4 mistakes you're making when trying to improve your relationship with your employees

A good manager-employee relationship is central to achieving results, but managers are going about building these relationships in all the wrong ways, writes Kim Scott for Harvard Business Review.

Scott is the author of New York Times bestseller Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing your Humanity. Drawing from her experience leading tech giants like Google and Apple University, as well as coaching CEOs at Dropbox and Twitter, Scott identifies four pitfalls to avoid when building employee relationships.

Don't forget to listen

What not to do: Managers tend to build their employee relationships around office holiday parties or other social events, rather than the work they share, writes Scott. An obsession with socializing can be a drain on your work day or even take over your personal life, she warns. Work relationships that revolve around socializing rather than communicating can even push employees out of the firm, Scott writes.

What to do instead: Focus less on socializing and more on listening. To build a strong, collaborative relationship with your employees, "make sure they feel heard," writes Scott. She recommends starting by holding one-on-one meetings where your employee sets the agenda. And remember that a good manager doesn't just listen to their direct reports, but everyone who works for them, Scott notes.

Ditch the small talk

What not to do: Don't spend your time gabbing about sports or the weather. Your employees aren't looking to you for TV recommendations; they want someone who can "help them grow professionally," Scott writes.

What to do instead: Forget small talk and focus on helping your employees grow. And "people grow most when they make mistakes," notes Scott. Build strong relationships by giving specific and sincere feedback, Scott recommends. Feedback includes both praise and criticism. Don't praise to "boost egos, praise to boost learning and growth," she advises.  

Don't rely on perks

What not to do: Perks won't create an engaging culture on their own. In fact, perks can feel "exceptionally empty" if your team is not actually achieving results or don't feel like their contributions are recognized, Scott warns.

What to do instead: Put the Ping-Pong table on the back-burner and focus on "achieving results collaboratively," Scott suggests. You can do this by "nurturing new ideas, creating a culture of debate, and making it clear who owns decisions and why," writes Scott. According to Scott, making these tweaks will let you "deepen your relationships with collaboration, not extra perks."

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Don't obsess over promotions

What not to do: Helping your employees reach their career goals is a surefire way to build a strong relationship. But only discussing promotions will result in career conversations that are "narrow and uninspiring," warns Scott.

What to do instead: Before you can help your employees reach their goals, you need to "get to know them on a human level," writes Scott. To do this, Russ Laraway, Scott's cofounder, identifies three types of conversations managers should have with their employees. As a leader, you should first "listen to the employee's life story to learn what motivates them, ask about their dreams of the future, and then develop an action plan focused on their life goals, not a promotion," writes Scott. If you incorporate these conversations, you can "move the needle on employee satisfaction," she writes (Kim Scott, Harvard Business Review, 7/27).


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