Leadership: Getting to Know Your Employees

Why It’s Important and How You Can Do It


At present, up to five generations may be working for one company simultaneously. This means at any given time, leaders will be managing people with various backgrounds, values, attitudes, and life experiences. They’ll have different strengths, different areas of opportunity, and even different expectations.

By Lucy Morris



In the long run, employees, no matter their age or background, want to feel like they are a part of something bigger – that they’re not just a cog in the machine. They want to feel that they can trust their boss, make a difference, and that they are valued and appreciated.

As a matter of fact, in a recent study 93% of employees believed that one of the biggest factors for employee happiness was being able to trust an immediate boss. But only half of employees actually do! A Deloitte Insights report found that only 49% of respondents believed their company’s employees are satisfied or very satisfied with their job design, only 42% believed workers are satisfied with day-to-day work practices, and only 38% of respondents felt they have the autonomy to make good decisions.

So where is the breakdown? Why are employees so dissatisfied? Given that a company’s staff is its most valuable asset, how can leaders improve?

With input from local experts, we explain the importance of building trust, getting to know your employees, the pitfalls of a one-size-fits-all management style, and proven tips for success.


Infographic showing Employee Satisfaction - Key Aspects of Work


Getting to Know Each Individual Is Key

Getting to know your employees on an individual level is essential. Truly learning the ins and outs of their personalities and impulses can help you recognize particular learning styles, get an idea for what motivates each employee, and identify strengths as well as areas for growth. What’s more, this demonstrates to employees that you genuinely care for them and their success as much as you may care about productivity or results associated with the job. It also leads to a better understanding of how each individual can best perform a role to contribute to the team and provides greater opportunities for individuals to perform their roles without a great deal of oversight. This in turn allows for greater trust, which can create a more meaningful work experience.

To do this successfully, leaders need to communicate regularly with employees to ensure that roles, responsibilities, and expectations are clear, and any inhibitors for their success can be addressed. This reduces conflict and confusion.

Additionally, leaders need to respect and appreciate the diverse skills and abilities of all individuals. “Good leaders are intentional about ensuring everyone on the team feels included and appreciated, and that the diversity they bring to the team is respected and recognized as an asset,” says Kimberly Bowen, vice president and global head of talent acquisition with Unum Group. “We as leaders can forget to give everyone space to share their perspectives and share their ideas.”

Why It Matters

Satisfied employees equate to better business performance. Recent research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reports that companies with top-quartile employee experience see twice the innovation, double the customer satisfaction, and 25% higher profits than organizations with a bottom-quartile employee experience. It also leads to a higher retention rate. “We have people who have been at Unum for 40 years,” Bowen says. “That doesn’t happen by accident.”


a boss talking to his happy employees


The Dangers of a One-Size-Fits-All Leadership Style

Failing to get to know your employees personally can present issues. A common trap leaders can fall into is managing with a one-size-fits-all approach. With this, individuality takes a backseat, and harmful habits can develop. One of the worst but most common habits associated with a one-size-fits-all management style is stereotyping employees by age, perceived skill level, and more. It’s easy to think millennials are lazy job hoppers or baby boomers don’t know how to work technology. In reality, that can be ineffective and even dangerous.

“At that point, you’ve already hurt yourself as a manager because you’ve labeled them without knowing anything about their backgrounds or value systems,” says Dr. Mark Mendenhall, the J. Burton Frierson Chair of Excellence in Business Leadership at UTC’s Gary W. Rollins College of Business.

Bowen agrees. “When people buy into stereotypes, they start to view differences as liabilities,” she says. “One of the best things you can do as a leader is help everyone on the team appreciate the differences that each person brings to the table.”

This management approach also tends to pigeonhole employees, which hinders growth in areas of opportunity. “You may have a young worker that wants more direction. A manager could get frustrated and think, ‘Oh man, this kid will always need to be told exactly what to do,’ when in fact, he might just need to learn more independent thinking,” says Dr. Mendenhall. “A good manager will take people individually and work with them to strengthen their weaker competencies while also deploying their stronger competencies for the good of the company and team.”


Kimberly Bowen

Kimberly Bowen

Dr. Mark Mendenhall

Dr. Mark Mendenhall

Sue Collins

Sue Collins







Getting to Know You 101: Tips for Success

It’s easy to recognize why it’s important to get to know your employees. The ‘how’ is what’s more difficult. These tips offer solutions and examples to energize your team and develop relationships built on trust and mutual understanding.

