Discover PerformanceHP Software's community for IT leaders // April 2014
Relationships drive a leader’s success
Helping your employees find fulfillment boosts your success and saves money. Six simple tips make it easy.
By Joshua Brusse, Chief Architect, HP Software Professional Services
Thanks to globalization’s widely distributed workteams, modern technology’s constant connectivity, and the round-the-clock urgency of modern business, "work-life" balance has been a hot topic for years. But now, I think, it’s time to give up on "work-life balance" and call it what it is: life balance.
Work and "life," or our "free time," have become so heavily intermingled that they should be seen as one, not as opposites cast against each other. And while it’s hard enough to strike your own balance in this era, you have the added challenge as an IT leader of making sure you’re helping your team members feel fulfilled and successful—and productive.
It may sound challenging, but managing people is at least as important to your success as managing budgets, projects, and technologies. Unhappy employees, as I’ve noted previously, cost a lot of money. (Gallup quantifies this as $450 billion to $550 billion annually in lost productivity.)
Although you can’t realistically manage employees’ emotional states outside the workplace, you can influence them to feel fulfilled by their lives, helping them connect their overall well-being and life goals to their contributions to your team.
Managing by relationship
Really, it’s a radically simple formula: If you know what life means to you—that is, what you really value in life—you can be more successful by bringing those values to your work, and helping your workers do the same. Consider these recommendations:
- Build strong personal relationships with your team members. A valued relationship with a boss helps workers feel fulfilled and excited about work, and drives them to perform better. Show a strong interest in their lives outside of the job—and listen for what makes each individual tick.
- Encourage employees to put work into a life context. I often ask my team members things like: "What’s your next achievement?" "How will that fit into your overall life goals?" "What will make the difference in making you more successful?"
- Understand the connection between "work" and "non-work." It’s going to be much more difficult to “protect” non-working hours from work, and to keep personal concerns out of the nine-to-five. Be aware of these tradeoffs and make sure that productivity doesn’t suffer.
- Schedule frequent face-to-face conversations. Just listening, in silence, really helps reduce personal and professional stress. Let people vent. Listen attentively, then ask thoughtful questions that help them come up with their own solutions. Take action when a personal situation affects the workplace—before it reaches a crisis point.
- Respect individual differences. Everyone handles stress differently, so you must realize that there is no single "right" coping mechanism. Where one employee might find relief in more flextime, another might simply need a change of project priorities or an afternoon off with family. Just a little bit of downtime can significantly improve physical and mental health, as a number of studies show.
- Get everyone onboard. In many teams, perhaps especially in IT, there are individuals who are reluctant to open up. A leader can still create awareness of the increasing interdependency between work and non-work time. Try to make connections over shared interests, favorite movies, sports. Embrace the network of individuals across your team. There’s usually one person who is a closer confidant of the reserved communicator, and he or she can be your ally. In my experience, the "lone wolf" almost always comes around—and both individual and team performance improve.
The balanced life
"Work-life balance" has to become "life-balance," because the clear split between work and non-work time is fading. Leaders can benefit from an employee who responds off-hours, but must also make sure the new shift doesn’t hurt productivity. Managing does not mean merely setting limits, but building better relationships to guide and influence each employee to strive for a happy life, and to also take pride and satisfaction in their increasing contributions to the workplace.
Joshua Brusse has more than 20 years’ experience in all aspects of running IT as a business. He consults with HP enterprise customers on strategy, governance, service lifecycle management, and organizational design and transformation.
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