employee. These include having credibility, being solution-oriented, being a good team player, being a good listener, and—if there is such a thing where you work—following the chain of command.

“The relationship with your boss is a partnership,” says Jane Boucher, author of How To Love The Job You Hate: Job Satisfaction for the 21st Century. “It takes effort to build the relationship and nurture it. You have to communicate well, avoid confrontations, and resolve differences in a positive way.”

It’s important to learn your boss’s concerns and goals. Try to fully understand the problems and pressures he or she confronts on a daily basis. Listen carefully to what your boss says and doesn’t say. And know when it’s wise for you not to say anything.

“You can lessen the chance that your boss will make bad decisions that adversely affect you and your career by managing your relationship with the boss,” Boucher says. “Keep the boss informed about what’s going on at work and never forget the pressure your boss is under. Honesty and reliability will win the hearts of most bosses.”

So what are specific ways you can maintain a positive working relationship with your boss? I have seven suggestions for things you should say to your boss.

  1. “I’d like to discuss priorities.” All of us at one time or another get overwhelmed with responsibilities, and sorting through what is most important is something our boss should help us with. More than likely, it is good just to check in to be sure what we think is most important is also most important for the boss.
  2. “I’d like your opinion.” All of us have an opinion and are typically proud to give it. In the case of a boss, this can be especially helpful as this person is likely to have a perspective different than yours. Be genuinely interested in this opinion whether you choose to accept and implement it or not.
  3. “Here’s something I really appreciate about you.” Supervisors and middle managers get lots of complaints, but very few compliments. Unless you work for an absolutely terrible boss, he or she probably has some positive qualities. Express your appreciation for these, but only if you are truly sincere.
  4. “I’ve got some bad news and a potential solution.” Employees are typically closer to the work and therefore spot impending trouble before managers do. Be proactive and give your boss a heads up about a problem as well as a potential solution. This will make you a more highly valued employee.
  5. “How am I doing? What can I improve upon?” Don’t wait for your annual review to find out your boss’s opinion on how you’re doing. Initiate an occasional feedback discussion to learn how your performance is perceived as well as how and where you can further improve.
  6. “How can I help?” Everyone needs assistance at times and this includes your boss. He or she may be unable or unwilling to ask given your other priorities, but when you see that you might be able and willing to lend a hand, be sure to ask how.
  7. “Thank you.” This could be for any number of things, such as guidance, patience, support, or the overall flexibility in how you get your job done. Whatever it is, be sure to let your boss know that you appreciate what he or she has done for you.

Speaking with your boss regularly can go a long way towards maintaining a positive relationship. By breaking the habit of simply going over the same job-related tasks and functions, and delving into more personal areas, you can create greater familiarity and closeness. This can make your immediate work environment more enjoyable and it may further your career opportunities

5 Tips for Workplace Communication

June 9, 2010

When listing one’s strengths during an interview or on a resume, most of us include “excellent communication skills” because we know this is valuable to employers. But how many of us are really capable of communicating effectively? For that matter, how many employers are excellent communicators?

I studied journalism in college, worked as a freelance writer for a while, and published some short fiction. Nevertheless, I still find writing to be one of the most challenging things I do.

At times I also find it difficult to speak effectively with clients, friends and my own family members. So much can be misinterpreted or misunderstood due to a lack of clarity when I am talking or not being careful enough when I am listening.

Ineffective communication skills in an organization can dramatically impact the bottom line. In fact, according to research by Watson Wyatt, Gallup Consulting and Towers Perrin, these costs can include:

  • increased employee turnover
  • increased absenteeism
  • dissatisfied customers from poor customer service
  • higher product defect rates
  • lack of focus on business objectives
  • stifled innovation

No wonder communication skills are so valued in the workplace. Whether it is the need to carefully compose an email, raise a sensitive issue in a staff meeting, or discuss poor performance with an employee, making our messages succinct and clear can dramatically help an organization run more effectively.

So much can be lost in translation—the coding and encoding that is done between sender and receiver. Jargon exists in every industry and this can often impede clear understanding. Acronyms enable quicker delivery, yet they also make deciphering a challenge for those who are unfamiliar with them. And do emoticons really aid our written information?

The ability to clearly convey our intention and message is extremely important at work. Just as important, yet rarely emphasized, is our ability to carefully listen to what is spoken and what is unsaid yet conveyed through body language. It is this combination of both clearly conveying and accurately receiving that makes up effective communication.

Here are five tips to improve communication in your workplace:

Be specific and clear. Get to the point regardless of whether you are speaking or writing. Don’t ramble or include needless details. If you’re giving instructions or issuing a directive, take special care to be accurate and precise.

Establish true dialogue. Encourage your listener to ask clarifying questions or to follow up to aid their understanding. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know an answer, and be sure to get back to them with the correct answer when you do know.

Carefully read and listen. So much can be read between the lines of what is spoken or written based on the tone or body language associated with a message. Therefore, when on the receiving end, it is important to take into account the overall context of the message and be on the lookout for a disconnect between words and subject matter.

Stay positive. Petty or passive-aggressive sniping should not be tolerated. Even the harshest feedback can and should be delivered in a positive, supportive, team-centric manner. Focus on behavior or performance and not character. When on the receiving end, it is equally important to avoid getting triggered by difficult messages.

Make a habit of on-the-spot communication. Nothing can be more destructive than waiting to deliver significant feedback, praise, criticism or complaints. If you’ve got something important to convey, don’t put it off until the next meeting or the next annual review. Make on-the-spot communication a priority.

Following these five tips in your workplace can take time and self-discipline to master, but they can help dramatically improve overall communication. And improving this so-called soft skill can deliver hard bottom line results.

