Relationships Part 2: Employee Relationships and Profitability

My most recent column showed how your company’s ability to create good relationships, with employees and with strategic partners, has a major impact on profitability. In this column, we will outline three steps to build good relationships with employees. Then you can control whether relationships with most employees are positive or negative, i.e., sources of mutual benefit or mutual loss. In the next column, we will consider the corporate capabilities required to form successful alliances with strategic partners.

Step One - To build mutual benefit, start with your needs: Flight attendants always remind you to put on your own oxygen mask first, then your child’s. Otherwise, you may pass out and be useless to your child. Likewise, you cannot create good conditions for employees unless your needs are handled first. Therefore, before you begin to recruit, invest enough time to envision what you really want and need from a particular position. Many employers only give this step hasty attention.

Suppose that you want a secretary. Because this is a familiar term, you may assume that you know what you want this person to do. You may forget that secretaries do many different things, only some of which are important to you. You may want someone whose vision of the secretarial role is quite different from yours. Mutual disappointment is sure to follow.

To avoid that danger, take a little time to identify the duties of this particular secretarial position. Will your secretary prepare internal documents for your consumption or documents that need to be flashy for customers? How much interaction with the public will there be? How much will you want your secretary to control access to you without alienating people? Will you want this person to do research on the Internet?

Some of the key abilities will be technical, i.e., facility with word processing. Other skills fall into the category of emotional intelligence, i.e., tact, poise, and communication. Be sure to consider both areas. If possible, get others to help you list important skills. For this example, consult your former secretary, other secretaries in the organization, and people who may have reason to interact frequently with your secretary. By thinking through the actual tasks you need your secretary to do, you will identify the essential skills a candidate needs in order to be successful.

Step Two - Recruit patiently, with full disclosure: A professional had to replace his office manager of 18 years, someone upon whom he had become highly reliant. He made two mistakes. First, out of anxiety, he made an impulsive hiring decision. Three months later, he had to fill the position again because of a bad fit between the person’s skills and the demands of the job.

His second mistake was that he did not share all of the challenges of the job with the first replacement. Because he did not want to scare her away, he did not discuss how difficult it would be for anyone to step into the shoes of the former office manager, who was held in high regard by everyone in the office. Had he been more forthcoming, the young woman might have recognized that she was not old enough to have the personal maturity required. She might have saved them both some time. Fortunately, in his next attempt, he took his time, better understood his needs, talked candidly about both the positives and difficulties of the job, and found someone who worked out extremely well.

Step Three - Meet the employee’s reasonable expectations, wants, and needs: Prudent disclosure (Step Two) will help you manage employee expectations. Also be careful about promises you make. If you promise “rapid advancement” as a way of luring a candidate into accepting your job offer, and then you do not deliver, you have poisoned your relationship.

Research from the Gallup Organization gives employers essential knowledge about how to create great relationships with employees. Gallup studied 80,000 managers and one million of their supervisees over twenty-five years. Gallup discovered that while job candidates choose to join companies, perhaps because of reputation or the compensation package, it is the behavior of managers that determines whether or not employees stay. Thus, the ability of your managers to create good relationships controls whether you retain talented employees or have to spend extra money on recruitment and retraining.

The management behaviors Gallup found to be essential for good relationships involve helping employees succeed, creating the recognition that their job matters, providing opportunities to learn and grow, and personal acceptance.

To help create success, managers can:

  • tell employees clearly what is expected, i.e., tell them how to succeed

  • provide the materials and equipment needed to succeed; don’t inadvertently set them up to fail

  • give employees tasks that tap into their best skills

  • recognize employees for good work; then they know that their boss knows that they are successful

Three supervisory behaviors help employees recognize their importance:

  • give employees reason to believe that their opinions count

  • help workers understand the ways in which the company’s mission or purpose matters

  • create an atmosphere in which workers are dedicated to quality

People want to grow their skills, today more than ever. To tap into this need, managers can:

  • talk with employees about their progress at least every six months

  • encourage development through training opportunities and challenging assignments

Finally, most employees do not want to work in an impersonal setting. They want to feel that someone at work cares about them as a person. Managers need to find something in each employee to care about. Otherwise, the relationship is doomed. Second, they can encourage an atmosphere of internal collaboration which, in turn, creates a foundation for mutual acceptance among employees.

Dana C. Ackley, Ph.D., is founder and CEO of EQ Leader, Inc., which helps companies perform at their peak through emotional intelligence. He can be reached at (540) 774-1927, or by e-mail at

The comprehensive science based EQ Leader Program builds lasting change in EQ skills that make a dramatic difference in performance.

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