3. Build Relationship – The Manager’s Employee Engagement Relationship BACKbone: Bids, Authenticity, Caring, and Knowledge
(Part 4 of a 10 part series on how managers can improve employee engagement)
Foundation of relationships. Obviously relationships and relationship building are a foundation of employee engagement. Linda Hill in a Harvard Business Review article on Building Effective One-on-One Relationships cited research by John Kotter that found “that one of the factors that distinguished those general managers with consistently outstanding performance records from their counterparts was their ability to develop and maintin a strong network of relationships.” Work is a relationship and engagement experience. One third of Gallup’s quintessential Q12 survey asks directly about relationships to uncover engagement at work while most of the other items are also influenced indirectly by relationship. Four of the twelve statements employees are asked to respond to are:
- I have a best friend at work.
- In the last seven days I have received recognition.
- My supervisor or some one at work cares about me as a person.
- There is someone at work who encourages my development. In the last six months someone has talked to me about my progress.
Relationship defined. A relationship is s a connection between two individuals. Interpersonal relationships usually involve some level of interdependence. People in a relationship influence each other. Because of this interdependence, most things that change or impact one member of the relationship will have some level of impact on the other member. Exercising a strong BACKbone as a manager will have an impact on other employees. This BACKbone is comprised of: bids, authenticity, caring, and knowledge.
People are people, don’t depersonalize with terms such as assets or human capital. From a distance we can view employees as assets and human capital but engagement and relationship requires closeness. Employees are human and we inadvertently dehumanize employees when we refer to employees as assets or capital. Remember, as a manager you are an employee too. One classic definition of management is getting work done through people but in an engaged workplace work is done with people. We don’t have relationships with assets or capital we have relationships with other humans. An employees locus of engagement is frequently a task while a manager’s locus of engagement is the working relationship with the employee.
Don’t go soft. Too often the human element of engagement is dismissed as a fluffy soft skill afterthought. Soft skills sound mushy and unimportant while hard skills sound like the foundation of management. I want to add some fortitiude, gumption, and moxie to relationship building in employee engagement by adding BACKbone to a manager’s work. The backbone is our central source of support and stability, it refers to fortitude and determination, and it is part of a network that connects the other networks together.
Dissecting the relationship BACKbone. BACKbone is an acronym for bids, authenticity, caring, and knowledge. John Gottman offered an excellent micro skills focus to building relationships by examining relationships through the lens of bids and the other person turning towards or turning away from that bid for connection. Authenticity is central to trust and true relationships as our brains are social and detect in-authenticity in fractions of seconds. Relationships are built on meaningful and personal connection not manipulation tactics. Caring is a fundamental engagement key and a core to both relationships and management. Knowledge creates our foundation for relationship as we learn more about each other and ensure we acknowledge the people we work with.
B is for Bids. John Gottman in The Relationship Cure outlined a very powerful practice to build better relationships in all elements of our life including work. He examined the smallest of exchanges between people that communicated a request for connection followed by one of three responses. A bid is the fundamental unit of emotional communication. It can be a question, a gesture, a look or any expression that says, “I want to be connected to you.” A bid is followed by a positive or negative response to the other person’s bid or request for emotional connection. The response can be turning towards (a positive response to a bid); turning against (a negative response); and turning away (ignoring another’s bid). In a future post we will examine how working with bids and responses can help us master moments and transform micromanagement from a creepy control mechanism to a fluid and authentic relationship builder that infuses and energizes our work and the work of the people we manage.
A is for Authenticity. Being authentic is key to trust, respect, and genuine relationships. Authentic managers demonstrate integrity, with a profound sense of purpose and willingness to live by their core values. Bill George, author of True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership believes that authentic managers genuinely desire to serve others through their management. They are interested in empowering the people they manage to make a difference; more than they are interested in power, money or prestige for themselves. They are guided equally by the heart and the mind – practicing heart-based guidance grounded in passion and compassion, as well as thoughtful management. People follow authentic managers because they are consistent, reliable and strong. When they are pushed to go beyond their beliefs and values, authentic managers will not compromise. If we want to foster full engagement we must be real or “get real.”
C is for Caring. Without caring for others and what they are trying to achieve and experience our management and relationship building is shallow and insignificant. Caring is valuing the people who report to you and focusing more on their needs than your own. Caring is not a fluffy emotion but a number of powerful behaviors demonstrated by managers. Caring can include “care-frontation” where we hold others accountable for their performance and don’t shy away from having conversations about bad behavior or variances in performance expectations. An excellent source to read on how caring is infused in conversation to create safety while building relationships and achieving results is Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. Michael Kroth and Carolyn Keeler in a thoughtful article entitled, Caring as a Managerial Strategy in the Human Resource Development Review outlined a number of actions by managers that demonstrate caring:
- Invites employees
- Is receptive and fully available to the employee
- Is emotionally accessible
- Pays attention
- Shows interest in the employee
- Accepts the employee
- Remains open to ideas, possibilities (is open minded)
- Advances employees
- Has a desire to help the employee succeed
- Puts employee plans and goals ahead of his or her own
- Advocates for the employee
- Commits to employee success
- Protects employees
- Seeks opportunities for advancing employees
- Builds employees capacities
- Sees individual potential and helps employees grow and learn
- Informs employees
- Facilitates problem solving
- Gives generative feedback
- Encourages employees
- Believes in employees
- Teaches and mentors employees
- Connects with employees
- Shares feelings
- Develops relationships of mutual trust and obligation
K is for Knowledge. Interpersonal knowledge is a key to relationships. We begin to learn more about other people and can respond in ways that create and invite more engagement based on the other person’s needs, values, beliefs, experiences, culture, personality, etc. It helps to have knowledge of how to build relationships but even more important is the knowledge we gather as we fully connect with each other. It can be very engaging to notice something is amiss for one of our employees without them saying a thing. Strong relationships are based on knowing the other person. Do we take time to “know” and do we retain that knowledge of employees’ interests, motivators, and uniqueness to further develop both the relationship and engagement at work? Interpersonal knowledge is greatly heightened by acknowledgement, as we show or express recognition or appreciation and gratitude. Notice the word now is contained in the larger work knowledge — gather and act on your knowledge now and in the moment of relationship.
Get BACK to work. When we tell people to get back to work we are usually suggesting that they get on task. We need to achieve results and we need to understand that work is also social. You can enhance engagement for your employees and yourself by putting your BACKbone into it. Make bids and respond positively to employees bids. Be fully who you are. Demonstrate the power of caring. Build your knowledge base of employees to acknowledge each employee as the unique person they already are.
Read these 5 sources to strengthen your employee engagement relationship BACKbone:
- Rodd Wagner and James K. Harter, 12: The Elements of Great Managing
- John M. Gottman, The Relationship Cure.
- Michael Kroth and Carolyn Keeler Caring as a Managerial Strategy in Human Resource Development Review.
- Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler, Crucial Conversations.
- Bill George and Peter Sims, True North.
Building the pyramid of employee engagement. Review these 4 previous posts as we build the 10 block pyramid of employee engagement actions for managers:
Next post in this series: Recognition.
David Zinger built the 10 block pyramid of employee engagement to help managers bring the full power of employee engagement to their workplaces. If you would like to arrange to have this course or workshop for your organization or conference contact David today at 204 254 2130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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