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Your Workers Want Input & Responsibility: Will You Be that Kind of Boss?

Summary: Employees want input. Bosses who listen are seen as better bosses. Better bosses have more successful companies. How a boss goes about this is important.

Your Workers Want Input & Responsibility: Will You Be that Kind of Boss?
 
  • Once management was all top-down; no more. Allowing employees to have input makes them feel more engaged in their jobs.
  • The traditional types of management styles no longer work.
  • Bad managers do not motivate employees to high performance.
  • Without communication, the majority of employees don’t know if they are meeting expectations or not.
  • Better communication is accomplished by following the suggestions provided in this article.

A boss who’s more than bossy

Bosses need two important skills:

1) They need to have a strong voice; 2) They need to know how to listen.

This is not just good advice for bosses. This is good for anyone in any kind of relationship.

The best leaders understand that leadership is also a conversation—a two-way dialogue—not a diatribe. It’s also the best way to motivate and inspire others, both individually and at a group level. Mindset is important and if you don’t have the right mindset, it’s an easy problem to fix. Why is it a problem? Because engaged employees are better employees—engaged employees happen because of good bosses. And there are rewards to employers: Nearly 40% of workers work harder if they’re happier in their role. And when they’re more productive, they’re more profitable for you. And when you consider that 70% of the American workforce is disengaged, clearly, management has some work to do.

The good news is it shouldn’t be hard to do.

Leaders seem to have something of a perceptual problem, generally. According to research, their leadership styles aren’t meeting with workers’ interests.
 
  • 74% of workers claim to prefer a collaborative working culture as opposed to one where the boss makes most of the decisions
  • 83% of employees would like to provide more input
  • 62% of employees believe they could perform better or just as well without their bosses input; 22% say nearly as well and 11% would not perform as well.

An advocate for decentralizing decision-making and allowing for more collaborative workspaces, Mark Robinson of Kimble Applications, a software company, said, “We are moving away from a world where it is seen as the bosses job to tell people what to do. It is the boss’s job to provide clarity of mission and to remove obstacles to the team’s success.”

This philosophy seems to mostly agree with what workers want. According to Kimble’s research:
 
  • Those that view their bosses’ contributions negatively: 66%
  • Those that see their manager as not always the best qualified decision-maker: 23%
  • Those who would take their manager’s job if it were offered to them: 63%
  • Those that believe their manager had a positive impact on their career development and advancement: 64%

Another survey showed more than three quarters of respondents said that their managers have “glaring flaws.” Their beefs broke down like this—managers are seen as:
 
  • Overwhelmed and inadequate: 27%
  • Poor listeners: 24%
  • Biased and unfair: 24%
  • Distant and disconnected: 23%
  • Disorganized and forgetful: 21%

The most cited skill that workers want from their bosses is an ability to motivate as well as coaching and training skills, making decisions, and delegating. A manager’s ability to express well where an employee is in their job performance including areas where they can improve plays a highly significant role in employee retention.

Those promoted to leadership positions can also help to inspire and develop others. Not all bosses are successful in doing so: More than three-quarters of employees in a recent VitalSmarts survey said their managers had “glaring flaws,” such as being overwhelmed, having poor listening skills, and seeming either unfair or uninterested. These qualities are almost certainly the opposite of what HR teams, let alone employees, want.

How did a manager ruin motivation in your workplace?

Motivation is not always within the control of management. Employees also have lives and circumstances outside of the workplace. Even so, motivation can be fragile and many things can happen to kill employee engagement. Here are some of the unfortunate management styles of motivation-killing bosses. Mix and match:
 
  • The Micromanager: If you recall your hiring process, you were expected to bring skills and experiences to the job. Then at some juncture, you seem not to be trusted to know anything. Demands for constant check-ins and approvals on even the most trivial of tasks not only kill motivation and engagement, they deflate morale and passion you would otherwise have for the work.
  • The Gaslighter: Your mistakes seem to be the focus of an ever ongoing lowlight reel. How can you ask for a raise or promotion when you seem capable of doing so little right? Whatever you’re gaining in skill and experience is constantly devalued. Forgiveness seems never forthcoming. This is usually a top-down enterprise: If the CEO does it, expect the C-level managers to inherit the trait. Advancement in this environment is unlikely. It’s a hole that can’t be climbed out of.
  • The Initiative Assassin: Ideas are dismissed. You voice has no value. Or, if it’s a good idea you’ll be told it’s already being done or they’ll take the idea and give you none of the credit. With enough rejection your desire to contribute disappears. You’ve become a drone. Maybe that’s what your boss would rather, and that’s fine if that’s what they want, but it leaves you no space to be motivated.
  • The Dissembler: Promises are empty, their word is worthless, there’s no follow through, memory, or support—a boss like this you’ll inevitably learn not to trust. Like the Oracle from The Matrix, they only tell you what they think you need to hear. But unlike the Oracle, what you hear is only for their benefit. They may also choose standards of measuring performance that use metrics that have more to do with measurement and little to do with actual performance. Quantity too often overrules quality.
  • The Flexer: They’re one of the reasons why work can’t get done at work. They’ll hold and rule over meetings, they introduce projects that aren’t well considered and may later turn out to be undoable or unnecessary, or they’ll drop new assignments into your schedule to confound your other deadlines. If they’re C-level, they’re making work at others’ expense to impress their boss. They show their boss that they’re working by interrupting everyone else’s—it’s a flex. As Jason Fried, founder and CEO of Basecamp says, “Meetings are toxic.”

What do I do if my boss won't promote me?

