Adult Workplace Relationships for Business Success!

3 Oct

HR often criticizes managers for the way they communicate with employees. Sometimes we need to consider whether we are setting the best example. We are responsible for policies, compliance and many mandatory subjects. It is very simple to tell people what they must do, to let them know they are wrong, but the way we do it can set the tone for relationships, particularly with management, and possibly define the way we are seen as team members – or not!

If we, and management in general, focus on obedience (“just follow the rules”) employees may comply, responding to those in authority, but is that too short sighted? If we focus on commitment, with employees as partners who understand and have some say in what is happening, collectively we should have the potential to achieve far more.

I believe that we need to communicate with employees (including management) as adults, focusing on understanding and commitment rather than just compliance. We may need to take a stand on issues, that is normal, but we need to engage rather than scold, while at the same time building trust and mutual respect.  Do you agree?  It seems make sense from a human perspective and also when we consider what we are trying to achieve in the workplace.  For example:

  • To hope for an engaged workforce, employees need to feel that they are an integral and important part of the organization and their opinions are valued and respected. 
  • Sharing company information, goals etc. in a lecture style may inform (important to engagement) but unless communicated in a sincere adult way and reinforced, will not change the distance between employees and management. Employees may appreciate the effort by management, but still may not feel part of it – a pawn in someone else’s game!
  • Even more complex is encouraging employees to be innovative and creative.  There may be associated prizes and high level recognition, but it will not change the employee mindset if the environment is otherwise restrictive with them constantly being told what to do and (in their opinion) being treated as though they are unable to think for themselves.  Some employees may submit an occasional idea to win a prize, but there will be no major change unless a true employee thinking (and belonging) environment is promoted.

A key role of managers and supervisors is to translate senior management and HR messages and appropriately communicate them in the workplace.   However, if their bosses are constantly telling them what to do, rather than having discussion and inviting their input and opinion, the managers may be similarly blunt and indifferent when they pass on executive and HR messages, however nice, to employees. The need for adult relationships is necessary between all levels and if it is not the style of top management, it is unlikely to be the dominant style anywhere else. The executive may claim to be promoting engagement, but their actions will speak louder than their words.

Senior management and Human Resources must believe in the messages they are sending and communicate them convincingly.  It is not enough to devise a program or initiative to influence employees to be “better” if the principles are not reflective of the organization. They are particularly dangerous if executives and HR feel they are somehow exempt – that they are acting correctly and it is the employees who must change. Those seeking to create change must first seriously consider whether they need to modify any of their own behaviors consistent with what they are seeking from others.  They must also believe in what they are requiring from the workforce, both for them and employees.

What do you think? In seeking employee commitment, how important is it to promote an adult workplace environment? Is it more important than focusing on obedience and compliance? Is it necessary that true change be reflective of (evolving) corporate culture, affecting all employee levels and with the executive, HR and the highest level of management setting the example?

Thank you for your interest.  I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.




2 Responses to “Adult Workplace Relationships for Business Success!”

  1. Heidi De Wolf (@futurecatalyst) October 11, 2014 at 11:24 am #

    As with so many things, much depends on the maturity of the relationship between two people. It is not easy to change an organisations culture from compliance orientated to commitment orientated, especially where high performers, who are committed but prefer autonomy, mastery and purpose (Dan Pink) over complying with one-size-fits-all (aka one-size-fits-no-one) rules, policies and procedures that stop creativity and innovation, are micromanaged.

    Management practices, policies and procedures should on the one hand encourage autonomy when working with independent, autonomous thinkers and on the other give more structured coaching and support where needed by people who are still building their confidence up in becoming more autonomous. Both are ‘adult’ examples which put the other person at the centre of the interaction, without the need for ‘carrot or stick’.

    Organisational cultures are set at the top of the organisation and can significantly impact on an organisation’s ability to survive, especially in the current economic climate.

    • ianclive October 11, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

      Hi Heidi,

      Thank you for your very insightful comments. The way you summarize some of the key issues (causes and effects) is so pertinent and very helpful to those truly interested in implementing real change.

      Thanks, Heidi. Have a great weekend!


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