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26 Jul 2012

Manager – Employee Relationship: “Acid Test” Question

Even though we tend to focus on employees complaining about their managers, they do compliment them too. However, one employee over fifteen years ago totally transformed how I look at manager-employee relationships.

In his case, we were having lunch refreshing our connection. We discussed training, his career and his manager. I eventually asked, “How do you like working for (his manager)?

He replied, “A lot, I like him.”

Why?” I continued.

“I’m able to talk to him, he helps with sales, has good ideas . . .” began the employee as he continued very positively for about five minutes. I was very impressed. It was not only very glowing but also detailed.

After he was done, I casually summarized for him by saying, “It’s good you can trust him.”

Immediately, he countered, “Oh! I didn’t say that!”

He took me aback with his comment, but he was right: he never used the word “trust.” After exploring this more with him, I created this question:

Do you trust your manager to do what’s right for you and to tell you when he can’t?

This has become my “acid test” question for evaluating manager-employee relationships after listening to an employee’s glowing appraisal of a manager. While a negative response doesn’t necessarily indicate a bad relationship, it does indicate something fair or just good at best.

While it’s understandable that managers can’t always do what’s best for employees, they can often tell them when they can’t. This is especially the case with agreeable managers who tend to avoid conflict, not only with their bosses but also with their employees. Couple this with the difficulty of being truthful and honest in negative situations, and we can easily see how trust comes under assault.

Yet, these situations distinguish the administrative managers from the heroic ones.

 

2 Responses

  1. Mike- Great article! I am striving to write as succinctly as you do. Anyway, I have developed a similar approach with GPS Theory, a model I’ve developed for L&OD. It’s a values-based approach based on one simple question: “What words do you want other people to use to describe you and the life you’ve lived?” The question can be applied to any personal, professional and organizational context (yes, we can ask the “organization” this question too).

    The underlying linkage is, people join organizations because they perceive they will get a net-positive value from the relationship with their employer. Trust comes when leaders prove they personify the organizational values, especially those which apply directly to their areas of responsibility. This values-based approach puts people first. The organization will have processes and resources (equipment, tools, etc), but it’s how people use them that makes an organization great.

    Would you agree that the key to how people interact with the processes and resources required to deliver products/services in their organization is understanding how their values align with what the leader wants them to do? How important is it for the leader to ensure the processes and resources available are the “right tools for the job”?

    1. Mike Lehr

      Yes, Tom, you are right about the relationship between people and their leaders. Having the right tools for the job are also important. Expanding upon your points, how people interact with processes and resources at hand is also largely based on their personalities. Two different personalities could understand how their values align with the leaders, but that doesn’t mean they will use those processes and resources the same way. Also, leaders not only need to ensure the processes and resources are right for the job but also right for the personalities and skill levels they anticipate in those jobs.

      For example, structured, orderly people will likely want to have specific rules, documentation and procedures guiding their work. More adaptive, flexible people will want to have less of that and more interactive learning and instruction from leaders. This of course will likely be dependent on the actual job too. If it’s more standardized work, then the former personality might work better. If it’s more customized work, the latter will. Thus, everything not only needs to fit the job but the expected personalities likely to do those jobs.

      Thank you for visiting, Tom. Please visit again soon. ~Mike

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