I’m taking some liberties with the title of John Gray’s mega-selling best-seller, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, but I wanted to share some interesting differences in perceptions between what bosses think they are providing and what employees are experiencing in the workplace.
Ask most bosses what their management style is at work and you’ll hear them talk of a supportive style that features active listening, coaching, and problem solving. From their point of view, they feel that they are very active in providing high levels of direction and support to their people on a regular ongoing basis.
However, ask most employees what type of management style they are experiencing and they will tell you it’s more like concentrated periods of attention at the beginning and end of a cycle (think goal setting and performance review) with long stretches of time in between where they are basically left on their own.
This isn’t a problem if the employee is a self-directed, self-reliant high achiever on a task. For employees with this level of competence, clear goal setting and an occasional check in to evaluate progress may be all they need. But what about employees who are new to a task, developing new skills, or pushing to stretch themselves? For these employees, goal setting and evaluation isn’t enough. They also need direction and support along the way. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but it does have to be present in some degree if you want them to make progress toward goals and feel cared for along the way. Otherwise they can feel alone, abandoned, and on their own.
How are you doing with meeting the needs of your employees? Here are a couple of things you can do this week to open up lines of communication and provide people with the direction and support they need to succeed.
- Talk to them. Set up time this week for a quick one-on-one to discuss where your people are at with their goals and tasks. Even though the context of the conversation is being framed by what they are currently working on and how it is going, be sure to provide some room for them to share obstacles they may be facing and how you can help. Watch for non-verbal signs—especially if you get an “everything’s fine” initial response from them.
- Evaluate their development level with each task. As they discuss each of the tasks they are working on, consider if this is something that is routine for them or a bit of a stretch. If it’s routine, listening and support are all that is necessary. If it’s a stretch, listen even more closely and consider how you can provide additional resources that can speed their progress.
- Repeat on a weekly basis. Close out the meeting by setting up some time to meet again the following week to do it again. Better yet, make it a recurring appointment on your calendar. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time. 15-20 minutes will usually get the job done.
Very few employees will tell you that they meet too much with their supervisor to discuss their issues. (Micromanaging to discuss the needs of the manager is another story.) But many will tell you that they haven’t had a discussion with their boss in weeks or months. Sure, time is precious, but it is also the way that we signal interest, importance, and value in what people are working on. Don’t let your relationships at work atrophy. Set up some time to talk with your direct reports today.