To paraphrase musical maestros Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, getting to know you is the first step in getting to like you. And getting to like someone means you’re more willing to go the extra mile for them.
If you’re a fan of show tunes, you’re familiar with “Getting to Know You,” penned by Rodgers and Hammerstein for their 1951 musical “The King and I.” As it turns out, getting to know you isn’t just a sweet song, it’s also a proven way for managers to boost employee engagement.
“Individual contributors choose to be led by a human being, not by titles or credentials,” said Joan Dasher, vice president of employee engagement practice for BlessingWhite, a consulting company. “Managers or leaders need to be able to show themselves to a certain extent, to become known.”
According to a research survey of more than 3,500 professionals in North America and Europe conducted by BlessingWhite, employees who report knowing their manager well as a person are consistently more engaged than those who don’t. In North America, 87 percent of engaged employees report having a positive working relationship compared to 30 percent for those who are disengaged.
Getting to Know What?
There’s a difference between being known to employees and getting personal. Personal details about family and lifestyle can be useful and powerful, but should be used appropriately.
Instead of sharing personal details for the sake of sharing, Dasher recommended framing personal anecdotes and experiences around a manager’s values that are tied to professional or organizational goals. The intention is to be authentic and demonstrate passion.
For example, a story about how parents made personal sacrifices so a manager could get a good education can demonstrate the values that drive that manager’s workplace behavior with employees. “Sharing that story helps them understand why you continue to focus and support them in their own development,” Dasher said.
Being known also means discussing individual strengths and weaknesses and deploying that awareness as a tool to inspire others. “It’s good to know our manager needs us,” she said. “Sometimes by showing some relevant vulnerabilities, it helps followers see a way that they’re needed and makes them feel more significant.”
There is a fine line to tread, however. The ultimate trick in making a personal connection is balancing the personal and professional, knowing when and what to share and when and what to hold back.
“The inherent tension of leadership is you have to know and show yourself enough but you also have to keep back because you are the leader as well,” Dasher said.
Getting to Be Known
Dasher said talent managers can help leaders become better known and drive higher employee engagement in the process by helping them develop their ability to connect with employees.
“There’s been an awful lot of focus on how to manage time well, how to manage resources, how to come in under budget — the competence side of the equation,” she said. “It’s equally important that managers get the ability to develop and build their muscles around these connection skills.”
There are formal programs to help managers develop connections, and coaching can help, too. But however they’re developed, Dasher said leaders need to be able to practice connection skills before they actually attempt to deploy them, as it doesn’t come natural to many.
“It is uncomfortable [and] it is something new,” she said. “Providing the environment where someone can acquire the skill and practice it with peers or with trusted others before they actually go and deploy it with the workforce is essential.”
While it may make some uncomfortable and take a long time for connection muscles to develop, the end result is a strengthened, productive relationship.
“The more you can be authentic and real and bring those pieces out, the more effective as a manager you will be because people will know you better as a human being, they’ll be more engaged and continue to help support you,” Dasher said.
Too often, managers go about their work lifelessly, routinely going through actions without revealing what drives them at their core.
“It seems like managers leave their passion at the door,” Dasher said. “They leave themselves at the door and they come and become ‘the manager.’ What we’re asking them to do is to bring that piece of themselves in and to share who they are as a human being to connect with others, because ultimately followers want to follow a human being.”
Sounds like exactly what Rodgers and Hammerstein had in mind.
Mike Prokopeak is vice president and editorial director at Talent Management magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.