Last week, I had the opportunity to do some training with the front line managers at a manufacturing firm. Our focus was the role of the manager in creating an engaging work experience for employees. We talked about things like clarity, connection, and love.
It was a fun day. I love working with this level of leader for a bunch of reasons. Mainly because these leaders are usually hungry for the training and support. They have, what I think, is the hardest job in the organization.
The front line managers in any organization directly impact more employees than another other level of management. And, the people they manage are closest to either the customer or to where products are actually made. So, the pressure to get it right (read: don’t screw it up) is significant.
These frontline managers also get a lot of fingers pointed at them. Gallup years ago popularized the idea that “people don’t leave companies, they leave managers.” So, if you have a retention problem on your front lines (where the largest number of employees work), it’s immediately assumed that the problem is these managers.
If production is off or customer service is suffering, who gets the most inquisition and pressure to resolve it? That front line manager.
It’s a hard (and sometimes thankless) job.
Because there’s so much pressure on this role, even those who are doing it well often wonder, “Am I doing this right? Am I doing enough?”
This reminds me of being a parent.
Being a parent is at the same time the most fulfilling, amazing experience and the hardest job I’ve ever had. There’s probably as many parenting philosophies as there are management styles. And, it’s really hard to know in any given situation the right answer. Because, often, there is no right answer. There is only what you think is right for your child.
It causes me to ask frequently, “Am I doing this right? Am I doing enough?”
A few years ago, I was having a conversation with a friend about the complexities of parenting. We were sharing how vulnerable and inadequate it can feel at times as a parent. And, we talked about how we worry if we are doing it right.
My friend then said, “I think that fact that we are worrying about it means we are doing it right.”
This stopped me in my tracks. I guess I assumed that every parent worried about doing it right. But, it turns out, that isn’t always the case.
Over the years, I’ve realized that there’s only so many things I can control as a parent. Most of what will happen to my children is outside of my control. So, I decided to focus on something I could control. My goal as a parent is to make sure that my children know (and are reminded every day) that they are loved unconditionally.
I know that there’s a lot of other stuff that I probably don’t get quite right (I let them spend too much time playing with their tablets, for example), but I’m going to get this one thing right. Because I believe if I do, everything else is more likely to be okay. This has helped me spend less time worrying or stressing about doing the “right things” and frees me to just do my best.
In my training last week, the first thing we did is an exercise to remind us what it feels like to be an employee. We contrast the impact of a good versus a bad work experience on our emotional state, quality of work and personal life. The differences are stark. Having a good work experience means we feel better, perform better and are a better person for our family, friends, and neighbors. That’s powerful stuff.
I then asked these managers, which of these experiences they are committed to creating for their teams.
When managers won’t make a fundamental choice about what kind of impact they want to have on the people they are responsible for, their teams suffer. But, when they commit themselves to creating a positive impact on employees, they are far more likely to do more good than harm regardless of skill level or experience.
If you take that a step further, what if managers had a steely focus on a singular ideal of ensuring that their people feel appreciated and cared for (how “love” sounds at work) every day? There’s decades of employee engagement research that highlights the profound importance of these emotions on overall engagement and, as a result, work performance.
Management is hard work. What if we could make things are more simple.
To make management feel less daunting, help managers get clear about their intentions. Once they commit themselves to creating positive work experiences for employees, they are far more likely to do the right things–or at least to do less harmful things.
It’s like my friend reminded me, once we get them to start worrying about the impact they are having on people, they will probably be doing it right. Or, at the very least, they will be started down the right path.