I confess to always being slightly baffled by the way, the moment we find ourselves inside a workplace environment, half of the basic principles we know and understand about how to conduct human relationships appear to fly out of the window.
Outside of work, we tend to know, almost without thinking about it, the things that those we have personal relationships with – be that friends, family members or a partner – expect from us in order for that relationship to remain strong and robust. Having grown up with that understanding, it seems almost inexcusable that so many of us forget these basics when we walk through the office or factory door.
Organisations obsess over employee engagement and how they can really win the hearts and minds of their people. May I politely suggest that, in order to do so, it really is very little more than ensuring the base principles – that all of us generally manage in our personal lives – are firmly in place, and that, no matter how busy our workloads get, no matter how senior we might rise within an organisational hierarchy… these are the absolute fundamentals that we never, ever let slip.
#1 Tell the truth
People aren’t stupid; and most of us aren’t nearly as good at telling lies as we’d like to kid ourselves we are. Chances are, if what you’re saying isn’t the truth, those around you are going to see through it. And what that does is it will – often irrevocably – impact on the trust and confidence those you work with have in you. Telling the truth isn’t always easy, but an environment where people can trust their colleagues, managers and leaders to be honest with them is an area where you absolutely cannot compromise if you want those you work with to emotionally commit to the cause.
#2 Genuinely care
It’s the first rule of people management, right? – if you manage people, you have to put in regular time with them. In fact, it’s the first rule of relationships, full stop. If you want a meaningful relationship then regular human interactions are fundamental to building and maintaining that relationship. But back to #1 above: people aren’t stupid. If you’re spending time with a direct report or a team member, on the face of it asking them how they’re doing, it will be all too obvious if you’re not really listening or invested in what their answer is. To win hearts and minds, you have to commit your heart and mind; and demonstrating to people that you don’t really care is one of the quickest ways to damage their engagement levels.
#3 Be responsive
I’m not always great at responding to my friends’ text messages. I know that I should really go back to them as quickly as possible, but it’s all too easy for several hours – even days – to go by before I remember to send my response.
If I do that once or twice, I’ll likely get away with it. However, if I become a serial non-responder, what will happen? They’re going to lose trust and confidence in me. They’re probably going to stop texting me. It might even damage our friendship irreparably.
The same principle is true in the workplace – even more so, because quite often, when our colleagues and direct reports are reaching out to us, they’re doing so to get support, or because they can’t deliver an outcome without our input. Knowing they can rely on us to respond is absolutely fundamental to our relationship. If our responses are delayed, partial, or even non-existent… we can stop trying to kid ourselves that that relationship is going to be in any way productive or enable us to deliver.
#4 Share goals
This links back to telling the truth. For a long time, the overall goals of most organisations out there were clouded in secrecy. Over time, senior teams have got better at bringing these to life and cascading throughout the organisation. If we truly want our teams on board and working effectively for us though, we have to make our shared goals completely transparent and front and centre of our day to day interactions. Hearts and minds are won by shared pursuits; not by isolation and confusion.
#5 Accept our imperfections
None of us are perfect. If we think about the relationships we have in our personal lives, it’s likely that the strongest of these are precisely because of the other person’s unwavering acceptance of us, flaws and all. Our reactions inside of the workplace can for some reason be disproportionate: if a friend made a minor mistake you’d probably barely pass comment on it; if a colleague or direct report made a minor mistake the response can often be very different.
It’s all back to Maslow. To be able to fully achieve our potential at work, we have to feel we are in an environment which is safe, where we are looked after, enabled to do our job, treated with respect and are genuinely cared about.
If we want to win hearts and minds, then we can forget about free fruit in the office and beanbags in our meeting rooms. It’s getting the basics right – of not just workplace relationships, but of any relationship – that really makes the difference.