Mark Craemer      www.craemerconsulting.com

Leadership and Trust

January 14, 2010

As we begin a new year this might be a good time to take stock of your leadership skills, and the most important for me is trust. Like no other attribute, your capacity to convey trustworthiness has a huge impact on your ability to effectively lead others. That’s because nothing impacts an organization’s overall productivity more than the level of trust found within it.

Is your organization one where trust is especially low or high? If trust is low, I suspect employee engagement, job satisfaction, and overall productivity are also low. On the other hand, if trust is high, more than likely there is better employee engagement, higher job satisfaction, and greater overall productivity.

According to author Stephen M. R. Covey in his book The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything when trust goes down productivity also goes down and costs go up. Conversely, as trust goes up productivity increases and costs decrease. This is the economics of trust in the organization.

And nothing impacts your ability to motivate employees more than the level of trust they have in you as a leader. Trusted leaders, first and foremost, are those whose actions match their words. In the same way children emulate what parents do more than what they say, employees look to see if the actions of their leaders align with their words. Keeping words and actions in lock step builds trust and credibility like nothing else.

In addition, a trustworthy leader:

  • Tells the truth even when it is easier to tell people what they want to hear;
  • Acknowledges when he or she does not have all the answers;
  • Is approachable and friendly to people without using his or her position of power to win them over;
  • Really listens to others by using paraphrase to check for understanding;
  • Shows support for employees, especially when mistakes are made;
  • Balances the need for results while being considerate of people’s feelings.

All of these attributes enable you to build lasting trust, and when people trust you, your ability to persuade them increases ten-fold.

According to Covey, trust is ultimately a function of character and competence. Character in this sense means integrity, motives, and intent with other people. Competence is your capabilities, skills, results, and track record. Both greatly impact the level of trust in any relationship.

But what if trust in your organization is already low? Is there anything that can be done to restore the lack of trust employees have in you? This is hard because trust is based on a feeling and you can’t force someone to trust you. Still, you can attempt to rebuild trust if you are: (1) sincere in your apology for any part you may have had in creating the distrust, (2) transparent with your intentions moving forward, (3) consistently able to walk your talk, and (4) able to demonstrate credibility in all your actions.

Effective business has always been the result of trustworthy relationships. If your trust as a leader is in doubt, then your organization will suffer. Strengthening this trust will serve you as well as your employees, suppliers, partners and customers like nothing else.

“The ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust with all stakeholders—customers, business partners, investors, and co-workers—is the key leadership competency for this new global economy,” says Covey.

Mark Craemer                              www.craemerconsulting.com

Turn Signals and Talk Signals

May 11, 2009

In the same way not using a turn signal can frustrate other drivers, failing to use language to clearly convey your intent equally confounds listeners. This lack of clarity may lead to road rage and accidents on the road and, in workplace conversations, can result in confusion, missed opportunities, or even dismissal.

We have all experienced the driver in front of us who does not signal his or her intent by using a turn signal well before making a turn or changing lanes. In the chapter “Letting Others Know What You Are Doing” of the Washington Driver Guide, a turn signal is to be initiated at least 100 feet prior to a change in direction. In the case of changing lanes, I frequently experience a driver drifting over into my lane only to signal at the last possible moment. Why is this? What made the use of a turn signal so difficult or seem unnecessary?

A national survey conducted by an insurance company in 2005 found that 57 percent of drivers admit they do not use their turn signal. Respondents claimed they do not have enough time, are lazy, would forget to turn it off, change lanes too frequently to bother, or it is not important. Have we become less sensitive to the needs of those around us–even if it means risking the safety of ourselves and others?

Letting others know what we are doing or intending to do is perhaps just as important when trying to communicate with someone in the workplace. Think about a recent challenging relationship you had with an employee, co-worker or supervisor. When you speak with this person, how often does he or she really know your intention? Does this lack of transparency on your part lead to misunderstanding, conflict, or worse?

Much of our communication today is conveyed via email, text messaging, and clipped cell phone calls and these conversations are extremely condensed. It is easier than ever to misunderstand another person’s intent because the message delivery is more cryptic, coded, and abbreviated than ever before. Do emoticons help or only add to the confusion? The Subject line in an email message can certainly be helpful. Yet nonverbal clues are unable to assist us in decoding what has been stated. Without facial expressions, eye movements, and other body language, it is extremely easy to misunderstand or misinterpret the message being sent. So what it is to be done?

I have four suggestions that can be used and they should be conducted face-to-face whenever a communication breakdown is likely to occur.

1. State you intention clearly and directly. Ensure that the person you are delivering the message to understands why you are saying what you are saying. For example: “I’ve noticed that you’ve often been late to our staff meetings the past few months.” State specific behavioral information based on what you have observed. Next express your intent behind this. “I am concerned because this causes us to delay the start of the meetings.”

2. Look at the situation from the receiver’s perspective. The response might be: “Well, I try to get here on time, but I’m very busy these days.” Try to put yourself in his or her shoes by understanding the context from which your message is being delivered. What is this person’s mood, frame of mind, environment which could impact his or her ability to understand what is being said?

3. Use paraphrase to aid understanding. Ensure that you hear what the other person is saying by repeating back what you’ve heard. “What I hear you saying is that you are very busy and you are trying to be on time.” This will verify that you heard correctly. It will also demonstrate empathy to the other person and keep them engaged in listening to you.

4. Seek a win-win conclusion. Next you might state a personal statement as to why it matters. “It’s important to me that we are all here on time. Is there something I can do to help you make it to these meetings on time so that we don’t waste all of our time?” This makes it clear that you want to be a part of the solution.

Obviously, these four steps need not be used in every instance. However, using them when communication has gotten off-track can be the difference between clearly communicating and seriously derailing a conversation.

Mark Craemer   www.craemerconsulting.com