Is poor communication holding your business back?

Three toxic management behaviors to look out for, and how to fix them

Julia Maglione

Relationships between managers and their team, especially in small businesses, can make or break employee culture and determine whether employees stay or leave.

“Communication is not the exception, it’s the rule,” said Tracy Peterkin, president of TJ & Associates, a Vancouver-based human resources and recruiting firm.

When managers encourage honest dialogue and provide their employees with the tools they need to succeed, employees will naturally want to stay and grow within the business.

However, when managers don’t put the needs of their employees first, bad things can happen. Here are three ways managers fail their employees, and what to do about it.

1. Managers don’t give their employees the right tools to succeed

Employees need certain resources to get their jobs done efficiently and effectively.

Depending on the industry, physical tools may include video-editing software, up-to-date computer systems or standing desks. And the non-tangible resources people may need include subject-area training, flexibility to work from home and constant access to a manager.

It’s important an employee has access to another decision maker if his or her boss is on vacation, said Julia Maglione, communications manager for the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council. “If their manager travels a great deal, this may impact their ability to do their job effectively, especially if they have to put projects on hold for days until the manager returns.”

Managers should also specify the priority levels of projects, which means directing an employee’s efforts toward activities and outcomes that are valued most, said Maglione.

Good managers want their employees to succeed – whether that means moving up the corporate ladder and growing within the company, or even finding opportunities elsewhere.

If someone deserves a promotion, but opportunities are unavailable, managers can offer lateral developmental opportunities, including creating a new service, improving a process or training for another role.

“When people are contributing to the larger goal, they are more likely to stay with the company,” Peterkin said. “It’s not all about pay and benefits. Development is important.”

For example, if a manager knows someone in the sales department is more interested in marketing, the marketing manager can begin to train the employee on strategy and content creation until a marketing role comes available.

Plus, it’s beneficial for the company to have a succession plan,” Peterkin said. “If someone does happen to leave, there’s someone to fill the role.”

2. Some managers aren’t properly trained

Untrained managers may discipline employees in front of others, or unknowingly show favoritism by going to lunch with some and not engaging with others.

“Often [people] have a hard time transitioning from an individual contributor to a manager,” said Jean Roque, president and founder of Trupp HR, a human resources consulting firm in Vancouver. “Now they are representing the team and the company, and they need to consider what is confidential and what’s appropriate.”

Some people become managers because they’re subject-matter experts, but not necessarily good communicators.

“A lot of managers get into that role because they were good at their job,” said Roque. “Some of them don’t know how to let go, delegate or measure performance based on team vs. individual performance.”

New or untrained managers may be conflict-adverse, in which the manager may avoid uncomfortable conversations or may not be aware of a problem in the first place. Or a manager may inappropriately confront others in public.

“If [managers] don’t like something they are doing, it’s best to pull them off to side and have the conversation privately,” said Roque.

Managers also need to react consistently in similar situations.

“Employees lose trust in a manager when they respond one way, and the next time they respond another way,” said Roque.

Business experts suggest new managers attend management training courses on effective communication and leadership, offered by local consulting agencies and small business organizations.

3. Managers wait until an annual review to give feedback

“Storing up negative comments and delivering them once a year allows things to escalate over time and will damage the manager-employee relationship,” said Maglione.

Good managers provide their employees with feedback on an ongoing basis, not just during an annual review, explained Maglione. And when people receive positive and negative criticism, they understand what’s expected and can deliver on those expectations.

Feedback, or coaching, meetings not only solve problems, but decrease stress and cause people to make better decisions, said Peterkin.

These conversations remove any roadblocks the employee’s facing to complete a project. Managers can discuss what projects the employee is working on for the week, the goals of the projects and if any priorities have changed, said Peterkin.

For example, a critical customer request may change the priorities of the employee’s daily deliverable. Or, an employee may be struggling to complete an advanced Excel spreadsheet. In a feedback meeting, the manager can suggest the employee take an online Excel tutorial.

“For high engagement, employees expect to hear feedback once a week,” said Roque. “It’s very deflating for employees to discover when they get an annual evaluation that they’ve been doing something wrong for the last several months, and nobody told them.”