Q: I was just hired into a role managing a small group of technical employees. From what I can gather, their former manager’s style took a toll on the morale of the entire department. These employees behave in a very timid and introverted manner. They seem afraid of their own shadows. There is very little interaction. Employees come in and put their heads down and do their work. No one goes to lunch together. It is concerning to me. How do I improve the work environment? The other departments seem ok to me. I really think it is just my department.
A: As the new manager, you have a tremendous opportunity to rebuild and repair the culture. First, ask questions and observe your department in a non-threatening way. Meet with your employees one-on-one. Ask them what they like and dislike about their jobs. Listen, really listen when you meet with employees. No cell phones, no checking emails, no distractions and good eye contact. Having a voice and a safe place to share likes and dislikes is incredibly important. You are also sending a message to your employees. Your message is “I am listening. I care. I hear you. You are important to me.” What a wonderful message to send as a new manager!
Second, as you develop a rapport with your employees, ask them what one thing they would change about their work life. Sometimes you will be able to make a small change that will be simple and improve an employee’s work life considerably.
Third, ask your employees for ideas on how to improve the workplace. For technical employees, sometimes professional development is of interest. Or, do employees want a chance to connect on a regular basis with their peers over pizza and sodas? I could give you 1001 ideas on how to improve your workplace. But who knows better than me? Your employees.
Don’t get discouraged if one or two of your ideas are met with little fan fare and few accolades. Sometimes it takes time for employees to understand that your motives are pure. Employees who are detached may take time to re-engage. It takes time. You will have to earn their trust.
Lastly, keep an open door. Ask questions. Be approachable. Walk the talk. Employees will appreciate your effort. Cultural change requires effort and it takes time.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
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