Do you ever think that your primary job is to "nag" your employees until they do the job you asked them to perform? This was one of the concerns that Jon, a novice manager, shared when he came to me for coaching. Jon was frustrated in his new role and wanted his staff to just "do what they were told." His problem was that his employees frequently did not perform the task on time or at all. His relationship with them felt strained and adversarial, and he did not feel good about himself or his new role. Tom Hanson writes in his book on management that, "The most important variable in determining the performance and retention of top employees is their relationship with their primary supervisor." This relationship between managers and employees can easily become stressed when it comes to assigning tasks and making requests.
When I was growing up, I would ask my dad why I had to do something, and he said, "Because I told you to." Many of today's managers believe in the "command and control" style of management. When I worked for managers like this, it produced a great deal of resentment, and I was far from motivated to do my best. I asked Jon to give me an example of a recent situation where he was not satisfied with the result. He told me he had asked Steve, one of people that he was responsible for supervising, to sweep the floor in the mail center. It took two more requests before Steve got the job · done. I asked Jon to tell me exactly how he made the request. Jon said, "Steve, will you do me a favor and sweep the floor?" Jon felt that he had asked nicely and had not "ordered" him to do it.
I have found that when employees understand the reasons behind my requests, while they may not always be eager to fulfill them, they do not produce resentment. I am not saying that this is a 100% rule; certainly in an emergency or a combat situation, a manager does not have time to explain why. I asked Jon what he thought about simply providing the reason for his request as a context or background. His answer? He was the boss and didn't completely understand why he should take the time to explain it. He felt that this was time-consuming and unnecessary and that people ought to do "what they were told" without having to tell them a second time.
A few years ago, I came home from work and declared that I was exhausted. My teenage son, in his gentle way of provoking me, said, "Why Dad? You don't do anything at the office!" What do managers do? I mean, if you were to take a video camera and record a manager for a day, what would you see? How would team building, coordinating, supervising, supporting, directing, interviewing, teaching, coaching and all the things I do look on camera? According to Alan Seiler, "The essential action of leaders and managers occurs almost entirely in conversations." In other words, managers get paid to have effective conversations. One of the most important conversations that managers can have is one that creates a context that encourages their employees in performing the task and establishes a relationship with them as a person. It may seem like it takes more time to explain a reason, but is that accurate judgment? How much time do you spend checking up and reminding your employees of your request? How much time do you stress over it? I suggest that it may take less time to have an effective conversation up front in the overall scheme of things.
Having a conversation where the manager provides a background for the request is not complex and need not be very time-consuming. In basic terms, it simply means that a manager sees something possible for the future that is not happening in the present. This could be as simple as sharing your value for safety and could sound like, "My objective is to have zero accidents and make our operation the safest in the country." This statement, in one sentence, provides a context for the manager's value or vision.
Most of the time, a manager is making many requests of employees. The "vision thing" is sharing with them the "why" behind the request. The benefit of doing this is that it creates a context for which an employee can become involved in performing the action that is requested.
By having a conversation which provides a context, you are giving the other person greater clarity and the results are more likely to be consistent with your expectations. Managers create context through their declarations of mission, sharing of their vision, verbalizing their objectives, clarifying the priority, articulating the purpose and expressing their desired goals or results. This "sets the stage" for achieving the results.
In summary, great management is about having effective conversations. Creating a context that inspires employees positively affects the performance of the task, the relationship and one's self-esteem.