(By Dr. Bob Milligan, LearningEdge and Dairy Strategies, LLC.)
Consider the following recent headlines:
* Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver announce separation
* 7 charged after video shows calves' heads crushed
* Jim Tressel Resigns
Think for a moment what it would be like without relationships - no one to interact with, talk to or even email/text. Life really is about relationships!!! When we think of relationships, we think first about family, friends and perhaps co-workers.
We do not always think of supervisor-employee as an interpersonal relationship. It is! In fact for most employees it is one of the three or four most important relationships in their lives. Research shows that approximately two thirds of employee resignations are a result of the relationship with their supervisor rather than with the company or organization.
All relationships have one characteristic in common. They are about trust! Increasing trust improves the quality of the relationship. Returning to our headlines above, all three headlines resulted from extreme breaches of trust: Arnold blatantly violated Maria's trust. The workers violated the trust of their employer and in fact of the dairy industry's promise to treat animals responsibly. Jim Tressel violated the trust of his university, his players and the thousands of Buckeye fans who had revered him.
Stephen Covey in his book "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" likened the level of trust in a relationship to a bank account. Deposits are made with encouragement, compliments, smiles, training, integrity, listening, suggestions, etc. Deposits are taken with anger, broken promises, coercion, criticisms, lies, pettiness, etc. He called this the emotional bank account. Deposits increase trust and improve the relationship; with-drawals have the opposite result.
It is crucial to keep in mind that all interpersonal interactions have two objectives. One is to accomplish what-ever it is that is being discussed or decided and the second is to improve the overall relationship. If we get what we want out of the interaction but diminish trust as a result, the effectiveness of the interaction is greatly diminished.
As we have discussed often in this e-newsletter, the key to improving trust and respect in the supervisor-employee relationship is fairness. Too often supervisors let "just being nice" supersede what is fair and needed. This is not unlike parents who are "nice" to their children but in the process spoil them. Fairness involves providing great clarity regarding what is expected (I call it "chalking the field") and provided large quantities of high quality feedback.
Below are three actions that I have found valuable in improving supervisor-employee relationships.
Being a supervisor is not easy. The supervisor is responsible not only for their own responsibilities but also for seeing that those they supervise perform. The reality is, however, that being an employee is not always easy either. The employee must understand and meet the expectations given to them. They are not always clearly explained. Meeting the expectations of one's supervisor can be frustrating! Almost all employees want very much to succeed causing them to avoid anything that might be viewed poorly by their supervisor. Too often this leads to a reluctance to ask questions or make suggestions for fear of looking stupid or not understanding.
One powerful way to overcome this frustration and fear is to provide encourage. A simple "I know you can do this!" or "I have confidence in you!" can be very powerful in overcoming the frustration and fear. They can also increase confidence. Note that encouragement is one of the deposits in the emotional bank account mentioned by Dr. Covey.
Think of the last time someone made you feel as though you had to defend yourself. If you are like most members of the human race, you were feeling very uncomfortable and not perceiving that you had much control over the situation. You were not in a position to have a positive, productive discussion.
When an employee does something unsatisfactory in the eyes of a supervisor, the supervisor often wants to talk about what happened, what went wrong and often why the employee did what they did. Unfortunately, this places the employee in a very defensive position. He or she has no control over what was done in the past.
What, then, can be done to minimize the defensiveness felt by the employee? The answer is to as quickly as possible transition the discussion to what the employee will do when the situations arises in the future. Now, the employee has control over what can be done and the likelihood of a productive discussion is greatly increased. You have minimized the withdrawals from the emotional bank account due to criticism and even anger or coercion. You have quickly transitioned to training, suggestions and maybe even encouragement - all deposits in the emotional bank account.
In previous articles, I have noted that employees have three attributes absent from cows and crops - they can speak, they can think, they have feelings. Being proactive - in establishing clarity and expectations, in providing feedback and in addressing employee issues - maximizes the value of these people attributes.
I encourage supervisors to have frequent structured interactions with their employees to gain from these added attributes. These frequent, short, often monthly meetings are used to discuss performance and address any issues important to the employee. I call them informal formal meetings. Formal because they are regular and have some structure; informal as they are informal and very collegial.