According to research, one of the strongest predictors of success for middle managers is that they held regular one-on-one meetings with the people who reported directly to them. But we don’t need research to recommend this. After 23 years of training managers and helping organizations become healthier, we have found that there’s not a more effective, broad-reaching, morale- and relationship-building practice than intentional, regular, scheduled one-on-one meetings with employees.
The short answer? Yes, but with caution.
The longer answer:
Many leadership consultants will tell you, “Absolutely NOT! Do not be friends with the people you supervise.” We respectfully disagree.
In our experience, most organizations do an abysmal job of preparing “individual contributors” (the current euphemism for non-managers) for the challenges associated with moving from being a peer to being a manager. In most cases, the “preparation” consists of…well…zilch. Sort of a “welcome to management – good luck” approach.
There is a big difference between hearing what someone said to you and that person actually feeling heard. And it’s a hugely important difference! According to research, most people experience being truly heard as synonymous with being cared about. In fact, in one study teenagers who were being listened to by adults who used a specific set of listening skills (see below) later reported that they believed the adult they had been talking to cared about them – even though there was nothing in the content of the conversation that would have given them that impression. Being listened to feels like being cared about, which makes this particular adaptive skill a “must have” for anyone who manages other people. As previously explored here, for employees to become fully engaged, they need to know that the person they report to directly cares about them as a human being, and not just as a cog in their system.
THE SKILLS THAT MAKE OR BREAK YOUR SUCCESS
In my ideal manager world the people and situations I encounter day-to-day fit me perfectly: events happen at my pace and on my timeline, so I never need to be flexible; others always agree with my perspective, so there’s no need for me to try to understanding theirs; people “get me” and can read my mind, so I don’t have to work at communicating; I never make a mistake, so there’s never anything to own or apologize for; others naturally do what I want, so I never have to confront or have a difficult conversation; and since everything in my perfect world already fits me perfectly, stress is foreign to me, so I don’t have to learn how to manage it. I am the center of my perfect universe, and everybody and everything in it conforms exactly to what works for me.
And then my alarm goes off, and I wake up.
Any time a group of research subjects are asked what they want or need from their manager/boss at work, some version of “caring and respect” usually comes out on top. This doesn’t mean they want to be friends or that they’re looking for hugs or anything like that. It simply speaks to the very human need to be cared about by people who have authority over us. John Bowlby, the father of attachment theory, noted that “human beings are looking to be loved and approved of by someone in a position of authority.”
“Many people spend nearly half their waking hours in relationship with a person who has power over them, and that’s weird. It’s kind of unnatural, because most people, whether conscious or not, don’t feel comfortable with other people having power over them.” – Mike Nash discussing the workplace power differential on The Managing with Mind & Heart Podcast
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When you stop and think about it, one of the only contexts in which we as adults consciously enter into relationships characterized by actual “authority” (where one person is “superior” to the other in rank and decision-making control) is at work.
Employees need to know that you, as their boss, have their best interests at heart. In fact, whether they know they’re doing this or not, they are checking you out to determine whether or not this is true. If they determine (consciously or not) that you don’t really care about them as people, that you’re not interested in their success, their wellbeing, or their workplace morale (have we mentioned morale?), they will literally experience (again, conscious or not) fear. Why fear? Because you have power over them, and when someone is in relationship with someone else who has power over them AND that person believes that the more powerful person doesn’t really care about them…well, that’s (literally) scary.
If you’ve worked with Nash Consulting for ten minutes, you’ll have heard our favorite quote by Dr. Stephen Covey: “You can pay employees for their backs and their hands, but they volunteer their hearts and their minds.”
We might come across a little obsessed with the topic of workplace morale…mostly because we are.
If you’re a manager, employee morale ought to be near the very top of your job description, your daily “to do” list, your personal evaluation form, your yearly goal worksheet, your list of company values, your yellow sticky notes – you get the picture. Morale isn’t the only thing that matters in the workplace, of course, but here’s the bottom line: If employees aren’t “volunteering” their hearts and their minds – if they’re just showing up in order to get a paycheck – you’ll never get the things you really want.
Tact does not always make its way into corporate e-mail, and what may seem like an innocent announcement from your perspective could be a morale-crushing message to the people on the other end. Below are a collection of e-mails that executives have actually sent to their employees that may have had a different impact than was intended.
Consider this tip: take a few extra moments to craft your office e-mails, and give them a once-over (or two-over or maybe even a three-over) before sending them out to your employees. Those extra minutes could save you days – or even weeks – of employee frustration, resentment and low morale. Technically, this is called "organizational empathy" - the ability to predict how your communications (or lack thereof) will impact others.