Did you have that experience as a freshman in high school where it seemed like the upper classes didn’t even know you existed? I’m guessing that feeling invisible to the cool kids is one thing that hasn’t changed over time. This memory floated up following a response to my January post, The Like Button. A manager wrote: “I think I’m on the right track in establishing a sense of belonging in my department, but I occasionally hear comments from employees about not feeling appreciated by the senior team.”
Along with being seen, a second condition for high belonging workplaces is to feel supported in daily work and career development. Uniquely, being supported by a senior leader means that employees see their top organizational leaders demonstrating their values and their humanness as well as endorsing their growth.
With senior administrators’ minds on the many pressures of the 40,000 foot view, it is understandable that day-to-day interactions fly under the radar some of the time. And yet -
If you were a freshman and a senior said hi to you and smiled at you kindly? Day made.
Front line managers can support both your employee teams and your senior team in their daily work to foster a high belonging workplace. Consider these responses to your employees’ comments:
- “We know you appreciate us, but the senior team doesn’t.” Respond with, “What actions would show you that they do appreciate you?” Take notes. Maybe they’ll suggest something concrete like having them walk through the department once in a while, getting an occasional note or email from them, remembering their name, smiling at them and saying hello in the hallway, etc.
- “They don’t even know what we do.” You might say, “Let’s fix that.” Ask them to identify their top three contributions, challenges, and improvement projects.
- “They don’t even notice that I graduated.” Make sure administrators know when an employee has made a big impact or achieved a goal, e.g. achieved a certification or degree, or a patient has noted how the staff member has made a big difference. Remind your administrator that a quick word or note of congratulations from them would mean a lot to the employee. Give them the details they need to reach out that way.
Share what you learn with your manager. If your manager is not part of the senior administration, engage them with you in sharing this feedback with your CEO, CFO, CNO, and any others who represent senior administration in your organization.
Include in your message delivery:
- WHY you are sharing it: You care about your department, and you also care about senior leaders and your intention is to communicate things that will put your senior team in the best possible light in the organization.
- WHAT you are hearing: It’s not helpful to say, “My team feels like you don’t care about them.” Be specific. “My employees shared that when you say hello to them, use their name and recognize their big achievements, it makes them feel like they matter to you. When you stop in the department to do rounding and pause to listen and note what people are saying, they feel heard, appreciated and valued.”
- ACTIONS you are requesting: Offer the senior team some concrete ways that they could acknowledge employees for their contributions and increase connections, e.g. ask them to attend a department meeting and provide any specifics they need to be effective in their interaction with your team.
If you are a member of a senior administration team, look at it this way: you matter and people want a connection with you.
- Listen humbly to feedback.Your first response needs to be THANK YOU for being open with me and giving me this feedback.
- Reflect on your opportunities to:
- Communicate more effectively about tough decisions. Are you honest and transparent when there are cuts in one area and growth in another? This common experience is a contradiction to employees that without open dialogue will result in mistrust of admin.
- Attend to how you walk through the building. Do you genuinely greet everyone, not just the employees you personally know?
- Visit department meetings, offer employee forums, etc. Do you get out to the departments on some kind of regular basis so that you can interact with employees?
- Round more purposefully with focused attention. Do you make sure to get and keep it scheduled, give it some forethought, and keep your attention on it while you’re there?
- Ask your managers for their support. They can share those specific contributions that you might not otherwise be aware of so that you can highlight them. Let managers know that you want them to be able to say with full confidence to their teams, “Administration DOES care about what we do here.” Then make it easy for those managers to be believable when they say it.
- Hold your senior peers accountable. If there is a colleague who is not demonstrating their support for employees, have an honest conversation with them about the impact their behavior is having and what is needed going forward.
- A little goes a long way. Presence is mostly about how you show up for the day-to-day interactions that build connection.
To effectively show your support, senior leader, you must understand that making your employees feel supported, seen and connected is not something you can delegate.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
||In Jo Anne's current role as Organizational and Workforce Development Senior Manager at the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative (RWHC) her aim is to offer to leaders straightforward tools and inspire the courage to use them.
Lead the Way in Five Minutes A Day: Sparking High Performance in Yourself and Your Team, by Jo Anne Preston is currently available for purchase.