It’s estimated that US companies spent $7 billion on employee engagement tech solutions in 2017. That doesn’t include money spent on effort, training, and other initiatives. Meanwhile, Gallup reports that trust in our institutions is at an all-time low. We know that we build trust person-by-person, and one interaction at a time. How do we reset the button on our relationships at work and increase trust?
Building Employee Relationships: A Blueprint for Workplace Success
Despite millennia of evolution, human beings are inherently clannish. Our most powerful drive is acceptance and belonging to others. Science has proved that the quality of our relationships has real consequences on physical and mental health. Those of us who are lucky enough to have healthy networks handle stress better and recover from illness and injuries faster than those who don’t have a supportive network.
Healthy relationships are built on acceptance, appreciation, commitment, support, and trust. They’re reciprocal and transparent. Think about your relationship with your best friend. You can tell them anything, unconditionally, without fear of being judged.
We need to develop the same relationships at work to create fulfilling employee experiences.
Declare Your Intentions
Beyond event planning and marriage vows, we don’t usually declare our intentions with our friends. But these relationship dynamics are unique because we’ve already decided to spend time together.
It’s different at work. As a company, you’re attracting strangers (candidates and customers) to your organization. You can accelerate your relationship by declaring your intentions about your culture and embedding them in your organization.
For example, one doesn’t have to read Motley Fool’s entire 45-page interactive employee handbook (“The Fool Rules!”) to quickly grasp their culture and values. The Motley Fool declares their purpose in detail and even explains why each word matters. They go on to explain their core values and encourage employees to make “foolishness” their own by offering interactive tools to help them choose a word or phrase that best defines them. It’s a brilliant example of how to explain a business model and how to individualize values.
Until recently, work was a simple exchange of time for money. We had a clear divide between work and leisure time. Work time was about efficiency and productivity. We built systems and contracts to make sure employees did things according to management’s specifications.
In 2018, work and life are inextricably linked. This is especially true for Millennials, who grew up shopping and checking ratings on everything. Recall Gallup’s trust gap: Millennials are evaluating your brick-and-mortar store against your online experience. They’ll also check to see if you’re saying the same thing on your career page that’s expressed by ratings on Yelp, TripAdvisor, GlassDoor, and other sites. They test a career decision to work with your company just like any other decision in their lives. And they don’t trust things at face value.
Beyond trust, Millennials look at job opportunities differently than the old-fashioned time-is-money model. Instead, they first ask how work fits into their lives.
Then they ask about compensation.
So, what would work look like if it was designed as a relationship? What if it was a place where everything could be questioned? Are we doing things because that’s the way we’ve always done them? And who looks at that report you spend hours preparing, anyway?
Do we need managers? Or can we take a page out of the tech world where we have Scrum Masters who manage projects by facilitating performance, removing obstacles, and providing feedback? In this model, employees coach each other because they can’t defer to managers.
Is it possible to have a leader as a coach instead of a traditional manager? Consider that coaches don’t go onto the playing field, but their team members do. Can we have coaches who act as Scrum Masters who lead and facilitate self-managing teams?
Time is the currency of relationships. You want to spend time with the people you love.
Remember, our “modern” performance management principles are vestiges of our quest for efficiency that started during the Industrial Revolution. Every minute counts when you focus on productivity. We’ve squeezed social time out of organizations. Managers make time-based decisions that might work well in the moment but aren’t long-term solutions. Would you rather they write a 3-page performance review once a year or spend more time with their people every day?
How do we take time out of administrative functions and return it to managers so they can build relationships and learn what’s important to each of their employees?
Test the Relationship
Test the processes you use at work against relationships in your everyday life. Consider what would happen if you gave your spouse or friend a performance rating. Would you run through their performance over the last year? Would you tell them what they should work on next year? Would you have a little surprise for them in the form of achievement towards a goal that you never clearly communicated?
When something goes wrong with a friendship or marriage, do you hide behind a policy? Probably not. Instead, you explain why a behavior was bad and talk about how to approach the situation differently. Why do you do the same thing with your employees? If you value your relationship with them, it’s time to reframe it.