Want a more productive, competitive and engaged workforce? A workforce resilient in the face of the global and technological shifts we are beginning to experience? Then forget about the robots. Focus on the humanity of your employees.
photo: 1939 World’s Fair NYC, Crowd at International Ladies Garment Workers Union (Public Domain New York Public Library)

Leadership is a tough gig these days:

  • Four – soon to be five – generations in the workplace
  • Growing numbers of robots nudging human hands aside
  • Greater use of artificial intelligence nudging human brains aside
  • Changing attitudes and expectations altering the fundamental role of work in human lives
  • The rise of nationalism impacting the flow of talent across borders
  • Ever more restrictive regulations regarding data and people

Photo of China Gorman by Heather Bussing Photography

China Gorman, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor.

The list of dynamics affecting leadership and its ability to relate to – much less retain – its employees seems to grow longer every day. In spite of these dynamics, leaders are still responsible for the performance of the business. Responsible for the people, the humans who, under their leadership still have to perform. Still have to innovate. Still have to collaborate. Still have to exceed customer/shareholder expectations. Still have deliver. What’s a leader to do?

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the more automated the world of work gets, the more critical it is for leaders to create human connections with their employees. It’s not about getting the best from your employees, it’s about creating relationships that enable the best with your employees. With your humans.

Again, it may seem counter-intuitive, but the key to better human performance from employees is creating stronger, more pervasive human relationships with employees. This means creating relationships that go beyond job descriptions and org charts. It means knowing and being interested in what’s happening in the fullness of the lives of your employees. If we want to create relationships that are sticky with our employees, we have to create human relationships with them that go beyond the boss/subordinate relationship. They need to be human relationships. Again, it may seem counter-intuitive, but evidence abounds that a focus on human relationships leads to higher levels of performance. More effective human performance leading to more successful corporate, business performance.

So how to create strong human relationships with your human employees? It’s simple. And it’s hard.

My work and experience have shown that there are three behaviors that leaders must – at their core – embrace. And they must exhibit these behaviors consistently in order to create human relationships that will transcend the organizational and market conditions that might impact retention.

  1. Be fair and trustworthy
  2. Be approachable and personal
  3. Provide and acknowledge meaning

Be fair and trustworthy

Your employees need to trust that you are fair and politically free when making decisions. Your word needs to be rock solid. You must follow through on commitments. You must be reliable. You must be honest. No political dancing around issues. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Be approachable and personal

Your colleagues and team need to be able to connect with you. Don’t avoid eye contact or focus on paperwork or your cellphone when employees are around. Know your employees’ names. Know the names of their spouses/partners and kids. Be accessible. When you’re out and about make a point to stop and talk with people. Ask how they’re doing. Ask what’s new? Ask “what do you need?” Keep your office door open. Being approachable means being open to random, unscheduled team interactions. When when those interactions happen, be open, be present, and listen.

Provide and acknowledge meaning

When employees know the plan, know where they are in relation to the plan, know how what they do relates to the whole, when they are connected humanly and emotionally to their work, their colleagues, and the greater organization – great things happen for them, for your users/customers, for the organization.

These three behaviors aren’t new, by any means. They aren’t earth shattering. But consistently acted upon – without fail – they produce the kind of organizational and human outcomes that include higher engagement, lower turnover, fewer mistakes, higher quality, increased sales, higher profitability, more innovation, greater competitiveness… You get the idea. As I’ve frequently said, “everything you measure that you want to go up will go up, and everything you measure that you want to go down will go down” when human leaders really connect with human employees and colleagues.

Want a more productive, competitive and engaged workforce? A workforce resilient in the face of the global and technological shifts we are beginning to experience? Then forget about the robots. Focus on the humanity of your employees. And commit to being a human leader…of humans.

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