A message to managers: Engage your employees!

asleep-on-the-jobLast night I had the chance to sit down with a few really upset employees who wanted to blurt out all of the biggest troubles, worries, and stresses they had to me. It is always an intriguing situation when employees come my way. Most of the time all they are looking for is a simple head nod, an open set of ears, and for the most part a closed mouth.

This particular case involved a few employees who had each been in the industry for well over a decade. They were frustrated because for years and years they had been getting along just fine and working hard to produce great results. Now all of a sudden a shift in both middle and upper management has brought about great frustrations amongst all the staff. I can understand that a shift and a bit of change can be a great thing but learning how to do it in the right way is paramount for most managers.

This evening I was told about and shown a few very interesting emails. Most of the emails had no opening line, went directly into mass bullet point list of business “Do Not’s”, ended with a COMPLETELY BOLD AND CAPSLOCKED SENTENCE ALLUDING TO DIRE CONSEQUENCES IF THIS LIST WAS NOT STRICTLY FOLLOWED, and then ironically ended with it will be a pleasure working with you all and I hope you have a great night. I asked some questions about how long these managers had been there and how much truth there was to some of the apparently very pressing points, indicated by all the bold and caps and for a few points even the fervent use of exclamation marks the employees assured me that yes they owned some behaviours that could be changed. However they also noted that many were just outrageous and seemingly (key word here) had no real obvious purpose other than to dominate them (the employees, at least that is how they were feeling).

The key to all of this dissension and bad feelings lay in the last few sentences. Without me being there and being able to observe I have no idea whether or not the policies or procedures make sense but the base of this article is about how those managers implemented these changes. It was done through and very strong email instead of being done in a conversation with the staff. There were no two-way discussions there were no explanations there were just DEMANDS! Do it, because I’m the boss. Now I’m not saying that every boss or manager has to spend their entire day in conversations and hand holding everyone but what I am saying is that before you can get to this stage you have to build up respect and a desire to be loyal and trust you. These employees, like I have said were all decade long employees with opinions and ideas and they just wanted to be treated like human beings instead of robots.

Now do I fully blame the managers, no not at all. For the most part many managers make it to where they are because of how long they have been around with the company, they receive little to no training and are just pushed into a leadership role. Most learn from what they have seen before and since this cycle seems to repeat itself it can be hard to break. Power can also usually be a terrible thing for some managers. You, and you alone, as a manager often do have the power to bend employees to doing it your way, what a feeling. Where else do you get to control an environment quite like that? So at first when it is all new it can be hard to get used to, when to use the power and when to bow down to the power?

So here are a few pieces of advice, especially for those managers that are just stepping into a new role, or maybe you have been a manager for ever but now you are stepping into a new company.

1. Remember: Think about all the bosses you have had, good and bad and try think how each one made you feel.

2. Observe: You will see things differently and you will be looked at differently so take some days to get used to all of that.

3. Ask: Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Employees want to know that you value you them and appreciate what they are doing. So just try to learn a little bit about what makes them who they are and how they view the company.

4. Positivity can go a long way: This is probably one of the hardest things to do since we live in a society that is so driven by failure and pointing out mistakes. On the flip side though if you focus on those employees who are doing an amazing job and hold them in the highest regard you might just inspire someone else to strive for that higher standard.

5. Problem solve with not for: One thing I have learned over so many years is that the best managers/bosses/coaches work with their employees. This is where you get to be a little tough-when employees come to some managers (if they feel comfortable doing that, sometimes rare) they often come bearing problems and many times the manager uses his or her power to SOLVE all those problems. This is a great showing of strength and power but I often encourage managers to have conversations with employees. Don’t let your employee come to you with any problem if they haven’t at least thought about any kind of solution at all. This will make them feel appreciated and will give them a sense of worth that you want to hear what they say and not just dictate.

6. Don’t be afraid of feedback: One company I worked with told me they stopped having meetings because people cried and people’s feelings were being hurt. So instead let’s not talk at all, good idea. Work hard to create an environment where opinions and ideas are valued and encouraged. The people who are working on the front line have a totally different view than yours and although it is hard to learn that is a good thing. You have feedback for them and because they are humans they should have some feedback for you, so allow them to give it openly and honestly. Don’t let things get personal. You are all working at this company to grow and get better. Keep that attitude and your employees and the culture of the company will succeed I can promise you that.

