Four Ways Managers Can Get the Best From Their Employees

wahlquist_four_ways_managers_can_get_the_best_from_their_employees February 17, 2021 By: Zack Wahlquist, CAE

When employees are not performing to expectations, it can be easy to move into a reprimanding, scolding mode. However, an approach that focuses on relationship building and finding the right fit for employees may bring out the best in your staff.

I was nearly fired from my first association management job. While I loved what I did and did it well, I got bored quickly and craved new experiences. As boredom set in, I missed deadlines and procrastinated on simple tasks. My coworkers noticed these changes and became frustrated.

A tipping point came, and my performance forced our CEO’s hand. How she handled things changed my views on what it means to be a good manager. Instead of calling me into her office with a litany of my faults and failings, scolding me, and then placing me on a performance improvement plan, she asked if we could go get ice cream. At the parlor, we talked about my hopes and dreams, what I wanted from my future, whether I saw myself in the association space, and when I was most happy at work.

I told her that I loved my work, was happy in our environment, enjoyed working with her, and loved our relationship. I confessed that I was getting bored, and the lack of new challenges was contributing to my poor performance. I acknowledged that I had become disappointed in myself, but couldn’t decide what to do about it.

Without reprimand, she gently pointed out some of what she was noticing. Then she expressed confidence in the high quality of my work, the gifts she saw in me, and that I could do better. We both took the feedback to heart, and within two weeks, I had addressed the immediate things, thanked her for her trust and confidence, and started repairing the damage I’d done with my coworkers. Within that same time, the CEO created a new, higher-level position in the organization tailored to my skills and interests that included a project the association had never done before. From that moment on, I would have done anything for my CEO and continued to work with her and learn from her for eight more years.

When performance issues arise, look at the work to be something that changes, and not just the employee or their behavior.

I know I was very lucky in that situation. Not everyone has a manager who will collaborate on solutions. Because of this privilege, I have an obligation to pay it forward to folks I supervise and the managers I coach. Everything I know about performance management began to crystalize in that moment. Here are four keys to getting the best from the employees you supervise:

  1. Make time to build individual relationships with your team. Supervision is, at its core, a relationship. It’s two people working together to achieve organizational objectives and elevate each other’s work. It is important, therefore, to spend time building this relationship. Time is the most important commodity any of us have, and supervisors have an obligation to reserve enough of their time for their teams—especially in the beginning—to create a solid foundation where performance can be effectively managed.
  2. Give more than you take. Relationships, and supervision by extension, are transactional in nature. A system of social capital goes into them. We make deposits when we adjust our workflow to accommodate a life challenge or when we offer praise in a way they appreciate. We build reserves when we go above and beyond, when we put our team’s needs above our own, and when we roll up our sleeves and jump in to help. We make withdrawals when we need to address a performance issue or ask our team to do something unexpected or out of the ordinary. Or when we accidentally, or out of necessity, do something that negatively affects them. It’s important to make enough deposits in these social accounts to have enough in reserves to cover all withdrawals.
  3. Be partners with, not just managers of, your team. When supervisors manage performance from a place of trust, care, concern, and growth, the best performance occurs. My role as a manager is to give my team the tools they need to excel at their jobs and then remove obstacles (including myself) from their path to success. And this is the essence of performance management—trusting your team to use the tools and knowledge at their disposal to give their very best and work to allow them to trust you to be a partner in their journey.
  4. Let the people, not the work, drive the relationship. There is an antiquated management philosophy about getting the right people on the bus (i.e., hiring the right people). But change is so constant and the hiring process such a gamble, that sometimes the right people are on the bus, but they are just in the wrong seat. Or the bus is going to the wrong place! We have great folks in our organization, but we confine them to the job descriptions they were hired for. When performance issues arise, look at the work to be something that changes, and not just the employee or their behavior. When performance exceeds your expectation, look to changing the work as a tool to retain top talent.

We need tools, policies, and procedures in place to help us consistently manage every team member, but we need to leverage those tools in ways that allow a lot of room for individuality. Building these relationships and investing in these transactions is different for all of us and for each person we supervise. It is on us to know when we need to be direct or if our staff just needs us to collaborate on their performance over a 2021-style virtual scoop of ice cream.


Zack Wahlquist, CAE

Zack Wahlquist, CAE, is the executive vice president of the Chicago Association of Realtors.