Kasey LynchAugust 15, 2022
Topics: Manager Experience

How Managers Can Build Stronger Relationships with Employees

Managers are the driving force behind the success of individual departments — directly impacting the company's success. But where do they get the training they need to successfully improve team performance and help employees flourish?

On this episode of Talent Experience Live, Jason Lauritsen, CEO and co-founder of Cultivayo, joined us to talk about training that liberates managers to cultivate human potential with a more modern and human approach.

Read on for his insights, including the key way for managers to improve one-on-one conversations with employees, or watch the episode below.

What inspired you to focus on management transformation?

Lauritsen, a native of Iowa farm country, had his first management position at age 13 running a corn detasseling crew. (“I won’t even get into what that is,” he joked.) All kidding aside, that first experience left him with more questions than answers when it came to being a supervisor.

Later, as an executive recruiter, Lauritsen noticed that suboptimal relationships between managers and employees were behind many companies’ hiring struggles. “Work is broken in so many ways, and I wanted to fix it,” he said.

This realization inspired him to become an HR leader, and later form his own consulting company focused on management transformation.

Downloadable Asset: 6 Elements for a Meaningful Employee Experience

Why do you think there’s such a gap in management training today?

Instead of providing specific training for people stepping into managerial roles for the first time, most companies assume that the experience of being managed is adequate, Lauritsen pointed out. “Imagine if that’s the way we approached driving? ‘You’ve watched people drive — here’s the keys, go for it!’”

“We’ve never treated management as a profession in and of itself,” he continued, where people are selected based on competencies and preferences, and trained on specific managerial skill sets. On the other hand, progressive companies are catching on, realizing they need to select managers based on capabilities and then give them skills to adapt to the role.

“After 20 years of … helping leaders and organizations try to figure out employee engagement, what I realized is that the rubber meets the road at the manager-employee relationship,” Lauritsen said. “There’s no other particular lever in the organization that has a higher impact on the employee’s experience of work than their manager and the relationship they have with that person.

”Training managers on relationship-building skills can transform the employee experience, and the organization’s overall performance, he added.

Related Resource: Empowering Employees to Realize Their Potential

What is the biggest challenge for new managers?

The ability to connect with employees on a one-to-one level is fundamental to learning what team members need to be successful — but this skill is rarely taught.

“We haven’t skilled our managers on how to get to the conversations that really matter,” Lauritsen said — meaning, the conversations that lead to identifying where an employee may be struggling, and then determining the best action to support that individual.

By learning check-in management, these conversations can become more accessible and actionable.

Related Resource: Intro to Skills: The Key to Unlocking Employee Growth & Engagement

Can you explain the “check-in” approach to management?

Throughout his career, Lauritsen spent a lot of time studying employee engagement. He’s found that employees are motivated to do their best work when their supervisors use check-in management, which comprises 5 C’s:

  1. Clarity: Employees need clearly defined expectations.
  2. Connection: Focus on building relationships with employees.
  3. Cultivation: Rather than viewing people as “output machines,” managers need to cultivate employees, providing what they need to grow and be productive at work.
  4. Conversation: One-on-one conversations between managers and employees is the heart of successful management.
  5. Care: Managers need to genuinely care about the people on their teams.

How should managers perform a check-in?

A manager/employee check-in starts with this simple question: “How are you doing today, on a scale from 1 to 10?”

According to Lauritsen, asking employees for that number rating is key to having an actionable conversation. It’s because that score — low or high — gives managers a springboard to ask follow-up questions that can yield insight on what the employee needs (e.g., help with a specific project, an extra break after a difficult morning).

Check-ins also help managers get to know team members personally, building stronger relationships.

“We quickly get to the conversation we actually need to have so that I understand where you are, what’s going on with you, and where I can offer help or support. At the end of the day, that is my job as a manager,” Lauritsen said.

Is there value to tracking these check-ins?

While it makes sense to track these conversations as a way to gain a deeper understanding of what’s going on with individual employees, Lauritsen advises against using check-ins as an analytical tool.

“Remember that it’s all about the conversation. It’s not about the number … keep track of it, sure, but don’t get obsessed with the numbers.”

Is it ever appropriate to conduct a group check-in?

This depends on how deeply connected the team already is, Lauritsen said. For high-trust teams, group check-in meetings can be successful. In group settings, Lauristen recommends using a one-word check-in where managers ask employees to sum up how they’re feeling at the moment using one word.

This allows teams to problem-solve as a group and gives managers an opportunity to identify where one-on-one follow-up might be useful.

Can check-ins address challenges outside of work?

Especially in today’s work environment, it’s ok (even necessary) for managers to invite employees to open up about challenges outside of work that may be impacting their ability to perform. “Those things pull on our resources,” Lauritsen said. “They emotionally drain us; they’re a mental distraction.”

And while managers are not expected to serve as a therapist, they can gain more clarity on what an employee needs by asking, “What does support from me look like right now?” It could be as simple as clearing an employee’s schedule for an hour so they can reset, or referring them to the company’s EAP for more serious issues.

Simply making the space for human connection can go a long way, Lauritsen pointed out.

Related Resource: It’s Time to Talk about Employee Mental Health

What’s the most important takeaway for managers?

Think like farmers, Lauristen said. They know that a seed has everything in it that will help it thrive when given the right care and conditions. Similarly, it’s up to managers to cultivate employees so they can grow and thrive at work — and contribute to the overall success of the organization.

“I believe every person, given the opportunity and means to do so, will choose to succeed over failing every single time,” he said. “If someone is not succeeding at work, it’s because they’re meeting an obstacle, or there’s something they need that they don’t have. That is your job as a manager. The only way that you can consistently make sure you’re on top of those things is to check in with your people. That is the essence and the heart of management.”

Ready to give your managers the tools they need to succeed and better support your employees?
Book a demo of Phenom Manager Experience here!

Kasey Lynch

Kasey is a content marketing writer, focused on highlighting the importance of positive experiences. She's passionate about SEO strategy, collaboration, and data analytics. In her free time, she enjoys camping, cooking, exercising, and spending time with her loved ones — including her dog, Rocky. 

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