Management 101: Connecting With Employees Beyond Their Job Description

Think back to grade school, high school, college, or your past jobs; I want you to think of the teacher or manager that during this period had an impact on your life. If you can’t relate to that time period, think of the person that connected with you in such a way that you still think of them. I want you to be able to explain why that person is special.”

This was my group discussion question as I led a manager development group the other week here in Dubai.

I wanted them to think of how that person connected to them and meant so much in their lives. This towering figure is one that comes across our minds from time to time, the warm glow comes from the positive interaction that you both had.

I reached out to one of my favorite teachers a while back and she was so shocked to hear from me. The thrust of my conversation was “thank you.”

Employee-manager equation

The most important dynamic within all organizations is the connection between a worker and their manager. That is the glue that holds all fragile organizations together. For the most part, it is not about the senior leaders although they should set the tone.

The No. 1 reason people leave their jobs is because of their managers and or culture, which connects back to their manager. Yet, organizations often neglect to emphasize this issue. Many managers don’t even realize the importance of making the connection beyond their job description.

As the manager demographic is skewing younger, in a lot of cases they have not been properly developed to understand their role in engaging their team.

That was what my little exercise was about — understanding “why” people made an impact on our lives.  Will we have the same effect on our people that we interact with either as managers or mentors? I mention the word “mentor” because I feel that the role of an effective manager today has morphed into the mentor/coach. Yes, skill set is important but your ability to connect with your people is paramount.

Moving beyond the 9-5 person

It is important today to understand the 360 degree person. Yes, the 9-5 person will get the job done, but the whole person is where the connection has to be made. That is the part of the person that will excel beyond the job description.

When we interview people, we interview 9-5 people because that is skill set we are looking for. This is a flawed concept because we are so focused on the job description. However we should look beyond that to find out as much as possible other aspects of this person, such as:

  • What is your overall career goal?
  • Do you feel you are headed in the right direction to reach it?
  • How is this job going to get you there?

A manager’s role is to serve

When it comes to their career goal, a key question for you as a manager is “How can I help you develop?”

Remember that their career goal may not be with your organization. However the career goal is very important to know because as organization’s expand into new businesses, you never know the skill set or talent equation that will be needed.

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The more you know about the people that report to you, the better equipped you are to “serve” them.

Sometimes, people are perfectly happy with their present job or the job they are trying to get because it enables the other dimensions of their life to develop. That’s important for them to understand, and for you as a manager to know.

When it comes to personal development, we should have as good a grasp as much as possible on their family and home life. Why, you may ask? It’s because a person’s personal life feeds back on professional performance and vice versa. We shouldn’t pretend that it doesn’t.

Understand the personal as well as professional

As a manager I would relish offline conversations around where my employees are developing as a “whole human being.” I wanted to know their post 5 pm passions and what drives them. These insights enable managers to connect to a higher level and gives the ability to nurture their development throughout your time with them.

The old manager’s mantra of “just the facts” was a great tool in its day, but no longer is effective.

If any of your past direct reports were in one of my sessions and I asked that same question from the beginning, would your name be among the chosen ones?

Would they talk about how your discussion helped shape their ability to manage and connect with people? Would they tell me how you were more than just their manager and was a guiding force in their career? Would they tell the group that you were the best manager they ever had?

If you are in doubt as to whether they would go there, maybe it is time for a “new manager” skill set inventory.

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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