Education

10 ways to gain and keep the loyalty of your staff

You depend on your team to be productive and reliable so that the entire IT department can be successful. But to get everyone to do their best work, you need to build a relationship of trust and support. Here are some tips to help you build staff loyalty.

You depend on your team to be productive and reliable so that the entire IT department can be successful. But to get everyone to do their best work, you need to build a relationship of trust and support. Here are some tips to help you build staff loyalty.


If you're a manager, you depend on your staff to do their work. Their success is critical to your own success. If you can develop loyalty among your staff, you build up a bank of "good will capital "you can spend, when necessary -- such as when those impossible deadlines loom and you have to ask for extra effort. Here are a few pointers to help you build that loyalty.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Be initially neutral regarding concerns about a subordinate

Don't throw an employee under the bus when someone outside the department complains to you, agreeing with that person automatically. At the same time, don't assume the person is totally wrong, rebuking him or her, and blindly defending your employee. Listen to the concern, thank the person for alerting you, and say you will check with the subordinate in question. Then do so. In this way, you get both sides of the story

2: Aim for collaboration

The more you can develop a collaborative relationship with your staff, the better that relationship will be. You and your staff do depend on each other, so try to impress that point on them. Remind them that each of you can (and should) help the other to be successful. Remember the saying "One hand washes the other."

3: Listen to staff concerns

Your staff will have concerns about working conditions, working hours, deadlines, and other matters. You may not be able to resolve them all. However, listen to what they are telling you, because if you don't, you will lower morale. If there's little chance that you can resolve the concern, let them know immediately so that they have a proper expectation. Similarly, if you do succeed in resolving a concern, let them know about it. They may not thank you verbally, but chances are they still will appreciate you for what you did.

When listening to your staff, try to avoid interrupting them to explain or defend a position. Similarly, try to remain even-tempered and think before you speak. Your attitude sets the tone for the whole department. Remember the old saying, (which applies equally to both genders): "A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult."

4: Be committed to staff development

Your employees needs training to maintain their skills. That training includes hard skills, such as programming and network design. It also includes soft skills, such as how to deliver effective presentations and how to communicate effectively. In fact, those soft skills often are more important than hard skills in determining career success. Make sure your staff receives such training -- and when they're participating in a training session, respect that time. Don't call and pull them out of class "just for a second," because they never will return, and you will have wasted money.

5: Fulfill commitments

If you make commitments to your staff, keep them. Otherwise, you lose credibility and will face lowered morale. When you keep your commitments to your staff, it increases the chances that they will reciprocate and keep their commitments to you regarding work delivery.

6: Exhort, don't belittle

You always want your staff to do more, produce more, finish the project earlier -- and for less cost. So there's often a gap between where they are now and where you'd like them to be. It's better, generally, to exhort them to reach that point. If you criticize them because they're not where you want right now, you may create resentment. Of course, there might be one person who does get motivated by being belittled, someone who says, "I'll show that X$X# manager" and goes on to perform exceptionally well. The percentages are against you, however, because many others will simply "turn off." It's far better to say, "Here's where I'd like us to be, and I know you can do it" rather than, "How come you're not there right now, you slacker?"

7: When singling out staff in public, do so positively

I'm not saying that you always should praise people publicly. Some people become embarrassed or self-conscious when they're the subject of public attention. But I am saying that if you do choose to single someone out in public, do so in a positive, rather than a negative way. The latter will embarrass everyone involved.

When you issue public praise, be brief and specific. Talk about what the person did and why it helped the department, organization, or company. Finally, thank the person. Ironically, the less you smile when praising, the more sincere it sounds. (Of course, you should be sincere to begin with, and you should smile just a little bit.)

8: When giving correction, do so privately

Conversely, if someone messes up, talk to them about it behind closed doors. When doing so, focus on the issue, not the person. Try to avoid words like "you" and "yours." Instead of, "Your program caused the system to crash," consider, "Program xyz [which your subordinate developed and supposedly tested] caused the system to crash." Focus on the actions that caused the problem and help the subordinate learn from the situation so that the same issue doesn't occur again.

9: Serve as a buffer for your staff

Unfortunately, you may run into upper-level managers who insist on micromanaging. They will visit your staff and issue directives that might clash with yours. As a result, your employees will find themselves in an awkward situation, unsure of how to react. When that happens, you must step in and make clear to upper management that the chain of command works in both directions. You wouldn't want your staff going around you to complain to your bosses. Neither, therefore, should the opposite occur.

