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How to Build Relationships with Staff

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Navigate the fine line of learning about employees’ personal lives and keeping it professional.

Henry Yach III was in the middle of renewing his yearly contract for his shop’s uniforms when he asked his uniform vendor an innocuous question: “How’s it going?”

To Yach’s surprise, the vendor shared that one of his employees was undergoing surgery for his bone marrow cancer that day.

Yach was taken aback and asked if the vendor might want to pray with him. The two did and, later that day, Yach, the owner of Yach’s Body and Custom in Marathon County, Wis., received a phone call.

“The vendor called me back and said, ‘In all the years I’ve known someone, I’ve never known someone who cared immediately for someone he did not know,’” Yach says.

It’s why he’s a firm believer in taking the time to care—really care—about his employees. The simple act of inquiring if someone wants to talk or pray, he says, can have a huge effect on building trust and interpersonal relationships with the shop team.

But, there’s a fine line between caring and having a relationship that’s too close with employees. You still need to be able to act as the employee’s boss—not his or her friend—and blurring the two lines can make this more difficult.

Yach outlines how his practices help build relationships between him and staff members without crossing a boundary of any kind.

 

As told to Melissa Steinken

 

First, each day, it’s important to come in and make sure to spend time walking around the office and shop floor. This is a way to gauge if someone seems not like their usual self.

If you see an employee hunched over and scowling, stop and ask how they are doing that day. The interactions don’t usually last long but it’s a warning sign that something could be problematic with the employee if they have their shoulders hunched forward. Usually, if nothing is wrong, this takes about 30 seconds or 1 minute of interaction.

Most of the time, everyone is cheerful and everything is good. But, for those times when an employee is not having a good day, it’s vital to make sure to actively listen to that person.

If the employee responds and says everything is fine, then move on to talking about the work that person is performing and discussing what lies ahead in production for the day.

 

Next, if the person says he or she is having a bad day, then ask if he or she wants to go meet in your office to discuss the issue. Obviously, there’s a fine line between inquiring too much and while some business principles may counsel against this, I think there’s a cost to not getting close to your team and not having them feel like their boss cares about them.

I’ve seen my team become closer, not only with me but also with each other. There is a boundary between discussing the personal issue from home but when something is going on at home, it usually always finds its way to the workplace and vice versa. Showing your team that you have the capacity to listen, when they need it, will go a long way to build trust.

And, don’t be rushed. If you are busy, offer them a chance to talk another time. Don’t brush the problems off.

 

Finally, to do this on a consistent basis, you need to create meaningful moments with staff that connect leaders and staff, as well as provide insight. To do that, you need to take a critical look at your culture, your mission statement, and your values and make sure that is understood by every employee.

Part of the caring culture of my shop is created during the hiring process. During the onboarding process, get to know the new employee and vice versa. After each new hire, sit down with the person and teach him or her about the shop culture and values. Discuss the company mission statement and explain what it means, then inform the hire that your door is always open and that the person can come in to talk at any time. Your staff needs to know that you are not going to gossip if they come to you with a personal issue. They need to know you will be there for them. I think that has been key to my low turnover rate with 16 employees.

For example, my culture centers on a goal to get issues resolved within 24 hours. If someone is upset, I want either my manager or I to talk with the person before those hours are over.

If you need help being able to do that and having those meaningful conversations, don’t be afraid to get some help. A business group I joined recommended hiring someone to help with deeper issues. We hired a corporate chaplain to meditate any other issues between staff or with staff if there are medical emergencies or a family member becomes ill or dies.

 

Finally, it’s vital, as you’re building those relationships, to still be honest with employees as their boss. You can’t be so close with them that you become scared of offering feedback or delivering tough critiques. If performance standards are not being met, you have to just say it. Don’t hide that it’s an issue and this will also help create healthy, constructive dialogue within the team.

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