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Have you ever worked for a manager who showed little interest in your personal interests, unique talents, and long-term career aspirations? Based on the statistics about employees quitting managers, the answer for many people to this question is likely to be a resounding “yes”.  Many managers do not know their employees’ strengths and weaknesses, what motivates them, or the special skills and talents they possess. Nor do they know what project employees are most excited about working on, or how they feel about their job right now. These managers are doing a disservice to their employees, themselves, and their organization.

To be fully effective, managers must customize their management style to fit the preferences, likes and dislikes of their team-members. By discovering employees’ preferred learning styles for example, managers can create better training programs. Recognizing preferred communication styles enables more effective information sharing and avoids misunderstandings.   Managers must also understand their employees’ strengths and weaknesses if they want to effectively delegate tasks and job duties.  Truly understanding employees is also critical when organizational shifts occur, as it provides managers with the foresight to know whether changes are likely to cause their employees to struggle or thrive.

Doing these things requires managers to understand employees at a deeper level beyond their name, job title, and goal plan. Achieving this level of understanding comes through meaningful conversations with and about employees and their talents and interests. This starts with having effective ongoing conversations with the employees themselves. But equally important are in-depth discussions with people across the organization who have diverse perspectives on employees and their work.

The following are three basic tips to help managers truly understand who their employees are.  These are things every manager should view as a core part of their role that they should be doing on a regular basis throughout the year:

  • Talk with employees. Show interest into their current level of satisfaction. Are they excited about what they’re working on? Are they looking to make a change in the near future?
  • Talk with other managers and coworkers. If your employee collaborated with another manager or employee on a recent project, how did it go? Were there any specific skills or strengths the employee exhibited that you should be aware of?
  • Be their advocate. Look for opportunities to help your employees achieve their goals. Actively promote their capabilities to others.  Being an advocate not only helps employees leverage their strengths, it also ensures the organization is making full use of its talent.  It also makes it easier to have those “difficult conversations” about performance and potential should they be necessary.  Employees who believe a manager appreciates their strengths and recognizes their contributions are less likely to feel defensive about having their performance evaluated. They are also more likely to accept the results of the evaluation as being fair, despite its outcome.

Doing these things will take time. But not doing them could cost you some of the most valuable members of your organization. We know that employees are willing to leave organizations over bad managers.  But avoiding turnover is just one of the reasons why it makes sense to invest emerging into getting to know employees at a deeper level.

  • Increased engagement. Consistent communication between employees and managers has been linked to significantly higher engagement.
  • Improved performance. Building relationships with your employees creates trust, which is shown to have a significant impact on employee work performance. Being cognizant of the things going on in your employees’ lives outside of work (i.e., a parent who has fallen ill, dealing with a personal issue, etc.) can also give you, as the manager, important context to consider if your employee were to display performance that seemed out of character.
  • Increased productivity. Do you know what time of the day your employees tend to be most productive? Adjusting schedules, distributing assignments and setting deadlines based on these preferences and tendencies could amount to major improvements in productivity.
  • Increased satisfaction. What are your employees most motivated by? Is it monetary incentives, job security, having interesting work, growth in the organization, feeling appreciated, or something else? Understanding the motivating factors for your employees is critical not only to their satisfaction, but also to your organization’s financial strategy, succession strategy, and learning and development planning.

Ultimately, being an effective manager requires knowing your talent. And knowing your talent starts with having meaningful conversations with and about your employees. Calibration talent reviews are an effective method for doing this at the group level, but day-to-day actions on the part of individual managers are also necessary. Strive to understand your employees’ unique preferences, strengths and motivations, but most importantly, use this knowledge to inform those critical decisions facing your organization.

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