September 22, 2016

Winning The Hearts And Minds Of Your Employees - Part Two

Stewart Liff

Stewart Liff
President-CEO/Stewart Liff & Associates, Inc.

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In my last article, I discussed the importance of dealing with your toxic employees as one part of an overall strategy for capturing the hearts and minds of your employees.  I focused on this because 1) wherever I have worked, taught or consulted, the employees have almost always complained to me about the adverse impact of toxic employees and of their frustration with management’s unwillingness and/or inability to deal with them, and 2) the existing data strongly supports this view.

For example, a recent study by Fierce, Inc. found that most employees “believe a toxic employee is extremely debilitating to team morale…(and)…agreed that their organizations are somewhat or extremely tolerant of these individuals.”[1] My main point here is that if you want to truly engage your employees, you must deal with these toxic individuals and prevent them from polluting your environment and pulling your employees and organization down.

Assuming you do this, the larger question is how do you create the right environment in which your employees can flourish? To me, there are two broad strategies: 1) manage better within the traditional work design, or 2) redesign the way your work is performed so that it will lead to more involved and engaged employees.

In this article, we will explore strategies for improving the way you manage under a traditional work design.

What is a Traditional Work Design?

A traditional work design is one in which there is an all-powerful boss who supervises her subordinates. It operates as a small pyramid, wherein the interaction is primarily on a one on one basis between the boss and her followers.

Under this design, the supervisor is the person who primarily drives employee morale because she is the one who keeps them in the loop and shapes their view of the organization. She is also involved in and/or often makes all of the key decisions, such as goal setting, approving leave, managing performance, providing feedback, appraising employees/holding them accountable, deciding who gets awards, promotion, etc. As you can see, the supervisor plays such an integral part of the employees’ work life and their view of the organization, that it is no wonder that employees tend to leave their supervisor rather than their company.[2]

How to Develop your Supervisors     

Recognizing the important role that these individuals play in winning the hearts and minds of the employees (and of course in terms of performance), organizations typically invest over $22 billion in managerial and supervisory development,[3] which makes sense under the traditional design. Moreover, for the same reasons, companies are also investing in executive coaches for these individuals, especially at the higher levels of management.

Along these lines, one of the key questions that organizations using a traditional design need to ask is this: what areas should our supervisory training/development be focused on and how will it impact on their ability to help capture the hearts and minds of their employees? Generic supervisory training is simply not enough to really make a difference when it comes to engaging your folks. It is probably a good introduction to supervision, but needs to be more focused if you want to capture hearts and minds.

Listed below are some possible areas of supervisory development that can help your organization:

  • Their philosophy – Some supervisors come to work believing they need to control their employees while others feel they need to unleash them. Ultimately their philosophy will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If they believe in their employees, treat them well and help them achieve their goals, they will feel valued and be more engaged at work.
  • Communication – Supervisors need to learn how to keep their folks in the loop by communicating in a whole-brained fashion (orally, in writing, through charts and graphs, videos, etc.) Let them know what is going on and why. Frequently show them how the work they do relates to the company’s mission and vision.
  • Managing through systems – A well-designed set of systems and processes will continually provide the employees with information as to what is expected of them, where the company is going, how it is doing and what needs to be done. Employees want to work for a professional organization that has a clear focus on excellence. However, design is one thing and implementation is another. That is why supervisors need to learn to apply these systems in a uniform and consistent manner, which will validate the integrity of the systems/processes.
  • Accountability – It may seem counterintuitive, but most people crave accountability, which to a large extent rests on the supervisors’ shoulders under a traditional work design. Supervisors need to ensure there are reliable consequences for every level of performance and behavior, because this will demonstrate that the organization is serious about rewarding excellence and dealing with its problems.
  • Visual Management[4]- this concept combines the fine arts along with systems design and HRM principles to 1) transform the space into a living, breathing tribute to your mission, vision and values, 2) celebrate your history, employees and their work, 3) share information, 4) hold the employees accountable, and 5) shape the outside world’s view of your company. It reinforces the first four areas of focus I just described and keeps messages in the faces of your employees on a daily basis in order to keep them informed and feel a part of something special. Teaching this concept to your supervisors will provide them with a great tool for capturing hearts and minds.  


The components I just described are not all encompassing. They are simply areas in which if your supervisors excel, they will definitely help improve the morale and attitude of the people who bring home the bacon – your employees.

In my next article I will describe a radically different approach to this same challenge. One that involves changing the way your work is designed.


Stewart Liff is an HRM, performance management, visual management and team development expert, and President of Stewart Liff & Associates, Inc. He is the author of Managing Government Employees and co-author of A Team of Leaders, and Seeing is Believing.


[1] Fierce Survey Toxic Employees



[4] For additional information on the concept of visual management, read Seeing Is Believing: How the New Art of Visual Management Can Boost Performance Throughout Your Organization, by Stewart Liff and Pamela A. Posey, DBA, AMACOM Books, February 2007

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