Yes, stepping up could be hazardous to your career, so be diplomatic and tactful when you talk to your bosses. Focus on the benefits to them on observing the chain of command, rather than criticizing them for disregarding it. After you've had the talk, make sure your staff knows about it. Even though the grapevine probably will have alerted people, it's still good to remind your staff that you have their back.

10: Don't micromanage

Just as your bosses shouldn't be micromanaging, neither should you. If you've staffed your team with competent people (and if you're a first-line technical manager, you have strong technical leads), you should be confident that they know what they're doing. You don't have time to do the job of each member of your team anyway.

At the same time, be alert to clues that you might have to step in. Are others talking to you about a co-worker's performance? Are you getting evasive or unclear answers in meetings or conversations? Do you have an uncomfortable gut feeling about a project? In those cases, you might have to take a more active interest in your subordinates' work. However, pick your battles carefully.

Both sides of the coin

It's common to talk about the importance of being a good subordinate. But it's equally important to be a good boss. If you follow these tips, you can build a loyal following, which only can help you in your own career.


Bad boss?

Have you ever worked for a manager who didn't inspire any level of trust or staff loyalty? What steps do you take yourself to build a strong base of support with your own team members?

About

Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.

13 comments
Chhay Den
Chhay Den

It's good to read an wonderful article. Hopefully, every body who read it will gain some idea.

sboverie
sboverie

Abram Maslow defined a leader as someone who leads his group to a higher need. This is based on his hierarchy of needs that runs from survival to actualized. If the group is trying to survive the economy then the leader should lead the group to the next level which is esteem needs. How this is done is the subject of shelves of books. The best quote by Maslow is "If the only tool you have is a hammer, then you tend to see your problems as nails."

ottersmoo
ottersmoo

I once had a boss who would literally stand behind me while I was working and point out errors as I was typing. Horrible micro-manager who had no trust in me and what I could do. Needless to say, we didn't get along very well and I soon left the position. I also had a boss that was SO good...had complete faith and trust in my abilities, had a mentor-type relationship and I absolutely knew he would have my back. He went to battle for our entire department many times and we felt tremendous loyalty to him. Sadly, the company was bought out. But I know what makes a good and a bad boss. It's much easier to be a star performer with a good boss.

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

Some good points. If you have staff, then by definition you are the leader of the group. Remember, leaders should LEAD. Not push. At least, keep the pushing to a minimum and then only when necessary. That means, you should lead by example. Not what too many do which is, "Do as I say, not as I do." You should set clear goals and expectations. And then adhere to those yourself. Better, exceed and surpass them in your personal conduct and performance. You should set the example. People will more willingly follow a leader who expects as much or more of his- or herself then he or she is asking of others. Among other things, such behavior indicates the leader truly believes in those goals and expectations, that they'll have beneficial results, and that they are achievable. To do otherwise, just makes people doubt you and your decisions. Worse, it can make em laugh at you behind your back and think you are pretty much all show and no substance. Talk and no action. Or, you're just an idiot. One of the worse positions for a leader to be in. If yah want loyalty, yah gotta give loyalty. Yah back up your people, run interference for them when there is trouble or issues. Take the blame personally for failures. After all, if the failure is a result of your plan, its your failure. If the failure is a result of the actions of one of your staff ... YOU gave that staff member that responsibility/duty. Again, its your failure. Honest mistake, lack of adequate training/instruction, whatever which lead up to the failure caused by a staff member? Take responsibility and blame for it. And fix it. Provide better training/instruction, help staff member understand mistake and how to avoid the same in the future, etc. Failure due to deliberate act of the staff member that was WRONG. Call it what it is, not some term like "inappropriate". It was wrong, it is unacceptable, etc. Be clear, and direct. Make sure there is no possible way you are being misunderstood. But do this calmly. Taking the opportunity to treat this as a training session. The first time. Second occurrence of the same sort of thing should have painful consequences. Take no excuses. Third time, bite the bullet, and get rid of the person one way or another. Even if its your best friend. This can be painful. If yah care about people. But in the long run your best interests, and that of your team are best served by ditching a person who can not or will not conform to the TEAM rules, expectations, etc. Give em a chance, try to coach em and teach em (the 3 strikes and you're out rule I used was just an example. How many chances yah give someone depends of course on the exact nature of the failure, and how the person responsible responds to your corrective efforts). But recognize that at some point yah have to get rid of the bad apples, and show that you are willing to do so. The team needs to know that you say what you mean and mean what you say. Period. They need definite ideas of where you draw your line that you'll allow nobody to cross. Be iffy about that, you'll lose respect. Definitely listen to feedback from the team members. They deserve to voice their opinions. Like anyone else. But YOU make the final decisions. And then take the consequences for them, good or bad. Don't put the blame on someone else. Not even if you were following the suggestion made by a staff member and the results turned out bad. After all, you had the final authority. You DO NOT have authority, in any real way, unless you also take responsibility, personally, for the consequences. Don't accept the responsibility personally, and while you might have the authority on paper and in theory, your staff is going to think you're just a straw boss. And will be suspicious of ever believing what you say in the future. They'll just think yah want all the glory and the perks without the responsibility or adverse consequences. And remember, when it comes time to pass out atta-boys, pats on the back, praise, or other reward for a job well done. Make sure your staff gets theirs first, whenever possible. Then accept your fair share. Likewise, when its possible to pass out a little slack time, an easy assignment, or a coveted assignment, etc ... pass some of this to team members first. Then maybe allow yourself a little slack, after. Same comes with hard or unpleasant assignments, needed but unwanted overtime to meet some deadline. Take on some of this yourself first. Pass it on to others only if it is still needed. Remember ... leaders lead. From the front. Yah want to the staff to follow your lead willingly. Their performance will be much better that way and they'll trust you more. Just some of my thoughts.

