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Building the Relationship with Direct Reports

The new year is a welcome time to take stock and refresh management practices. With staffing challenges and knowledge that positive employee relations are crucial to retaining employees, managers everywhere may be thinking, “what can I do to best support and retain employees, both for their success and for the organization’s bottom line?”

Here are some tips for the three C’s where you can cut, continue, and create your management practices to see a marked improvement in your business results.

Cut | Discontinue activities that do not add value and that employees do not enjoy.

This will vary by team and organization. Are there weekly team meetings that are lengthy and do not accomplish much? Consider weekly or biweekly one-on-one meetings, and have a team meeting monthly if that makes more sense. Perhaps there is an “employee of the year” award that only one person can win. Efforts may be better spent rewarding more employees every quarter or through peer recognition. Some organizations have stopped formal performance reviews that many employees and managers dread, favoring tools like weekly feedback conversations and development plans. 

Continue | Keep practices employees love.

Maybe it is casual attire or quarterly get-togethers. If you don’t know which activities are valued (even if you think you know), conduct an employee engagement survey to gather that information.

Create | Proactive daily and monthly practices can be designed and carried out easily.

Create a plan for yourself and your team around recognition, and don’t allow budget restraints to limit you. For example, you might maintain a “My Favorites” chart for the team. Employees can supply information about themselves, such as “How do I like to celebrate my birthday?” (responses may include cards, flowers, or not at all), favorite coffee drink, hobbies, and sports teams. Provided employees want to celebrate their birthdays, put the date on your calendar with a reminder a few days before. Birthday cards are inexpensive, and free or affordable e-cards for remote staff are easy to find.

Communication is key in any regular practice. As Susan Scott points out in her book Fierce Conversations, a conversation means exchanging “con,” which means “with” someone else, and those conversations form relationships. Direct memos with no opportunity for an employee’s response are simply a one-way “versation” and are not meaningful for anyone. 

Managers sometimes respond to employees asking questions, “Go read the email. I can’t believe you didn’t read the entire email. You shouldn’t be asking me about this.” While the logic may be true, here is how feelings are impacted: the employee becomes a little bit sad and withdraws from the manager, and that pushes them away, eroding the relationship. Emotional intelligence experts refer to this type of response as a withdrawal from an emotional bank account. If this is a typical response, the account can soon become overdrawn, resulting in the employee quitting or disengaging.

It does not need to be this way! With a simple adjustment, you can make deposits into that same account. More productive ways to respond to the employee might include: “Let’s read it together,” “How can I help you understand?” or “What else do you need to know?” 

Employees who are informed and feel heard trust their manager more and better understand expectations. If there needs to be a difficult conversation, it is a lot easier when the relationship is already respectful and based on trust.

Be sure to spend even a brief amount of time preparing your new approaches at the beginning of the year and a few moments each week supporting your plan. A few small acts here and there throughout the year will pay dividends in building positive relationships with your employees.

Picture of Bridget Frolich, MPA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Bridget Frolich, MPA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Bridget Frolich is a Senior Advisor with Archbright. She loves solving for complex business solutions and draws from strategic HR roles leading teams in Engineering and Finance. Along with SHRM-SCP certification, she has her Master’s in Public Administration from Seattle University, and Bachelor’s in Philosophy from the University of Puget Sound.