In my last post, we dove into how great managers practice gratefulness at work. In addition to gratefulness, it’s paramount that managers learn how to advocate for their employees. I consider being an employee advocate my number one job as a manager. If employees don’t feel as if I have their back – no matter what – why would they work hard and stay engaged? The best performing teams come from leaders that are strong employee advocates. Advocating for employees builds trust as a manager. It creates a safe environment where employees thrive.
If you’ve ever worked for a manager that you don’t feel you can trust, you know how difficult it is to show up to work every day. It’s one of the reasons the old adage ‘People don’t leave companies, they leave managers’ rings true for so many people. (Personally, I find this saying to be a bit trite, as it overlooks the fact that many times people just outgrow a company.)
For me, my manager Julie comes to mind, as someone I lost trust in. I knew that when things went wrong, she was always the first person to point the finger and place blame. You didn’t want to be on her bad side, as she would humiliate you in meetings if she thought you deserved it. It was a terrible team to work on. When I think of the manager I want to be, it’s always the opposite of Julie. Advocating for employees builds trust as a manager.
So, let’s explore how to become an employee advocate.
Start with Listening
I’m starting to feel like a broken record here, but listening is always the best place to start. You can’t advocate for your employees if you haven’t listened to their needs. Often as a manager you have the opportunity to be your employee’s voice to Sr. Leadership. They count on you to understand what’s making work difficult for them, where there are inefficiencies, what could be done better. They count on you to know what they want next in their career, so when you hear of an opportunity, you think of them first. You can’t know any of this, unless you’ve listened intentionally and heard what’s important. Here’s a few questions to get you started.
- What’s working well in your job?
- What 3 things would you change if you could?
- Where do you see yourself next?
- How can I help make that a reality?
Look for Growth Opportunities
Once an employee has expressed where they see themselves next, I will deliberately seek out opportunities for that employee. Opportunities for growth can be anywhere. They don’t always take the form of a promotion. For example, if an employee is seeking more leadership opportunities, I look for areas within my company where they can start to apply some leadership skills. That can be in the form of leading a highly visible project, leading a small team of peers, or taking on an assignment outside of their comfort zone. Then, I talk with the employee about the opportunity. If they’re interested, I work to make it a reality. Then, I ensure they have the support they need to succeed. By advocating for employees in this way, you’re building trust.
Keep Your Promises
Nothing is a bigger trust buster than over promising and under delivering. When I first started my career, I worked for Dan Nordstrom at the Nordstrom Catalog call center. Dan was as passionate as they come about customer service. After all, it was his family name that was on the line. He set a high bar for what it meant to deliver excellent customer service. He once told me the secret – under promise and over deliver. That advice has stuck with me throughout my career.
Advocating for employees is similar to customer service. When you promise something, keep your promise. Always try to under promise and over deliver. Don’t promise a promotion if you don’t have the authority to grant the promotion. Don’t promise a raise, if you can’t give one. If you promise a new assignment, do everything within your power to make it happen. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. It’s that simple.
Give All the Credit, Take All the Blame
I can, and probably will, write an entire blogpost on this subject someday. If you want your team to trust you, it’s important that they know you have their back. The best way to do this is to give credit where it’s due (and it’s due more frequently than you think!), and take all of the blame. I’m not saying you don’t hold people accountable – that’s not what taking all the blame means. What it means is – as a leader you bear responsibility when things go wrong.
- Did you adequately support your team?
- Were you clear with your expectations?
- Did they have the right resources to do their job?
- Have you created a safe enough environment where people are comfortable speaking up?
- What example have you set?
People make mistakes. When that happens, make sure your team knows you’ve got their back. Look long and hard in the mirror and reflect on how you could have helped. Then, reflect on that with your team. When you are the one that made the mistake, be the first to admit it. Really admit it. Not hidden behind excuses or fake apologies. Own it. In my experience, admitting when you messed up is a huge trust builder. People respect someone who will own their mistakes.
Here are some additional resources to help you learn how to be a better employee advocate:
- University of Florida – Advocating for your team
- Inc.com – 3 ways leaders can be outstanding advocates for their team
- Leaders.do – 5 simple but effective ways to advocate for your team
This week I challenge you to listen to your employees. Ask them how you can be their advocate. How does advocating for employees build trust in your experience? Share what you’ve learned in the comments below.
Next, we’ll look at using storytelling to help you become an effective employee advocate.
Until Next time,
We’d love to hear from you!
If you’d like to share a story or have a question, reach out to me here.