As a Manager, You Need to Build Your Relationship Before You Need It

Photo by istockphoto.com
Photo by istockphoto.com

“Every situation is different. In medical school you are trained on certain basic emergency situation. One you begin your practice, basically everything that comes before you is a variation of your medical training. Emergency room doctors are creative in their approach, there is never really a situation that is the same.”

That was a quote from the Emergency Medical Doctor this past weekend.

My son and I decided to start back the tradition that we had when he was younger. We would go deep sea fishing, which we had not done in years.

On the boat we had an accident, when my son was trying to unravel fishing lines, someone pulled from the other end. The hook went straight through his thumb. Once we got off the boat, we headed for the emergency room.

I have always been inquisitive about careers and how and why people chose them in the first place. Normally, my unscientific findings find that if a person’s career flowed from a passion and was pursued with vigor, the person is generally happy in their choice.

The question that I posed to the doctor was, “how are you capable to handle the varied situations that come through the door? Can a medical school possibly train you for all scenarios?”

His answer to my question resonated with me because in our field, regardless of the training that we bring to the table, the basic problems are still the same. It is the approaches and the possible solutions that need to be adjusted.

Whether your organization is facing engagement, talent management issues, leadership development or something else, the approach is different in each organization.

Manage by walking around

I was told a story the other day of how a company’s HR department pulled all managers into a room and wanted to know why the engagement levels were so low. No one spoke up. Everyone’s head was like a gyro spinning from face to face.

When I asked why no one responded, I was told that the HR person that was facilitating this was a person who sits in the office all day, not particularly friendly or responsive.

Now this person was looking for feedback. Problem is, there was no relationship — or better still, a trusting relationship.

Build it and they will come

Here is some insight: you must build the relationship before you need it. Once it is built, the feedback flows like water over the dam.

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Sometimes people are amazed that I talk to my son and daughter every day. Sometimes, I do it numerous times during the work day. My answer is that I built the relationship when they were small. Now, I just reap the rewards

A workforce can — and should — be managed the same way. Whether you are talking about HR, managers or executives, everyone must be approachable. Let that be your personal brand.

What we are faced with is unprecedented in the annals of workforce management. Our approach to the ills of your corporation can be best practices based, but every situation is totally different. We can’t all be Zappos or Google.

But, what we can do is build an approach that works for our organization. The most important step is to have that relationship and understand your culture.

Culture is the dictator

If you have spent years in HR and have spanned various industries and cultures, you know that each organization is different with a new set of challenges. What compounds the situation is that the economic turmoil, layoffs, etc, has thrown a wrench into all the basic approaches. This means that we are faced with what amounts to a high watermark in the HR space that will be referenced in years (and for years) to come. That is why culture is so important.

The pulse of your workforce will help in guiding you in the formulation of your plans.

So like the doctor in the emergency room, rely on your training but remember that every situation is different and the solutions will be different, because this is a new workforce that we have never worked with before.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

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