Photo of Victorio Milian on January 23, 2015

Victorio Milian, Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

I once made an employee cry, and it felt good.

I was working for a client, and was having some difficulty connecting with some of the staff. This particular employee had been with
the organization for a while. Whenever we would talk, it was about her (mostly negative) perception of the Supervisors and Human Resources’ inability to help staff with their grievances against them. While she possessed a tough exterior, I knew she cared deeply about her clients (she worked with children in a daycare facility).

One day, as I was cleaning out some material from an old office at the client’s site, I came across a number of old photos. In one of them was the staff member, along with a young child’ possibly a former daycare student. She was smiling, which I never saw her do in person. So I took the photo and, when I next saw her, showed it to her.

And she started crying. Then she hugged me!

With that one interaction, I had broken through. She continued to be a valued contributor to the organization and while we didn’t become friends,
interactions between us after that became a lot easier.

I present this story to demonstrate that leadership can take many forms. Oftentimes, we’re tasked with motivating staff to accomplish organizational goals
by the “carrot or stick” method. The “carrot” is a metaphor for a reward, such as a competitive salary, benefits, or perks. The “stick” represents
punishment–loss of certain perks, progressive discipline, or termination–which can be motivating in certain contexts. These concepts have a purpose in
the workplace.

Motivating employees through rewards and/or punishments may not work in every case. Oftentimes, employees will perform at a higher level if they feel
engaged, as if they matter.

Aside from the idea of employees being engaged simply for the sake of their happiness, increased employee engagement can have an impact on the bottom line.

According to a 2014 Gallup poll, less than one-third (31.5%) of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs in 2014. The average is up nearly two percentage points from the 2013 survey. However, 51%, were still “not engaged” and 17.5% were “actively disengaged” in 2014. Gallup also found strong correlations between actively engaged work teams and increases in customer ratings, profitability, and productivity, with decreases in turnover, safety issues, and employee theft.

Leaders have a tough job.

They must create, articulate, and motivate those around them to fulfill organizational objectives. They have to make decisions that can have a widespread impact on the company’s health. Yet to those “in the trenches” it appears that decisions are being made in isolation, removed from the day-to-day realities that they face. This can turn to frustration, impacting productivity and morale. How then do you bridge the gap, to enable all parties to understand each other?

I don’t have an easy answer. Some solutions depend on organizational type, geography, internal demographics, and numerous other factors. Clear and
consistent communication is important. Being able to truly listen may help, as does putting different people together instead of letting them remain in their respective silos.

Finding those human connections between leaders and employees can help in that. And while you don’t have to make someone cry, it can help.

It worked for me!

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