All industries share similar challenges when it comes to managing staff. Communicating with and correcting staff is a daily task that has a huge impact on your organization’s success because it affects morale, individual performance, and even your ability to retain the right people.
Forbes contributor Renee Sylvestre-Williams says, “Managers who don’t create the right opportunities for their employees, don’t communicate with them, and don’t appreciate them often find themselves dealing with a high turnover rate.”
Here at Classy, we’ve enjoyed very low employee turnover, due in part to our managers’ ability to retain and develop talent. We interviewed managers on the Classy team to find out their best practices for motivating, critiquing, and communicating with team members. Although these supervisors work in a variety of departments, there were several principles that came up again and again. These four tips will help managers create great working relationships, improve individual weaknesses, and stay in tune with employees.
1. Give Feedback in Private
Nearly all the managers we interviewed noted the importance of the setting in which they give employees feedback. “Speaking privately is always more appropriate when dealing with correcting behavior,” said Sales Manager Andrew Collins. The reasoning behind this is it allows the employee to focus on the work they need to do, not what their coworkers think about them. Speaking privately also gives employees a chance to ask follow-up questions and bring up any issues affecting their performance.
Sales Manager Brad Chrisakis sums up his approach by saying, “Praise in public and provide feedback in private.” This was a common thread among the answers, but others pointed out that some employees don’t want to be the center of attention. One strategy Classy managers have used is to send out a quick survey asking team members how they prefer to have their accomplishments recognized, whether it be in private, with your team, in a company meeting, or any other way.
Constructive criticism, though, is better delivered in a one-on-one exchange, rather than putting someone on the spot in public.
2. Treat Employees as Individuals
Supervisors said it was very important to pay attention to your teammates’ personalities and adjust your approach to meet their needs. “Always remember each employee is different and you cannot manage them all the same. Find out their motivators, what they want out of their career path, all the while assessing their skill set, strengths, and areas of opportunity,” explained Director of People Operations Dina Rulli.
Much like a teacher, a manager must unite people toward common goals while recognizing that they learn and work differently. Pay attention to what kind of feedback or encouragement individual employees respond to. For example, an employee who cares for her coworkers and wants them to do well might be motivated to improve when her manager points out how her results are holding back others.
“For me it’s knowing that I manage nine very unique individual performers and personalities. I HAVE to have one solid message and be able to translate it in nine different languages,” said Nic Hughart, a sales manager. To get to know your employees’ working styles, don’t be afraid to simply ask what you can do to help. “Every week ask them what you could be doing better to fit their style,” advised Brad Chrisakis.
For example, you might find that some people need to ask questions and talk through a new process whereas others may learn better by jumping right into guided practice. When trying a new approach to training or giving feedback, ask staff whether they found it helpful.
3. Be a Coach, Not a Boss
“People don’t want to be told what to do, they want to be coached. That is an important distinction,” said Collins. The difference is that coaching empowers someone to improve, it puts the employee’s success in their own hands.
If a basketball player wasn’t performing well, a good coach can’t make them play better. But he can tell the player what skills they need to develop and suggest a couple of drills to practice on their own. Like a coach, a good manager guides employees to work hard to better themselves and benefit the team.
Managers also suggested asking employees what they succeed and struggle with. This can help the individual reflect on their performance and collaborate with their supervisor to make a plan for improvement. “Make it their idea and it sticks more and hits home deeper,” Hughart said.
Asking employees about the tasks they struggle with sends the message that you want to work with them to solve the problem and shows that you value their experience and opinion. Together, a supervisor and employee can set some action items for improvement.
4. Prioritize Transparency and Constant Communication
Having specific goals and clear expectations sets your team up for success. Several managers expressed the importance of checking in with employees frequently to make sure everyone knows where they stand in regards to personal and organizational goals. The key is to constantly evaluate where you are in relation to where you want to be.
Several Classy managers hold weekly or biweekly one-on-one meetings with their employees. This keeps both parties accountable and in constant communication. “I make sure to give one piece of constructive criticism and one accolade for the week,” said Shanna Birky of the Progress team. “The piece of constructive criticism can be as simple as ‘Hey, I know you know about this subject, you should have spoken up at this last meeting.’”
Shanna’s example shows how even when correcting employees, you can acknowledge their strengths.
But transparency and communication is also important on the team level. “If one person on the team is struggling or overloaded, a good manager should call on others to pitch in. The success of the team or a project should never rely only on one person’s shoulders,” said Rulli. “If you can create good synergy together, celebrating together is that much sweeter.” Maintaining open communication across your team also helps create and sustain a culture of collaboration.
With any employee feedback or evaluation, though, follow-up is vital. When employees commit to working on a particular skill or metric, check in over the following weeks to reinforce improvement and help them weather any bumps in the road. “I always try to make sure to follow up with a positive in our following meeting if I found improvement on that piece of advice,” said Birky.
Giving feedback and managing people is an ongoing task with huge ramifications for your organization. Empowering employees to solve problems and improve creates a culture of growth and innovation from which any nonprofit will benefit. By following a few simple guidelines, any supervisor can help their teams improve as groups and individuals.
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