Sept. 24-30, 1999
Study of staff morale shows respect is key
Managers build strong relationships with employees
VA 2020 Science and Technology Planning Commission to hold workshops Sept. 23-25

NEH recognizes two U.Va. web sites

Women's Club entertains Virginia 2020 themes
Q&A - Dean Sondra Stallard on a mission
After Hours - Couple spends weekends horsing around
Housekeepers honored at picnic
Hot Links - Intramural-Recreational Sports
Stephen Cushman publishes narrative on Civil War battle
Woodson Institute fellows announced

In Memoriam

Sounds of Indian flute to fill Old Cabell Hall on Oct. 2


Managers build strong relationships with employees

By Nancy Hurrelbrinck

Having -- or being -- a good manager can make the difference between employees being engaged with their work or simply marking time. From administrators to academic department chairs, supervisors are crucial to their organization's performance.

So what constitutes a good manager? According to several U.Va. experts, on the front line as well as in research, strong management includes having a clear vision, hiring well, delegating responsibilities, building strong relationships with employees and rewarding good work.

Communicate a vision

A manager needs to have a clearly defined vision of the department's purpose and should seize opportunities to communicate it to employees, said John Lord, director of Organizational Development and Training.

"When a manager hires, promotes, recognizes good work or corrects bad, these are all opportunities to [convey] what really matters, what the organization cares about."

Supervisors will be better leaders if they "walk the talk," Lord added. Employees figure out quickly if a manager's actions belie his words.

James G. Clawson, associate professor at Darden, agreed, adding, "A manager has a prescription from others about what he's supposed to be doing and is herding people through it. A leader has defined his vision and is doing everything he can to encourage others to voluntarily participate in it."

Hire and train with care

"Pick people who are smarter than you are," advised Cheryl Gomez, director of utilites at Facilities Management, who oversees six divisions, including about 90 employees. "Allow them to have their own areas of expertise."

Lord advises having a thorough orientation and on-the-job training for new employees, in which the manager continually reinforces what he expects from them, including things that aren't listed in the job description. For example, an often unstated expectation for receptionists is to ensure that every interaction results in customers having a positive view of the office.

Responsibilities, not tasks

A good manager "discovers" people's strengths and helps them build on these by letting them take on responsibilities, not just tasks, Gomez said.

"For this to be successful, the manager must be able to completely let go of the projects -- even though it' hard to give up fun things or to keep from stepping in to help when those first steps are being taken -- while ensuring that the employee has the skills, resources and support to be successful."

She added that when she came to U.Va. five years ago, she was swamped with responsibilities. She realized that the nine people who report to her could take on some of them, so she delegated some of the "interesting and challenging" duties. She made her workload more manageable, while enhancing that of others, she said.

"People grow as they take on more responsibility, as they stretch themselves, and their comfort level increases," she said.

Build strong relationships

It's important for managers to create strong relationships with and among employees, said associate professor Martin N. Davidson, who teaches organizational behavior at Darden. "That's what allows the unit to work effectively and productively."

Managers should "actively create a sense of community making agreements, norms and rules of behavior explicit," he said. "Try to create trust between people. Once that's in place you can do the work."

One advantage to building trust among employees is that it helps them to feel comfortable going to one another to tap one another's strengths, said Gomez.

It's just as important for a manager to have a strong relationship with employees when their performance is lacking, said Brad Holland, University ombudsman.

When there is problem, it should be addressed directly, though not necessarily immediately, he said. "If you're upset, don't meet with him right away; wait until you have cooled off."

But do meet, he adds. "Often people who aren't getting along avoid each other. If managers spend time developing relationships with their employees, it makes it so much easier when they're calling them about a problem."

"When someone's performance is mediocre," Gomez said, "the tendency is to micromanage or abandon the person. Try to find their strengths and let them know you value them. I really believe most people want to do a good job and make a valuable contribution."

Get support

Managers need to remember to get support for themselves, Lord said.

"People bring unrealistic expectations to managers, looking for the things they didn't get from school, from their parents, their loved ones," he said.

"The most successful managers understand their own humanness and recognize their own limitations. They keep things in perspective and have a sense of humor. They forgive themselves for their mistakes, forgive others and don't hold grudges."

Tap into employees'values

In his new book, Level Three Leadership: Getting Below the Surface, James G. Clawson recommends trying to engage employees in terms of their core values and beliefs.

"If we can't work with people at the level of their core beliefs, as non-profit organizations always have, we get a mercenary kind of climate and minimal effort. If you want to have a competitive organization, you have to restructure work in a way that acknowledges and deals with [people's values],"he said.

Clawson discerns three approaches to leadership:

  • Level One focuses on employee behavior; the message is: "Here are the things you are expected to do. I don't want you to think about it; just do it."
  • Level Two focuses on employee thinking, "Here's your job; here are the outcomes I expect. What do you think is the best way to achieve them?"
  • Level Three focuses on employee's core values and beliefs, "Here's my view of what needs to be done. What are you trying to accomplish in your life, and is there a fit between the two, so both can resonate at work?"

Level Three leadership includes "an awareness and appreciation of why people work," he said. "The challenge is to connect the organization's dreams and employees' personal dreams."


© Copyright 1999 by the Rector and Visitors
of the University of Virginia

UVa Home Page UVa Events Calendar Top News UVa Home Page