Managers: Have time for your people

Do you have time for your employees? Or do you have more important things to do?

John from Seattle wrote a frustrated comment at my blog some time ago. One of his colleagues at a huge IT project is simply not cutting it: He is always late, he never meets his deadlines and he doesn’t respect agreements. John has raised these issues with his colleague several times without any success, and now he feels that it’s time for his manager to step in.

And John’s manager would very much like to discuss this with him the next time he has a bit of space left in his schedule – which is in three weeks! That’s not good enough because in the meantime John grows more and more frustrated having to do his own job as well as that of his incompetent colleague. John is this close to just quitting – and the company is close to losing a valuable employee just because his manager hasn’t got time to talk to him.

A few years ago The Danish Association of Managers and Executives published a study showing that 60% of Danish managers have too little time for their work because they spend too much time on their employees.

What a load of nonsense! As a manager, your employees are your job. Your very first priority is to keep them happy and productive. Of course all managers have other things to do as well, but if you put your own assignments above those of your immediate subordinates, the result will be an increase in one person’s efficiency (yours) at the expense of that of 10-20 others (depending on how many you are responsible for).

If you’re not 10-20 times more productive than them, that’s a really bad idea.

So you need to have time for your people every single day. Time for two things: creating and maintaining good, friendly relations and handling any crises that may arise.

Some of the world’s top executives have already caught on: Marissa Mayer, in her time at Google opened her office door every afternoon between 4 and 5.30. There was a signup sheet on the wall and couches and WiFi in the hall outside so people could work while they waited. During this hour and a half, all Google employees could present their questions, doubts, wishes or ideas.

A few years ago, IKEA held a European executive meeting in their store in Gentofte, Denmark, and founder Ingvar Kamprad was present too. When the meeting ends, Ingvar takes a stroll through the store, kindly and smilingly greeting each and every employee. He encounters two female employees talking to each other and approaches them with a smile and the words: “And what are too such lovely ladies talking about then?” – following up with giant hug for them both. Not bad for a man who’s a multi-billionaire in charge of well over 100,000 people worldwide – and 86 years old.

Many managers believe that it’s enough to just proclaim that “My door is open”. Well, it’s a good start, but your schedule is also open – or do you have wall-to-wall meetings for many weeks to come? So what exactly can YOU do make time for your employees? I’ve got two simple and effective tips for you:

Tip No. 1: Say good morning!
A kind greeting from the boss has a completely amazing effect. But it’s not enough to just put your head through the door and yell good morning to the room in general. Walk the aisles and give each and every employee a personal greeting. Shake hands, look people in the eyes, and connect with people – “Did you have a nice weekend?”; “Did you watch the game yesterday?”; “Is your son doing better?”.

Tip No. 2: Reserve five minutes for an employee every day – without any particular agenda.
Just talk to a new one every day, simply to find out how things are going. You can make a list to help you keep on top of whom you have talked to and when and ensure that you get around to everybody eventually.

This will strengthen your relationship with all your employees, but you will also hear a lot that you might not have been told otherwise.

Do these steps sound trivial? Well, you’re right, they are – but that’s why they work! They’re so simple, they cost nothing, they take (almost) no time at all, and every manager can do them.

And if you don’t think you can find time for them, my answer is simple too: You can’t afford not to! How many good employees do you risk losing if you haven’t got time for them? And how much will it cost you to replace them?

4 thoughts on “Managers: Have time for your people”

  1. Bang on! I must say I agree 100% with the consequences mentioned in the peice. “My doors are open” is more like a generelised statement and not really a solid connector. It’s critical to make your subordinates realise that they belong and communication is the only key.Is it really that difficult to spare 5-10 minutes in a day? not really, never.. Excellent tips!

  2. Doesn’t sound like management… Sounds like like leadership which is two very different things. Management and leadership come in different forms, although they overlap in some areas they should not be confused…

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