How many have had a manager you so respected that you didn’t want to let them down? The quality of your relationship was such that you were motivated to succeed for them as much as for yourself. How do relationships like that get built? What are the key factors that imbue deep respect? What keeps managers and employees from developing great business relationships?
Let’s first consider effective manager-employee relationship you’ve had. Two hallmarks of these are credibility and respect. You believe what your manager tells you, the counsel they offer, the feedback they provide. Their credibility is derived from 1) they speak from experience, not theory, and 2) when you apply their counsel/feedback, it works. The credibility they earn engenders your respect as does their interest and motivation. They are interested in YOUR success and genuinely motivated by helping people succeed. We know they’re not in the relationship solely for personal gain. These relationships build over time as both manager and employee engage in conversations – both formal and informal, scheduled and impromptu. They occur in offices & cubes, hallways after meetings, airport terminals, on the phone after sales calls, in cars to visit customers, and during breaks at conferences.
While hopefully frequent and productive, these conversations can get personal. This is relationship quicksand and what keeps many managers from developing great business relationships with people they lead. Yes we’ve heard that all business is personal but I submit that too personal can be problematic. As you reflect back on your best managers, before you let them in on your personal life, the relationship succeeded because it was focused on business. It was your manager’s business acumen that you valued. You didn’t seek their counsel on your spiritual life, significant other challenges or health concerns. That’s not their expertise and if they got too personal too quick or give advice on those areas of your life, you may have become guarded and possibly suspicious. That’s why when managers are encouraged, expected and trained to be coaches, they need to stick to what they know best – business coaching. It’s rare that manager-employee business relationships successfully evolve to anything beyond that and managers who want to solve all our problems are delusional.
Many managers in my workshops say they endorse this philosophy and want to become good business coaches. They are concerned though when their employee’s get too personal and feel some feel VERY uncomfortable and unequipped to respond. When employees get personal or you see performance is slipping, it’s important to distinguish between issues versus problems and chronic versus acute. Issues are what your employees are facing that are their responsibility to address. Problems are the impact their issues have on the business that managers need to solve. Chronic are ongoing and require maintenance and support while acute are temporary and something we can expect to move beyond. Here’s two scenarios you may have experienced.
Janet has been a top performer but of late isn’t delivering what you’ve come to expect. You address the performance with Janet and ask a question versus making a statement. Don’t overthink this – simply ask, “Janet, help me understand why the change in your performance?” Keep the conversation on business and continue to probe when necessary beyond Janet’s first response. “I’ve been asking for some time to have Accounting resolve billing issues with my biggest customer. Now I’m experiencing similar problems with other accounts. I’ve been investing so much of my time trying to solve this problem that I can’t keep up with my prospecting activity. ”
Janet had an issue with a customer billing situation. She took responsibility for addressing this and the issue has now become a problem. It started out as acute and may still be, but is possibly becoming chronic.
How a business coach might help Janet. The conversation with Janet is problem solving in nature and details need to be uncovered. Asking Who, How, When, What and Why questions can help you both discover solutions. A manager might commonly step in and go to Accounting and solve the problem, which may be the best solution. A business coach acknowledges Janet’s problem, asks specific questions and ends with, “Janet, how do you want my help?” That question can even much earlier but a business coach doesn’t step in and takeover right away, if at all. Remember, you want Janet to always be able to go to any department to address and resolve issues. If you step in too early, you’re may be impacting Janet’s credibility with Accounting and keeping her from solving problems on her own.
Mike gets work done but always seems to be dealing with a personal crisis that he has to share with you. “Do you have a minute?”, Mike asks you, again. “You won’t believe what happened to me this morning.” In fact you don’t have a minute for any drama and you’re no longer surprised by what’s happening in his life.
Mike has chronic issues that are beyond the scope of virtually every manager. While his issues haven’t become a performance or business problem yet, they are impacting your willingness to interact with Mike and may keep you from his addressing performance problems that might arise.
How a business coach might help Mike. All successful coaches have a variety of plays or approaches when working with their team. Three approaches to consider with Mike are Respond, Redirect and Initiate. The next time Mike asks for a minute, Respond with, “I might… is this personal or business?” Do this more than once and Mike will catch on… my boss is more interested in talking with me about business. Mike says, “it’s personal but I promise it will only take a minute”, and he walks further into your office. Listen briefly, preferably less than a minute and Redirect the conversation. Start by saying his name and saying something neutral. “Mike, that’s really something” and then immediately ask a business question. If Mike’s still not getting it, consider scheduling a meeting with him. Initiate the conversation with something like, “Mike, I wanted to take a moment and talk about our business relationship.” Now you can share that you appreciate Mike and the work he does and acknowledge that the conversations you have seem to frequently focus on issues Mike has in his personal life. You’re interested and hopeful Mike can address them but feel there needs to be more balance in what you both discuss. You want to hear more from him about on what’s working in the business, with his customers, on his projects and of course any business problems he’s experiencing where you can help.
These are just two examples of employee relationships where managers must stick to their knitting and keep the focus of their conversations on business. Over time the relationship may develop deep mutual respect and become personally and professionally rewarding. Until then, a manager’s job is to produce business results and a coach’s job is to ensure their people are successful in delivering those results.
I welcome your comments on how you approach coaching the people you lead to deliver the results your business demands.