Of all the things you’ll need for career advancement, the one that may be least negotiable is a good boss. Are you looking for a future leadership role? Working for a good leader—the right leader—is key. And finding mentors, coaches, sponsors, and champions wherever you can doesn’t hurt either. But if you aren’t blessed with a good boss—and have one instead that makes it difficult to build a good relationship with or provide value to you—then you may find the most useful thing you can do is cut your losses and find another one, within or without your current job.

Or, what if you do have a good boss but the path upward is narrow and linear with diminishing opportunities the higher you climb? Accepting a narrow definition of success could also be a way of limiting your opportunities. Be open to adjusting your plans and visions.

Why do good employees leave? It’s for these very reasons.

Listening 101

Employees care about the business performance of their employer: An overwhelming 75% of them say they do and yet only 23% of them actually know what that performance is. Transparency also seems to be a problem. What this indicates is that employers are missing out on an important opportunity to capitalize on their workforce’s dedication and interest.

Because employees care, they also want to contribute. Not allowing them to contribute is how managers hold them back. Now, having a voice and using it doesn’t necessarily mean that what have to say will be all good, but they can have useful perspectives from where they stand. And those perspectives could offer managers something they may not otherwise see from their own lofty perches. Those insights may have real value. Maybe they have a more informed perspective on the pipelines or workflows or even the end users—your customers and clients. Plus, everyone wants to be heard. It’s a basic human need that becomes all the more important when it has to do with an endeavor that you spend 35% of your life doing, i.e. your job.

For management, listening offers other rewards:
 
  • According to research from Glint, public companies with the best employee engagement scores achieved a 42% higher stock value in a year than those companies with the least employee engagement.
  • Those with top engagement also have, on average, 35% higher Glassdoor ratings than those with least engagement. Engaged companies also received a high 87% “Recommendation” rating among employees.
  • CEO approval ratings were also better, registering 27 percentage points higher than those at the bottom.

That’s why you should do it; here’s how:

You’ll need the will. It’ll need to be a priority. You’ll have to acknowledge that it’s a skill component that’s important in your role as a leader. Listening also means no talking over, interjecting, or “splainin’.” If you believe that you’re the only one with all the answers, you’ll never have an incentive to hear what’s being shared. This is how you create the mindset of someone who can hear what’s being shared. Understand that listening is an act of “co-creation.” This doesn’t diminish your own skills or intellect; it just recognizes that your colleagues can also have something of value to add.

If this is difficult for you, you need to understand what exactly the obstacle for you is. Leaders, who’ll often act as the alpha personality in most conversations, may find themselves:
 
  • With a personality more inclined to be assertive, not a naturally good listener
  • Prone to take command, direct conversations, talk too much, or worry about what they will say next in defense or rebuttal
  • Extroverted and conversational and more used to being the one doing most of the talking; you’ll need to learn to be a more empathetic listener
  • Reacting quickly and getting distracted during a conversation and fail to make the time to listen to others
  • Too competitive or ego-driven to listen effectively
  • Multitasking when people are talking—such as reading emails or text messages

Learn to listen like Oprah

None of the above is conducive to “empathetic” listening (or the more scholarly active-empathic listening—AEL): To listen empathetically you begin by having to actually care about what other people have to say about something. You listen actively and combine it with empathy by trying to understand others’ perspectives and points of view. And as “empathy” would indicate, the idea is to put oneself in another person’s place and try to see things from their point of view while including your own.

When you can do this, you recognize verbal and nonverbal cues, including tone, facial expressions, and other body language—you’re receiving information from all the senses and not just hearing. The more interested will want to probe a bit deeper, endeavoring to understand the feelings of others and acknowledge those feelings.
To help yourself toward this objective, you may offer responses like:
 
  • “Thank you for sharing your feelings on this situation…”
  • “It’s good to understand where everyone stands on this issue…
  • “Could you tell me a bit more about your thoughts on this situation..?
  • “You seem excited (happy, upset…) about this situation. I’d like to hear more about it from your perspective…”

From there is processing: this involves understanding the speaker’s intended meaning and keeping track of the points of the conversation. When this is done effectively you’ll have taken into account what the other is saying and will summarize their points of agreement and disagreement as well as capture the global themes and key messages from the conversation.

Sample responses:
 
  • “These are a couple of key points that I got from this meeting…”
  • “Our points of agreement and disagreement, as I understand them, are this…”
  • “Before we move on, we should get a few more pieces of information…”
  • “These some of my suggestions for our next steps—what do you think?

The person being heard should be assured that listening has occurred and that you’re encouraging the communication to continue. Being able to respond to the speaker effectively allows you to give appropriate replies through verbal acknowledgements, deep and clarifying questioning, or paraphrasing. Important non-verbal behaviors include facial expressions, eye contact, and body language. Other effective responses might include head nods, full engagement in the conversation, and the use of acknowledging phrases such as ‘That is a great point.’

Even more that better bosses can do

Employees want to be seen and heard. They’re also concerned with managers holding employees back and what they as an individual can or can’t do about it. It may be helpful for companies to implement non-traditional performance management programs that could instigate more frequent meet-ups between supervisors and subordinates as well as creating dynamic assessments of employee responsibilities and expectations. This should include the use of more frequent direct performance reports rather than annual or semi-annual assessments.

But follow-through is vital. Too often, such well-intentioned programs aren’t carried through by managers and scheduled check-ins aren’t honored. Without a commitment of time and attention by management, these programs can have little value. What this means is that the traditional paradigm of top-down management is in a full-scale change. When asked “how to improve personal relations with your boss?” employees most often cite accessibility and lack of interaction. Overwhelmingly, research has shown that the value of communication is in a free flow going in both directions. Employees want to feel they have value, and even if ultimately their input has limited affect, for their mental comfort, they feel better when they’re heard.

As is true in any relationship, listening is vital.