I’ve always been amazed that most leaders don’t take the time to get to know their employees on a personal and professional level. The ability to relate to employees provides an instant way to gain credibility and support. In fact, this ability to connect with employees is one of the traits I see in effective leaders. Those who do it well can motive teams, build morale, and increase productivity and results.
In my book, Profit Through Change, I share 15 actions effective leaders take to build relationships with employees. Three of these actions stand out as things you can start doing today to form relationships and increase employee morale.
- Talk to every employee, on every shift, every day. There is no better way to get to know your team then to talk to them. Effective leaders carve out time each day to visit with employees. This may seem daunting if you run a large organization. And, I will admit that around 500 employees is the cutoff for being able to implement this strategy effectively. But if you have a small to midsize team, your time commitment to talk with each person, each day is not insurmountable. Spend two hours total, or two-minutes per employee, each day. They will know you and you’ll know them. Some days you may simply offer a greeting. Other days, you may stop and discuss a family or work-related topic. You’ll likely notice a significant change in the way your employees interact with you, including how they bring issues forward. I personally found that most employees started sharing their concerns with me while I was at their station, and the number of employees who came to my office dwindled.
- Send handwritten cards.Throughout my career, I made a point of sending every employee a personalized card for major events, including their birthday, Christmas, the birth of a baby, a graduation or a wedding. With a factory of 800 employees, I would send out more than 3,000 handwritten cards a year. Here are a few tips to make this manageable:
- Recruit your admin to coordinate this effort. I relied on my administrative assistant to help keep track of who needed a card, when and what for. This was especially helpful when I traveled. She would have a stack of blank cards waiting for me with a list of who got them and for what reason.
- Order blank cards with the company logo on the front. From experience, this layout works best for these personalized cards.
- If you don’t know enough to write something personal, ask the person’s direct supervisor for more information. Always include a special message, specific to the person.
- Include the spouse. Sometimes I would send a gift card along with the note. It was a funny thing. When I gave them a gift card to a place my employee didn’t necessarily want to go to, but their spouse did… it was a win for the employee AND I created a relationship with their spouse.
- Send notes to your employees’ homes. You’ll be shocked at the response you get from employees and their spouses about this simple gesture.
- Celebrate milestones. Set metrics everyone can see and contribute to. Then celebrate when they hit those milestones. When I worked at Harley-Davidson I never missed a reason to celebrate with employees. I will always remember, as will the rest of the team at HD, when we were getting ready to release a new motorcycle. We were under some serious time constraints. I gathered the team and told them that we all needed to band together to get it done. And, when we did we would have a special celebration. When we reached our goal, we celebrated big. We flew in live lobsters from Maine, cooked up filets, and dined in style. It drew us together as a group and motivated the team to continue doing great work.
Leadership is a process. It takes time to develop relationships. But Relationship Leadership consistently produces short-term and long-term benefits. Put in the work and you’ll discover the significant positive impact it has on employee morale.