As a leader, you have successfully set the tone and direction for your company and all seems to be going well - potential clients are calling, sales are up, costs are under control, and profits are solid.
However, an undercurrent is developing among your employees - they are simply not getting along. As described in the book, Riding The Waves Without Getting Wet: A Leadership Parable, just when you have figured out how to bail water out of the boat, a rip in the sail threatens your ability to navigate your course.
As a leader, what can you do to set the tone for building good relations with your employees? After 27 years of management and consulting with Fortune 500 companies, I found that the following guidelines are effective in helping leaders improve employee relationships.
1. Learn to listen
Being a good listener starts with your belief system. Do you believe that your employees have suggestions that will make a difference? Or, do you think that only your ideas are able to propel the company forward? Your attitude towards what others have to say will determine whether you are a good listener.
Employees today are savvy and are aware of what management pays attention to, so be sure to acknowledge good ideas, and more importantly, thank people for having the courage to bring up what no one else dares discuss.
2. Know career tracks
Take time to learn about your employees' past, current and future career goals. Expressing interest in their goals will give you a better idea of how they can contribute to your company and show them that you care enough to help shape their careers.
Smart companies pay very close attention to where employees want to be. Marriott International offers a programme called Career Tracks, where employees can sign up for different development programmes and explore their true potential.
In addition to formal training, many companies now encourage managers to have candid discussions with their subordinates of where they see themselves in five years. In the United States, according to the US Department of Labor, the average new employee will stay only one year and one month at a job. So savvy companies realise a five-year investment for an employee is a long time indeed.
When interviewing candidates, go beyond the typical responses and hone in on the individual's specific career path. To cite an example, you may have a salesman who wants to move on to market research in five years' time. The first stage of the career-tracks process is to identify the requirements necessary to qualify for the position. It may be an MBA or a concentration in statistical analysis.
With these tangible details, you can form a pact with the employee by helping him meet his goal. What you want to avoid is the employee losing the position because of an oversight.
It would be ideal if your company offers tuition reimbursement. If not, you can arrange an employee's schedule so he or she can work and still be able to attend class. Or you can assist in any way to help the person to train in another discipline. Periodically, check in with the employee to monitor his or her progress and offer the appropriate encouragement.
3. Cultivate values
Your employees may have valuable ideas for the company that are unrelated to their experience or position. For instance, an accountant may spot an innovative way to move a product while taking a plant tour. An administrative assistant could improve on how sales staff handles phone calls. It is up to you to open the lines of communication between departments to share information and encourage expression of fresh initiatives on how to run your business.
4. Make room for mistakes
Mistakes can possibly cost your company money but do not let this fear define your corporate culture. Remember Teflon and Post-it Notes were discovered by accident. Take the lead in turning a mistake into a learning opportunity. Bring your team together to work on a solution. Paradoxically, taking the pressure off actually curtails mistakes.
As you start to implement these guidelines, you will find that you will be able to better manage your relationships.