Great Bosses Slow Down, Build Communities

By | Mark Phillips August 7, 2019

Great Bosses Slow Down, Build Communities

If part of your job is managing people, you probably feel compelled to keep getting better at it. One of the easier ways to do that is by reading. While, it typically takes weeks to get through a really good book on management, that’s hardly the case with “Dream Manager.” A quick-read business parable, the book tells the story of a fictitious company that inspires its people in a really unusual way. Rather than motivate employees through a traditional corporate reward system, the company’s owner establishes a program to help employees fulfill their personal dreams – ambitions and goals that have nothing to do with their work life.

The story wraps around the owner of a janitorial company who is having a tough time keeping employees. He decides to sit down with each and every employee to see if he can determine the cause of his company’s attrition issues. What he discovers surprises him; employees’ most meaningful disappointments have nothing at all to do with the company. Their spirits have become broken by a failure to realize their personal dreams – things like becoming a triathlete or starting a business.

The lackluster lives his employees were living outside of work had begun to spill over into their on-the-job performance.

Rather than stew in the knowledge of his employees’ melancholy, the business owner takes action. He develops a new position within the company, the Dream Manager, and hires one person whose sole job is to help employees fulfill their dreams. That’s exactly what the Dream Manager does, employee by employee. As a result, retention and profits soar.

The whole premise is such a nice change of pace from standard management books, and the concept is really intriguing. It essentially argues that good managers can become great by focusing less on the work, and more on the humans doing the work. It reminded me of two very important leadership behaviors that bosses across industries can enact to endear more employees to them and to the company:

  1. Slow down. The best medicine for many workplace ailments is to take a step back and consider that it may be the people, not the processes, that are broken. Often, there is a silent struggle to blame – something an employee or group of people is battling behind-the-scenes. A listening ear, coupled with an action-oriented approach to empathy, can have a dramatic impact on fixing what’s broken.
  2. Build a community. Employees are at their best when they feel connected to a larger cause. That may be one of the reasons finance and insurance jobs have the lowest separation rates at 1.7 percent; the people who work for community banks and similar people-first organizations see the measurable difference they are making in the financial lives of their customers. (In my role at Bank Iowa, I have the privilege of helping people achieve their money goals every day, and it’s a huge motivator.) By uncovering common ambitions, dreams and goals that go beyond the workplace, managers can look for even richer connections and build even greater comradery among teams.

Each of the above transforms management by placing a greater emphasis on the humans behind the work. What matters to them should matter to the company. But, that kind of culture doesn’t just happen. It requires intention supported by a strategic plan for living out the promise of human-centric management. Our company is on this very journey, working every day to engage our workforce in new ways.

Managers can uncover what matters to their team members by slowing down, just as the business owner in Dream Manager does when he conducts employee interviews during his company’s time of crisis. With that information, they can build the kinds of “One Team, One Dream” internal communities that allow employees to live their best lives – at work and beyond.

Mark K. Phillips is vice president of treasury management services for Bank Iowa, Iowa’s second largest family-owned financial institution. He can be reached at mkphillips@bankiowa.bank. To learn more, visit bankiowa.bank. Member FDIC.

Mark Phillips 
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