We have noticed a trending in the last 5 years between managers and their direct reports that concerns us a great deal. Managers have become less accessible, conduct fewer staff meetings, schedule infrequent one-on-ones and communicate downward less and less. We believe this growing trend is being driven by three particular things: managers being asked to manage and be individual contributors, more matrixed organizations that require significant cross functional collaboration and thus a greater time allotment and managers not being acknowledged or rewarded enough for developing their people.

This is not an attempt to bash managers but rather an explanation for what has distracted them away from best practices for the manager/direct report relationship. Managers are literally in the middle between the demands being placed on them by their leaders and the responsibility of managing a team.

So what outcomes do we see due to this dilemma? In our executive coaching and team development work we see less “bench strength” being developed in organizations, fewer career path discussions taking place and diminishing morale as people begin to feel more like worker bees than employees who are making a contribution that has an impact on the organization.  The only way managers can get back to enhancing their relationships with their team members is too make a greater commitment to making development a priority.

Carve out the time on your calendar and don’t cancel time with your people/ team unless the building is burning down or you have a million dollar deal on the table! The ultimate “you are not important’ message gets sent to your reports when you cancel meetings with them on a regular basis or don’t schedule them at all.  While it may seem harmless at the moment that you decide to cancel a one-on-one when you certainly have other important things you need to accomplish, the consequences are further reaching than it might appear at first glance.

Our list below of best practices, while not comprehensive, is certainly a good start back on the road to building that very important manager/direct report relationship.

  • Carve out time on a weekly basis 30-60 minutes, to meet for coaching/mentoring.  This is your highest priority.  Don’t ever cancel unless someone is sick.
  • Together, with your employee, identify strengths and skill gaps.
  • Together create a development plan.
  • Encourage, navigate, help them win.
  • Provide constructive feedback on a regular basis.
  • Ask questions.  (“Tell me what motivates you?” “How can we make our team meetings more effective?”)
  • Tell them what they’re doing well.
  • Provide them with challenges and responsibility in line with their ability.
  • Give recognition for initiative and personal responsibilities taken on.
  • Provide learning opportunities.
  • Create opportunities for the employee to provide leadership by helping others overcome a challenge.
  • Find out what they need from you to be successful.
  • Let people know what you expect from them.
  • Tell people when they’ve hit a home run and when they have missed.
  • Keep your people informed of the big picture.
  • Err on the side of over-communicating.
  • Be a truth teller who communicates with compassion.
Clarifying roles and responsibilities
  • Let people know what they are responsible for.
  • Be clear about what their role is in the organization.
  • Communicate what you see as their highest priorities.
  • Identify the business results they need to generate to be successful.
  • Acknowledging effort beyond normal day to day responsibilities.
  • Recognizing team collaboration over individual effort.
  • Finding out how your people like to be recognized.

Our experience tells us that with a little time and effort spent developing your employees, employee retention will be at an all-time high, morale will increase and you will develop a loyal following as your people learn that you are invested in their success.