Build an Emotional Bank Account with Your
Employees: Save for a Rainy Day
By Quint Studer
do your employees say communication could be better? Would they like
more input into corporate decisions? Do they wish their contributions
were more appreciated? If so, consider focusing more attention on
“building an emotional bank account” with your employees. Not only
is it the right thing to do, it’s good insurance for the future.
Eventually, your employees will feel
let down—so you must ensure there’s enough emotional capital in
the account for that metaphorical rainy day.
leaders truly want to do the right thing. They want positive,
productive, trust-based relationships with their people. But let’s
face it: perfection doesn’t exist in leaders or in companies. You
put in enough “deposits” so that when the inevitable
“withdrawals” are made—let’s say you forget to say
you or you have to institute pay cuts—there’s enough goodwill
in the account to salvage those relationships.
are usually weightier than deposits—so great leaders do everything
they can to make more of the latter. For instance:
Diagnose employee satisfaction—and act on the results. Use a
proven, respected assessment tool to figure out where your problems
lie. Then, commit to solving them. One of the biggest issues we see in
our work with clients is that people say, “Well, they measured our
satisfaction but nobody responded to what we said.” We advise
organizations to be open about the results and have everyone to vote
on the top three issues. Eventually, you should address them all, but
start with the top three.
Harvest best practices. If assessments reveal that a high number of
employees cite “poor communication” as a problem, dig deeper. You
may find that one department manager got great communication scores.
Find out what she is doing right and reward her. Then, work to apply
her communication practices throughout the organization. Your company
doesn’t really have a problem with poor
communication, just inconsistent
communication. Take what people are doing right and expand it.
It’s much more effective than trying to start from scratch—and it
Announce that you’re making changes. Accept skepticism, but not
cynicism. Tell employees specifically
what you are going to fix. Naturally, they will be skeptical. You can
even tell them that skepticism is fine, even expected, but ask that
they try not to be cynical. If they start rolling their eyes and say,
“Oh, we’ve heard all that before,” tell them, “Look, you can
be part of the problem or you can be open to change and see good
things start to happen.”
Go for “quick wins” to establish credibility. A quick win is an
action that shows employees you really are
committed to meeting their needs. If you are trying to establish an
environment of fairness, for instance, don’t “pull rank” as a
senior leader and cut in line. Don’t insist on having the parking
spot nearest the door. (Not only will it send a signal that you’re
no more important than anyone else, the longer parking lot trek gives
you the opportunity to talk to employees and stay on top of what’s
going on in your company.) Perhaps
your quick win might take the form of getting a department a piece of
equipment that employees have requested for years, or finally dealing
with a low performer who’s been dragging everyone down.
you won’t know what your quick win is until the moment it presents
itself. And seemingly small gestures can have a big impact. In Hardwiring
Excellence, I tell a story about my first day as administrator at
a new hospital. I asked a nurse how I could make her job better, and
she said she was frightened walking to her car at night because of the
tall bushes by the parking lot. While she worked that day, I got the
bushes trimmed and put up a small fence. It made the nurse feel safe
and, more to the point, valued as an employee and as a person.
“Round” relentlessly. I am a huge proponent of leadership
“rounding,” a process similar to the one doctors use to check on
their patients. In the business world, a CEO, VP, or department
manager “makes the rounds” daily to check on the status of his or
her employees. Basically, you take an hour a day to touch base with
employees, make a personal connection, recognize successes, find out
what’s going well, and determine what improvements can be made. And
of course, you fix any problems that come up. Rounding is the heart
and soul of building the emotional bank account, because it shows
employees day in and day out that you care.
Get rid of low performers. Make no mistake: your employees don’t
want to work with low performers. Nothing makes employees as
discouraged and resentful as having to co-exist with people who
don’t pull their own weight. In fact, low performers usually drive
high performers right out the door. Turning a blind eye to these
people quickly drains the emotional bank account you’re trying to
build up with your good employees. However hard it may seem, you must
move these people up or out.
Avoid creating a “We/They” culture. The temptation to get on
your employees’ good side by saying (for instance), “Well, I
fought for the budget increase but this is all I could get,” can be
huge. It may feel easier or more comfortable at the moment, but
ultimately you’re dividing the staff instead of uniting them. Of
course, few leaders deliberately foster a “We/They” mentality, but
it can be easy to do subconsciously. Interestingly, the other side of
the coin—“I know you’ve begged for more money for years and here
I took care of it in one afternoon!”—can be equally divisive. When
you solve a big problem overnight, you might be undermining mid-level
supervisors who’ve been working on a problem for a long time.
Don’t walk around and perform magic.
Be open and truthful with your employees, no matter how difficult it may
be. Let’s say you know that part of your organization is going
to be outsourced in the next few months, or that there are going to be
major cuts in benefits. Even if it doesn’t directly affect your
team, it certainly impacts them on an emotional level. Once the
decision is final, you owe it to your employees to tell them. Don’t
wait for them to read it in the paper. They will know that you knew
all along—and a huge amount of trust will be lost.
end, of course, trust is what building a healthy emotional bank
account is all about.
you’ve always been up front with your employees, and proven every
day that you want what’s best for them, they’ll give you the
benefit of the doubt when things don’t go their way. They might not
like it, and they may be angry. But they won’t feel betrayed to the
point of leaving. They’ll realize that you’ve always treated them
like adults, with respect and consideration. And that’s when
you’ll truly see the value of the work you’ve been doing. That
emotional capital you’ve invested will save the
relationship—you’ll see that it’s the very foundation of a
Read other articles and learn more
about Quint Studer.
the author for permission to republish or reuse this article.]