4 Ways Managers Can Improve Relationships with Employees

March 30, 2021

I’ve had the pleasure of being a people manager for many years, and to be frank, it’s the best thing I do. I get so much value from building productive, supportive relationships and helping my team grow and develop over time. It’s the best part of my job and the best part of my day.

It’s no secret that strong people management is key to a positive employee experience. There are countless studies on the topic, including the 2019 DDI study that validated what we already knew: people quit their bosses, not their jobs.

57% of employees quit because of their boss, not their company and 32% have seriously considered leaving because of their manager. – DDI

With the massive growth Brilliant Ink is experiencing, my peers were curious how I approach building those mutually beneficial, supportive and all-around spectacular relationships within my team. After thinking about exactly what to say, I realized the best way to showcase my management philosophy is through a conversation with someone on my team.  

Enter Claire Stuart, Project Manager and Designer extraordinaire, (Yes, she really is a unicorn!) to hear her thoughts on working together, how we’ve found our groove, and how you can improve relationships with your employees.

What’s the most impactful aspect of our working relationship?  

Claire: Definitely being able to give each other feedback. When we first started working together, I gave you feedback that I prefer to receive constructive feedback in real-time. Once you knew that, you started giving me feedback in the moment versus holding onto it until a review or a regular check-in. You did that like, literally the very next day! It was really cool to say something like that to you and have you act on it right away. It might have been a small change, but it showed me from the very beginning that my feedback was going to be heard and valued.  

: Giving feedback to employees isn’t a one-way street, my friends! Listening to and acting on one little piece of feedback from Claire had huge results – she felt heard, I earned her trust, and we communicate better – now, that’s a win!

What’s the most important quality in a good manager?

Claire: Being a good and active listener. When I’ve got a work-related issue, 99% of the time, I like to pick up the phone and call you. But before I start talking, you typically ask me, “Are you looking for solutions or do you just need me to listen?” It’s a really great way for me to tell you what I need from you at that moment. That way, you know whether to put on your problem-solving hat or just open up your listening ears. Sometimes allI need is a safe sounding board and I really appreciate that you recognize that not every conversation has to be a “time to learn a lesson.” When you let me let my guard down and bring my whole self to work without trying to “fix” something, it helps build rapport and trust.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Managers often jump right into solutioning mode. They hear distress in the voices of their people, and they want to fix the problem. Turns out, not every moment is the right moment to offer a solution. Listen first.

What’s your favorite thing about working with me?

Claire: You leave your ego at the door. I’m really comfortable sharing new and off-the-wall ideas with you and I know you’ll listen to them and often run with them. And sometimes, you’ll even come to me seeking ideas or feedback, which is awesome! I love knowing that although you have a zillion times more experience than I do, you still recognize that good ideas can come from anyone and anywhere. I also really appreciate when you bring me along your decision-making process, especially when those decisions affect me and my time. I always feel like you have my back even when I’m not in the room. It makes our working relationship very collaborative, and I know that I’m valued.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Realize, recognize and utilize the full potential of each of your team members. Managers don’t know everything (duh!). In fact, what they should really focus on is hiring smart people and getting the heck out of their way!

What could a manager do to make the relationship with their direct report just 10% better?

Claire: Be a smidge more generous and flexible with your time. I get it. Everyone’s busy. However, when you take any pause in your day to help me, I feel heard and valued. A 5-minute phone call to work through something or a quick review of an email that I’ve drafted can go a really long way! And I’m always thankful that you understand when “life happens.”

KEY TAKEAWAY: Your direct reports are human too! In today’s world, everyone appreciates a little flexibility and generosity. When you make the time to be there for your people, they’ll be there for you too. Again, it comes back to mutual respect and building a rapport!  

Ready to Gelp Your Managers Manage?

We've identified five ways you can help managers gain the soft skills (and confidence!) they need to lead. Take a look! For more bite-sized brilliance, subscribe to our monthly newsletter, the Inkwell, and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter!

Lindsay McCleary

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