The Oswald Letter
February 21, 2011


Relationships 101


By Dan Oswald

No, I'm not here to talk about your love life. I've been married for 23 years and I would never presume to have the least bit of insight to share with you regarding that topic. And my wife would gladly confirm that if I did provide any advice, you'd be best to ignore it!

I'd like to talk about the relationships you, as a manager, have with the people you manage. Survey after survey shows that the manager plays the most important role in successful employee motivation and, thus, retention. Let me say that again, the manager plays THE MOST IMPORTANT ROLE in successful employee motivation. That's a big responsibility you have as a manager and one that you should take seriously.

If you look at survey data about why people leave their jobs, you'll hear about better pay and bigger opportunities. But when you ask people what causes them to stay in their jobs, the answer comes back loud and clear -- it's their relationships with their managers.

You may not have realized how much power your really have. Use it wisely.

Webster's Dictionary defines relationship as "a connection, association or involvement, an emotional or other connection between people." You see, people want to feel connected at work. As the leader, you have the ability to provide that for them. You are the one who can provide them with meaningful, challenging work. You can offer words of advice and encouragement. You can coach and teach and lead. And you can praise and reward them. You can, but do you?

The old saying goes, "People don't quit companies -- they quit managers." Yet how many managers take personal responsibility when someone in their charge leaves the company? Most managers, after having lost a key member of their team, point to external factors. He got a better offer from a competing company. She left because her commute became too much. He really didn't like the work he was doing.

Each of those reasons or excuses could have started with a different word -- "I." I didn't do enough to keep him engaged and, therefore, he left for an offer from a competing company. I should have been more flexible in her work arrangement to help minimize the effects of her long commute. I could have challenged him more and found a role that allowed him to use his specific talents.

You're never going to achieve 100% employee satisfaction or retention. And, if you do, you'd likely have as many or more problems as you do today. But for the truly talented people you want to keep on your team, you must remember that you're the reason they stay. You must foster your relationships with every team member, but especially those you want to stay.

You need to build a connection with each and every one of them. If you do, someone's leaving will never be a surprise. You will know if a team member is dissatisfied. You will sense if someone is looking for his next opportunity. And, when you do, you will have a choice to make. Is there something you can do to keep them from leaving? Or, are the circumstances such that you and the company might be better off letting this one go?

Let's face it, you can't keep everyone, and sometimes losing even a good employee is the right thing to do. Maybe you can't provide the type of work that this person needs to feel fulfilled. It might be that you can't afford to pay what's necessary to keep someone from moving on. There are reasons why you will fail to keep even good people, but it should not be a result of your failure to have a relationship with the people you manage. You are the connection that your people have to the company, first and foremost. Don't forget that!

The key to your success is the relationships you form with those you manage. Spend time developing those relationships. Work at it. Make it a goal to strengthen the relationships you have with your people. It's worth it.