These are just 6 tips to help managers develop a better culture and a better rapport with their staff. I have lots more and love being able to talk about them so drop me a line either on here or in private and I would be happy to chat.

Now enough about managers in a follow up piece I will be doing a “Message to employees”.

Word of mouth is social media

Lately I have been hearing a lot of the same comments be it in a training I am offering, a conference I am speaking at or attending, and/or a client I am working with, “I just don’t have the time to do social media.” This is usually followed by, “plus my business really runs on word of mouth advertising so social media isn’t really that big for me.” To all of that I sincerely say “bullshit!” I’m not sure if people have realized this or not yet but social media is word-of-mouth. I mean you are literally taking your word-of-mouth and exploding it’s reach. Therefore making time for social media is not something people should be scared of. I say scared quite deliberately because honestly I know what that feels like. “I won’t have anything to share”, “who will follow me?”, “what social media tools should I use?”, “couldn’t I spend a whole day on those sites not really being productive with my time?” These are all questions that flood people’s minds and I know this because they have all been a part of my thoughts as well at one point or another. All of this to say I am not touting social media as the ultimate solution to any business or even that social media should be king of all. What I mean to say is that social media is what it is. It is a way to build relationships and get to know others who you may never otherwise have the chance to meet (hi Gary Vaynerchuk and Sir Richard Branson). Social media is simply a tool. It is not something to be feared and it is not something to be overwhelmed by.

Of course not being feared and not being overwhelmed by it is easier said than done. My advice has always been for people to learn, to watch how others are using various platforms, to play with various platforms, to really take the time to understand how each of them operates and then and only then decide which one (or few) suits them. There is a social media platform to help just about anyone get more engaged with current clients, colleagues, future clients, and just people in general so you need to learn which one is best suited to your needs and capabilities. And yes it is going to take time. If you put the time in learning how to use Twitter properly and not just dismissing (without ever really seeing how people are using it productively) it as a 140 character narration of people’s useless lives with minute details then the benefits will be there. Social media is like anything else in your business it takes time to learn it but it can add great value.

One other thought on all of this, don’t ever let social media be all about you and what you are doing. While you are great and your services are amazing I don’t know how many times I visit a facebook page or a twitterfeed or anything for that matter only to see a sale notice or a discount notice or a new product being featured. Social media is an opportunity. It is an opportunity for others to get to know you. Interact with others, give opinions, take a stand, say what you are thinking and for goodness sakes be honest! Also just like real world interactions with business partners and clients social media is about relationships and conversations. Who do you trust? who do you listen to? who do you talk with? why? All of this translates directly into the world of social media.

Finally I must revisit the statement I am hearing over and over “I don’t have the time to do social media.” Fuck! if I hear that one more time from an entrepreneur who is struggling with customer engagement I’m going to pack up my bags and move into the woods (might do that anyway, still dreaming and scheming). Hello, Einstein can you say your famous line one more time? “by definition insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I mean holy crap people if you have been doing newspaper ads for hundreds of years and all of sudden they aren’t working like they used to (a very overused statement that I hear often, “oh but for years and years this has always worked”) isn’t it time to invest in learning a new form of communication and to try something a little different.

All of this to say I would never advocate ditching all the old methods because some of them are about who you are as a person and what the company’s character (do you think your company has character? what does it look like?) is all about. I still send old fashioned hand written letters to clients, prospects, and partners and I LOVE receiving them in the mail.

I guess the end result of this really long rant has been don’t be afraid to try new things and don’t forget all marketing or any selling is about RELATIONSHIPS. It is about having an open and honest conversation. So please go out and play, listen, learn, watch, and have a good time figuring out how best to connect with whomever it is you are trying to connect with (answering who you are trying to connect with is a great question and a much longer post at another time. Because believe me your business, even though you think it is, is NOT for everyone.)