The Magic of the Mundane: In Praise of Good Managers
As an organizational psychologist, my career has been devoted to helping organizations attract, develop, and retain talent—and by "talent" that has most often meant "leaders".However, along the way, many of us in HR (myself included) may have at times been guilty of focusing on high potentials and superstars at the expense of skilled, steady managers.As research has convincingly demonstrated, the quality of one's immediate supervisor has a direct impact on employee engagement, performance, and retention.
This past summer, I had the opportunity to be reminded of the value of a great people manager as my oldest son made his first foray into the corporate world as an intern. In addition to the pleasure of having a father's front row seat to his experience, it highlighted the importance of solid, everyday management in driving individual and organizational performance.
I wanted to share some of the take-aways from conversations with my son and his friends, as we gathered in the evenings around our kitchen island. What made a difference in their varied work experiences was remarkably consistent.Most importantly, it is a blueprint that all of us in HR should not forget.
- 1.A warm welcome. Being ready for the new hire on Day One made a great first impression. Managers that personally introduced them to their colleagues and pointed out where to find the coffee and restrooms started things off on a strong note.
- 2.Clarity and transparency.Within the first few days, it was helpful to have had a conversation to outline roles and responsibilities, discuss how performance would be evaluated, and prioritize the work that needed to be accomplished.
- 3.Permission to learn. The ability to ask questions--or to feel dumb when doing so--- was huge. The best experiences encouraged learning on the job, without an expectation that interns were already VPs.
- 4.Daily acknowledgement. Managers that took time to check in daily, even for five minutes, were viewed as caring about their employees. Small courtesies--saying good morning, saying good night—made the interns feel they were noticed and valued.
- 5.Reasonable expectations. The best managers accommodated the occasional doctor's appointment or school obligation. If an assignment took longer than expected or challenges arose, they sought ways to facilitate success.
- 6.Time and attention. Good managers were never "too busy" for updates or scheduled meetings. In those conversations, providing undivided attention--no cell phones, no interruptions--made them productive.
- 7.Challenge and stretch. Despite being "just interns", managers that offered tough and/or varied assignments increased learning exponentially. Allocating time to provide constructive feedback and discuss performance helped keep things on track.
- 8.Opportunity to shine. All the interns were excited to attend senior meetings, listen in on conference calls, or read through strategy documents and materials.Being asked for their thoughts and suggestions made them more confident in their ideas.
- 9.Sense of belonging. Being invited to lunch or to join birthday celebrations created a sense of team. Organized events or afternoon runs for coffee or ice cream strengthened collaboration, as did speaking in terms of 'we', not 'I'.
- 10.Appreciation and acknowledgement.Effective managers took time to write emails to reinforce good work and express gratitude for effort and a job well done. Polite and courteous, they said "please" and "thank you" often.