A successful business depends on hardworking, happy employees in a safe, productive work environment and an atmosphere that encourages trust and open communication is crucial in helping a business flourish. While a strong, capable group of employees is essential, it is the leadership of the management team that maintains it. “For me, where the rubber meets the road is the relationship between the manager and the employee,” says Cathy Missildine, a human resources consultant for Intellectual Capital Consulting in Acworth. “The manager is very dependent on the employee to perform.”

In order for employees to perform well and feel safe in their work environment, they must trust the manager and feel comfortable voicing complaints and problems. It is the responsibility of the manager to establish this trust by listening to employee complaints, fixing problems that arise, hiring employees who fill in the missing holes of the team and following through with promised actions.

Handling Employee Concerns Well

One of the most important ways that bosses can improve the happiness of their employees, and, in turn, the success of their business, is to effectively handle employee complaints. Kimberly Douglas, management consultant and owner of Cumberland-based FireFly Facilitation, Inc., says that seeking out employee concerns before problems arise creates a culture that makes the office and product better. “Get the employees together and have regular brainstorming sessions. I always say ‘serve pizza,’” Douglas says. “Send out the questions in advance for what you’ll be brainstorming on this week.”

These brainstorming sessions give employees a chance to talk about what would make the work environment better for them before a problem ever arises. Employees spend time thinking about the questions provided for the session and come in with new, creative ideas about how to improve the office culture. Douglas also suggests placing a white board or a flip chart in an employee space and writing a problem statement each week. “What’s a problem that you want to solve? Put that problem on the page and get employees to write in suggestions for what might be a way to solve it,” recommends Douglas. She additionally stresses that the wording of the question is important. “‘How might we better handle customer complaints within 24 hours?’ The ‘how might we’ doesn’t sound like there’s one definitive answer. It’s more expansive and opens up the door that there are a number of different ways that we can do this,” she says.

Missildine also believes that giving performance feedback is an excellent way to maintain a positive relationship between employees and managers. “You’ve got to reward and recognize appropriately,” she says. “When they’re doing something good, make sure you tell them. You have to manage their performance, set expectations and give feedback.” Setting clear expectations and consistently providing feedback shows that managers are monitoring performance and holding people accountable.

But feedback is not just a one-way street. Douglas proposes using suggestion boxes as another way to get evaluations from employees. “Have some 3×5 cards and have employees write their questions and concerns on that. Regularly publicize changes that came about from the suggestions they’ve put in,” says Douglas. Then employees can really see management is listening and they have an impact on the environment.

That may be the key to real success in an office: employees feeling like they truly have influence and that their concerns matter. These are the employees who stay with a company and help boost retention rates. Renee Sylvestre-Williams stated in her 2012 Forbes article, “Why Your Employees Are Leaving,” that “a bad manager is a big factor in employee performance. A good manager, no matter the salary, will inspire loyalty.”

Hiring the Best Fit

Loyalty begins with an excellent hiring process. Douglas recommends spending time with your employees to determine what holes exist within the personnel of the team. This tactic involves utilizing employees in the hiring process and pinpointing the kind of hire needed. “It gives you a basis on what kind of gap is in the team currently and what kind of people need to fill the gap in the team,” she says.

During the interview process, ask questions that reveal whether the applicant can fill the hole in the staff. For example, if an employer is interviewing people to take on a specific project management role, ask a question like, “How did you deal with a new priority being introduced?” Specific questions weed out those who will not be able to fill a hole in the staff. This tactic of interviewing improves the strength of the team while acknowledging the needs of the employees, making the end result a positive one for all parties involved.

How can a manager come up with these types of interview questions? Douglas suggests using the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI). “It’s the user-friendly Myers-Briggs. It helps teams learn how each person individually thinks,” she says. HBDI identifies four different models of thinking: analytical, sequential, interpersonal and imaginative. The test is taken online—120 questions—and is a step to improve communication within teams, as well as creativity. Douglas says that learning how your teammates think and work can open up opportunities for creativity, such as ideas that can be born as a group that could not have happened alone.

Improving creativity and communication in an office is important to a happy and productive work environment. With HBDI and an intentional interview process, managers can learn more about their team and how to make it stronger.

Possessing a Different Skill Set

The job of a manager is a difficult one, and, as Missildine points out, it requires a different skill set than an employee. “The employers need to make sure that managers have been trained to be managers,” she says.

But it’s not true that all good employees become good managers. Victor Lipman, a contributor to Forbes, wrote “Why Are Good Managers Hard To Find? Because So Many Hats Are Worn” about the required skills of a manager. The first one on the list—“You have to be a psychologist.” It is crucial that managers be willing to listen to employee concerns, improve communication between all parties in the office and hire new additions intentionally. These skills will improve your team, which then allows your business to improve as well.

Being a manager is not easy, but it is certainly doable. Lipman reminds managers that “many people are first promoted into management for their strong ‘technical skills’—solid knowledge of their own business. But that’s only part of the managerial equation; all managers wear many hats.”

So, remember when looking for ways to improve your business and help it flourish, there is room for a little change and considering opening lines of communication, handling employee concerns better and hiring the best fit for openings in your company, may be some of the best ways to do just that.


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