5 ways to build relationships with your direct reports

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According to studies by the National Business Research Institute, employees cite lack of communication as their number one complaint with their employer. You can avoid this pitfall by creating avenues for communication and building relationships with your direct reports.

Building relationships of trust takes time. It’s important to invest in your relationships, so you can have honest conversations, give each other feedback, and work efficiently. It can feel daunting at first, but relationships are built little by little. Implement small habits that will ensure you’re on the right track.

1. Use walkaround management.

Face-to-face communication makes a huge impact. As a busy manager, you may find yourself leaning on quick and easy modes of communication: chat, email, or Slack. That’s all fine, but make sure to check in with your direct reports in person, too.

Casually stop by a desk and say hi, rather than waiting to talk in formal meetings. These informal check-ins give you the opportunity to say hello and hear what’s going on in people’s lives, and you can also get spur-of-the-moment feedback that you might not otherwise hear. Sometimes checking in at the right time means you’ll get details as events unfold or you’ll discuss things that perhaps seem too insignificant for a sit-down meeting.

“Management by walking around” or MBWA has been proven to yield results. Your employees will feel more connected to you and likely feel more engaged in general.

2. Celebrate small successes.

It’s easy to celebrate huge milestones. When an employee makes a big impact on your bottom line, you want to go all-out to reward their hard work. However, it’s just as important to recognize minor milestones and small wins. Employees need smaller, short-term goals to keep them engaged in achievable results.

Every day, look for opportunities to show appreciation for progress of any kind. As managers, we should look beyond direct impact to revenue and reward behaviors that are difficult to quantify, such as good communication, collaboration, and self-awareness. These behaviors can greatly affect your team morale.

3. Set one-on-one meetings.

When you meet with direct reports in formal one-on-one meetings, you can have deep and constructive conversations. Be present in these meetings, avoid distractions, take notes, and remember details. If an employee brings up an idea or feedback, remember to follow up. Ask questions to find out what’s important to each employee—both inside and outside of work—so you can align goals accordingly.

Just as it’s important to have casual check-ins, it’s also important to hold formal meetings that give everyone time to prepare and think through feedback and discussion points beforehand.

4. Write personal notes.

In my years of management, it’s been surprising to discover how much people love getting cards and personal notes. I’ve bought flashy gifts, I’ve planned elaborate activities and outings, and I’ve thrown parties. But when I ask people what I’ve done as a manager that made them feel appreciated, no one mentions the gifts or outings. Everyone brings up the notes.

Let me be clear: I’m not doing anything fancy. I write straightforward cards or quick blurbs, and I keep the message short, personal, and sincere. I thank each person for something specific and describe its impact. That’s it. I’ve seen employees keep these notes for years and hang them up at their desks. Small gestures can have a remarkable impact.

5. Delegate often.

Sometimes delegating can feel like you’re giving extra work to your employees. But delegating enables you to better manage your time, and it gives employees room to grow and hone new skills. If you hoard responsibilities, you’ll never promote your employees—and that’s the best part of management.

Find people on your team who show leadership potential. If they can perform a task 80% as well as you, delegate away. Mentor your employees, guide them with honesty and kindness, and prepare them for the next steps in their careers.

Building relationships takes time, but you can help the process by implementing thoughtful behaviors. Try to talk to your direct reports every day, and if you lead managers, try to talk to their direct reports at least once a week. If you go out of your way to make these small gestures a daily habit, I promise that you’ll see huge results in terms or morale, retention, commitment to the team.

By ashley walton
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