If you need a new way to engage employees, roll up your sleeves. And ask your front-line managers to do the same.
Sure, as an HR pro, you’re great at leading other people, but could you do their jobs? Can your front-line managers – whether they came up through the ranks or not – do the jobs of their direct reports?
If not, it’s probably time to learn a little bit more. The payoff goes beyond cross-training, too.
While it might not seem important that the boss knows how to do employees’ work, research found the exact opposite is true. A manager’s understanding of employees’ work has the biggest impact on employee satisfaction, according to a study in the Industrial and Labor Relations Review. And when employees are happy, they can be as much as 12% more productive!
You cast a long shadow
“The bottom line is that employees are happiest when the boss knows what he or she is talking about,” say the researchers Benjamin Artz, Amanda H. Goodall and Andrew J. Oswald. “The boss casts a long shadow …. Your own team’s job satisfaction levels depend on your competence.”
Knowing what employees do and how they do it builds empathy for their stress and triumphs, too.
But you don’t have to know the intricacies of everyone’s daily work. You just want to know more about their work and capitalize on what they know.
Here are some steps to take:
Many managers came up through the ranks, so they know how to get the job done.
But it’s likely that things – processes, technology, resources and demands – have changed over time. What worked then may not be the best approach now – and employees live that reality every day.
To stay up to date on their work (or learn what it’s all about if you’ve never done the work):
- Roll up your sleeves. Work side-by-side at least once a quarter. Fill in for them at least once a year.
- Ask questions. Employees are often so good at their jobs, they’re on autopilot. Ask why they do things a certain way and how that turned into their “best practice.” This helps both of you understand the work better.
- Review and rewrite job descriptions. Duties change and roles adapt over time. After you’ve worked closely with employees, check that the job description and specific tasks reflect the current reality. If it doesn’t, work together to update it.
Capitalize on their knowledge
There’s a good chance many employees will know more than you about their jobs and the overall operation.
Use their experience to the advantage of teams and the company overall. Here’s how:
- Get their insight regularly. Employees who’ve been at your company for a long time see what works and what doesn’t. That makes them a great resource. You can’t see everything that happens at their level, and they can bring front-line insight to you.
- Don’t overlook newer employees. While they might not have a handle on your best practices, they may have insight on things that have worked well elsewhere – and are willing to share.
- Focus on the takeaway. When you do get their feedback, absorb everything they have to say, without letting it turn into a rant on everything that’s wrong. Instead, keep the focus on the takeaway. You want action steps that will help you fully understand the work and ways to support employees doing it.
- Create a partnership. Not every employee will be a fountain of knowledge. Some will prefer to stay in a silo. With those who want to share and possibly expand their roles, think about how you can combine their knowledge and your leadership to move the department or company forward.