andrejs.berzins
andrejs.berzins

good summary, Some comments about how to deal with disruptive elements within an organization would be also good. Morale can be lowered in a group by one employee who for one reason or another can't be brought on the right path and can't be reassigned to an appropriate position. How to counteract such a presence is very difficult.

ozchorlton
ozchorlton

I once worked for a large, international, humanitarian organisation, in the non profit sector. I had the worst boss ever. He micromanaged, and generally did whatever this list says not to do! I'm just glad to be out of there.

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

Good, ol Maslow. I enjoyed reading his stuff. But yours is, I think, the first mention of his name I've heard/read from somebody else since the early 70's. Are they still teaching anything about his works in schools these days? While I don't agree with everything he wrote/asserted. Most of his stuff I think to be true enough and valid, as as true and valid today as back then. One can learn much that is useful from reading his stuff.

julie
julie

Well said- with one exception...using "yah" just makes you sound ignorant and your points loose something with the use of this slang expression.

TGGIII
TGGIII

I agree that a pure detractor can be burdensome but in a 30 year career as a manager, having managed hundreds of people in different industries, I have had only one of this type. The dissenters are usually people attempting to raise an implementation concern (risk) and are pooh-poohed by leadership that is trying to quickly implement. Many times we rush to stop the dissenter rather than listen for the nugget of truth that could be in what the person is trying to say. Often, letting a person know that they are being heard by helping them isolate and articulate their issue is enough. The risk is relevant or it is not. In ether case, it can be instructive to either or both parties and over time, the 'disruptive'individual will learn to do surface their issues in a desired and contributive way. The difference in outcome is either a committed, empowered, thinking employee or a corporate droid . I recommend 'Influencer, The Power to Change Anything,' for anyone who would like a good summary in this approach. More words than I usually write, thank you for your time and attention.

todd.thompson
todd.thompson

Play ball or go home. 3 warnings/strikes after mentioning that it's an issue and they're out. Disruptive elements only drag the whole team down.

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

You are quite correct. But I was neither attempting to collect points nor attempting to impress anyone. I was, however, attempting to avoid the "jargon speak" specific to the theoretical and academic discussion of the art and science of leadership and management. And avoiding the typical way such matters are usually stated or printed by those who have formally studied those subjects. The reason(s)? For one, this is a discussion group. As versus a formal lecturing venue. Secondly, when one attempts to phrase things too formally and "by the (text)book", one often makes a certain impression upon readers that I try to avoid. That is, having a reader read something I've presented and think to him- or herself that, "Geez, this guy sounds like he is just quoting something from a text book. I wonder if he has ever REALLY practiced what he preaches in the REAL world. And got successful results from it." So, yes, some of what I say and how I say it is an artifice intended to persuade a reader that I'm just an ordinary, real person. Like themselves. Who has actually employed the methods presented in real world scenarios with successful results. As versus sounding like a college professor, or like a person trying to sell you his latest book. Besides, "ignorant" would be a fairly accurate description of me. Tho, generally I prefer knuckle draggin, thick skulled, pea-brained neanderthal. :-)

Panwo1
Panwo1

I agree. If the dissenter believes that they are being listened too they will have a better outlook and attitude going forward instead of being poisonous to the entire group.

Calvin T Sun
Calvin T Sun

Thanks for your comments. Have you ever read the Ibsen play "An Enemy of the People"? It describes your comments exactly. It's about a town that bases its whole livelihood on a natural spa. But one person finds out that the spa is poisonous, but no one wants that information to get out, and everyone hates the person for bringing up the matter.