1. Learn your own biases.

Everyone has their own biases, whether they’re conscious of them or not. Learning to recognize areas where you can improve will automatically help you connect better with others, including your employees. “An example most people can relate to is college rivalries,” says Sue Collins, senior vice president and chief human resources & communications officer for the Tennessee Valley Authority. “It’s natural to think your school or team is better. That’s an instance of a bias that’s created from an affiliation,” she explains. “Once you take emotion out of the equation and insert factual data based on what brings us together, many people will recognize their biases and can work through them. At TVA, we focus a lot on bias and diversity training so that we can become more informed about each other as individuals.”

2. Have an open-door policy.

An open-door policy immediately demonstrates your desire to be accessible, which makes employees feel more comfortable approaching you with questions, concerns, or updates. This can nip conflict in the bud before it becomes a bigger issue down the line, or it can provide you with reasoning on why someone may be underperforming. Do they feel like they’re able to tell you what is happening in their personal life that might be impacting their performance? While you may worry that you’ll have people in and out of your office day in and day out and that it might affect your own performance, you’ll likely save yourself work in the long run, since employees will appreciate an open and honest environment and want to do a good job.


illustration of mentor and mentee having coffee


3. Manage like a mentor.

Managing your employees like a mentor allows you to get to know them on a different level. Employees will be more likely to see you as someone who cares about the trajectory of their career and is there for support. “It’s about wanting people to do their best work but also wanting to help them succeed,” explains Collins. “It doesn’t have to be formalized mentor programs either. It’s just about being open enough with your employees so they feel confident to ask you to meet up or talk about a topic and create a dialogue. I would say I’m passively mentoring three or four people currently. I’m happy to talk with them, and I tell them to get on my calendar whenever they need to talk again,” she adds.

4. Adopt an 80/20 rule.

The traditional 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle, suggests that 20% of our efforts affect 80% of the results. Some will recognize this in terms of sales, in which case, 20% of customers account for 80% of sales. Zappos, the online shoe company that’s been lauded for its effective efforts when it comes to company culture, has adopted its own take on the 80/20 rule: Managers are encouraged to spend 20% of their time socializing with and getting to know employees and the other 80% on day-to-day tasks. The idea is that, by spending this much time with employees, you’re bound to forge more meaningful relationships that aren’t limited to just work and productivity talk. This then helps employees feel more comfortable with their managers, more connected to their workplace, and more committed to their jobs.

5. Schedule regular meetings.

For Bowen, brief quarterly meetings with each member of her team create an opportunity to establish connections. “I manage a department of 30 people,” she says. “Once a quarter, I have a 15-minute meeting with every member of my team – frontline, middle management, and direct reports. These are just to catch up. It’s 15 minutes where we discuss how they’re doing, how their families are, their plans for upcoming weekends or holidays. These are non-negotiable for me as a leader, because I recognize the value they bring to our team.”

6. Host team-building outings.

One of the best ways to build deeper connections with your employees is to create bonding opportunities out of the confines of the office. In these situations, people will often let their guards down more than they do at work, and you’re more likely to have a chance to discuss more than just their sales numbers. Team-building opportunities can be anything from starting a sports team and joining a local league to volunteering together, visiting an escape room, or attending a unique event like a Lookouts baseball game. This time spent together can show you a lot about different personalities, and relationships built on trust and mutual respect can be established.


illustration of boss helping employee


7. Focus on socialized power rather than personal power.

There are two ways leaders exert power – personal power and socialized power. Dr. Mendenhall recommends leading from a mindset of socialized power. “Personal power is all about getting people to do things for the sake of getting them done to promote your own career. It’s very self-oriented, so you’re not going to be inclined to do the things you need to do to get to know people well enough to help them. Socialized power, on the other hand, is about getting people to do things that need to get done, but while doing so, aiding in their development as human beings. It’s about getting to know people, supporting them where you can, and helping them progress in their careers.”

8. Ask questions.

This one seems obvious, but when it comes down to it, is this something you actually do regularly? It’s important to inquire about more than just their progress on a project. Do you know their birthdays? Hobbies? Who is a creative thinker versus who is an analytical thinker? Do you know what makes them feel appreciated or what motivates them? Asking these questions will help you get to know the unique individuals that make up your team, and you’ll learn how to use that for the betterment of the team as a whole.

What it all boils down to is, everyone wants to feel valued and appreciated. Getting to know your employees on a personal basis can make the difference between a job and a fulfilling career. Collins explains, “It’s about figuring out where we all fit together versus focusing on our differences. We want people to feel like they can bring their best selves each and every day. Diverse viewpoints and different perspectives drive innovation and best practices.” CS

You Also Might Like

[related_post post_id=""]
CityScope Celebrating 30 Years Logo

Get access to the next issue before it hits the stands!