One Meaningful Way to Show Your Employees You Care

Posted on December 6, 2012

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Sitting in the classroom that evening with about 15 other HR professionals, I would not have thought I would hear two stories within the next 36 hours that would so vividly reinforce the training I was receiving—but I did.

The speaker was Allan Kennedy, the Senior Project Manager for Employee Engagement with AT&T. His topic was “Building Employee Engagement,” a common topic in HR circles. However, his presentation was anything but common.

Kennedy’s presentation began with a definition of Employee Engagement from The Conference Board:

Employee Engagement is “A heightened emotional connection that an employee feels for his or her organization, that influences him or her to exert greater discretionary effort to his or her work.”

Kennedy’s presentation highlighted several key talking points including Emotional Fitness, Emotional Depth, Emotional Energy and Intuition. However, it was the segment on Legendary Leadership that struck a nerve for me, as both an employee and a manager.

The Primary Factor in Employee Engagement

Anyone who has ever been introduced to the discussion of Employee Engagement will know the primary factor leading to engagement or disengagement will be the relationship between the employee and their manager. “Engaged employees have a strong relationship with their manager.” Furthermore, research affirms how where there are engaged employees there is also “clear communication between manager and direct reports.” And it is not just any “communication” that resonates with employees, but the communication that says, “You are important. I care about you. I know you. I want to equip you. I want to challenge you.”

Recently, I heard Dr. Andrea Robbins of Naturally Balanced speaking on the subject of Emotional Intelligence at a meeting sponsored by SHRM-Atlanta. She certainly affirmed the role of managers in promoting employee engagement when she said “All things being equal, we will work harder and more efficiently for people we like; and we like them in direct proportion to how they make us feel about ourselves.”

Legendary Leadership

As Kennedy continued his presentation he urged us to become Legendary Leaders. A primary means to accomplish this legendary leadership is to take personal interest in team members. He then emphasized one critical action leaders can take to communicate personal interest in team members: Know the names of their family members-Know the name of their spouses and their children. Simply expressing interest in family members, by name, will demonstrate a depth of care that motivates the employee.

It was at this point when I raised my hand to ask a question. “Obviously, it would be very difficult for a manager of 100 employees to know the names of the children of all 100. Therefore, what is a reasonable number of employees with whom a manager could have this type of relationship?” Kennedy’s answered, “About 20.” “And,” he continued, “there is nothing wrong with keeping notes to aid your memory.”

If I had any doubt to the validity of Kennedy’s assertion, I would soon hear a couple of stories that reinforced his message.

Illustrated

I was talking with a couple of attendees after the meeting and one of them shared this story. “Larry” shared how he worked over five years for the president of a small business in Atlanta. Larry detailed how he was a key player in helping the president run his business.

This president was always taking people to lunch. He would meet for lunch with clients, vendors, friends, and occasionally favored employees. Yet, Larry never—anytime during those five years—got an invitation from the president to go to lunch. Larry felt ignored and devalued; all because his manager never took the time to say “Hey, how about we go grab a burger for lunch today?”

Do you know the names of these children?

Do you know the names of these children?

Two days later I attended a lunch meeting and heard a similar story. “Jason” said he had worked in a small organization with about a dozen employees. He was the “second in command,” overseeing the office. While he met regularly with the small business’ owner, Jason rarely found any reason to think the owner had any interest in him as a person—only concerned with what Jason could do for him in the business. Jason had three school-aged children and one day, after 6 ½ years of working at this organization, he thought he would test his theory of “the owner doesn’t care about me as a person.” Therefore, he asked the owner if he knew the name of any one of his three children. He couldn’t name one.  After 6 ½ years of working together this small business owner could not name one of Jason’s children!

You could hear the hurt and bewilderment of Jason as he shared the pain of working for someone who showed no personal interest in him. It was de-motivating. It was not the kind of legendary leadership that leads to employee engagement.

It’s a Common Story

I thought it strange I would hear these stories so soon after Kennedy’s presentation. Yet, as I thought about it, these conversations take place all the time. The difference was now I was listening for them. Both of these casual conversations confirmed the message of Allan Kennedy: Legendary Leaders who lead engaged employees show personal interest in their team members.

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What do you think? Do you agree with Allan Kennedy that knowing the names of the children of your employees can play a role in increasing employee engagement?  Can you share a similar story? What are other significant means managers and supervisors can communicate “I care” to their team members?  –Share your responses below.

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