Each month, "The Balance Sheet" provides questions and answers from experts on a topic that's important to you as a manager. Please feel free to share this information with other colleagues who also manage people.
Q. I want to make a good impression on my employees now that I am their new supervisor. What will employees focus on most as they “size me up” over the next several months?
A. Your employees will pay attention to what you say and do, but what they see will make a stronger impression. Many supervisors make the tactical error of focusing on impressing employees with their knowledge in the quest to gain respect. However, rule number one is to be a visible worker who puts in a full day and comes to work on time. If you demand excellence from employees, be sure to hold yourself to the same standards. Nothing will sow resentment faster than being absent from pitching in to accomplish the work, especially if your office or shop is in the same location. If you are not a visible supervisor, communicate frequently with employees so they can understand the goals and objectives you are pursuing. Gaining respect works on the law of attraction, and this “pull” strategy will work more successfully than a “push” strategy that demands or attempts to impress employees into recognizing you.
Q. I am a newly hired supervisor and would like to build trust with my employees quickly. Can you offer any tips?
A. You can’t rush trust, but here are a few tips to prevent setbacks. 1) Do what you say you are going to do. Employees have memories like elephants for promises made by supervisors. 2) Communicate frequently, not just when there is big news, good or bad. Communication is the only way employees will discover what you want them to know about you, so the more frequent, the better. 3) Act appropriately with employees, but avoid being reserved, aloof, remote or a conformist. Let them see the real you, and use opportunities like birthdays or special occasions to express your sentiments to individuals. 4) When possible, do not harbor negative news and then drop it on employees at “the right time.” Try to first prepare employees for what might be coming. 5) The more employees who see you and talk with you individually and in groups, the more trust will build. Many chief executive officers who understand this principle teach in-house courses or hold seminars on leadership, communication and networking skills that any employee may attend. They build trust and their reputations flourish as a result.
Q. I am a new supervisor and see a lot of low energy among employees in my work group. There’s no excitement or enthusiasm for what they do. Something is not right, but no one is talking. How do I find out what’s wrong?
A. Meet with each employee in private and ask how things are going. It’s the most direct route to discovery. Avoid observing the group, teambuilding or holding gripe sessions to “get it all out on the table.” Don’t be mysterious about your intentions. Conduct a few each day until you see everyone. Be upfront and say you want to greet everyone individually and learn confidentially about important issues. Ask employees to bring proposed solutions, not just issues. You may notice employees perk up immediately. This results from employees telling their stories and feeling hopeful. Be cautious; this won’t last unless you take action. Formulate a plan from what you learn to address issues. Ask management to give input and approval. Don’t forget about BJC EAP. It can serve as a great sounding board and offer insights because of its unique role as an observer of organizational process.