With more than 135,000 employees working in some 80 countries worldwide, Procter & Gamble, creator of brands such as Tide, Folgers, Pringles, Charmin and Crest, has isolated the manager-employee relationship as a critical component of effective performance management.
"It's the No. 1 reason why people leave a company," said Keith Lawrence, director of human resources, beauty, health and well-being at Procter & Gamble Co. "It's such an important relationship. It determines the work an individual is assigned, their future assignments, promotions, compensation, as well as the basic love, care and feeding that we get each day."
In order to enable effective manager-employee relationships, Lawrence said the process must begin with a manager's fundamental belief that a high-quality relationship with every one of his or her employees is important.
Positive manager-employee relationships actually start when an employee joins the manager's team or attends the company on-boarding program. On-boarding can help the two get to know each other, identify their strengths and establish how they can work together.
To set the right tone at this stage, Lawrence said the manager should have clear work plans and objectives for what will be accomplished in the first assignment.
Ongoing, continuous feedback - including not only what needs improvement, but recognition of what is going well - will help reinforce the employee's contribution and build a basic feeling of trust, respect and a sense of teamwork.
"We have a lot of systems to give feedback on an ongoing basis, but the most effective way to give feedback is to tailor it to the individual employee," he explained. "Some employees like to get written feedback, some like to get it in person, others like to hear all the good stuff, and you have to soft pedal the issues. It's important for the manager to know every one of their employees and deliver feedback as they like it delivered."
The level of personalization and trust in this manager-employee relationship is so relevant; it can take only one incident to damage it. Saying one thing and doing another, offering inaccurate information or not fulfilling commitments related to advancement or new opportunities for growth and development are a few critical but common manager mistakes.
"Fundamentally, all relationships boil down to trust," Lawrence said. "The worst thing a manager can do is make a commitment and either not deliver on it or not be honest, candid and complete with their employee. It's very hard to rebuild trust. Stephen Covey would say you need seven deposits in the emotional bank to account for one incident like that. In the trust fund, it's beyond that. A manager can really blow a relationship when they're not trustworthy or when they lack integrity."
Procter & Gamble uses its annual employee survey to measure how well managers are building and sustaining employee relationships. The survey has several relationship-based questions for which answers are monitored, benchmarked and tied to manager - particularly senior managers' - bonuses.
"That puts teeth behind the importance of this," Lawrence said. "We also have a wide range of tools and training available to managers and employees to help their relationship building. For example, we have a relationship-building tool kit that has an array of different exercises and approaches that both employee and manager can use to help them strengthen their respective relationship.
"Last, we're leaning toward what we call strength-based relationships, and the analogy here is in a marriage, you learn to appreciate and play to each other's strengths as opposed to trying to fix the parts you don't like. The same is true here. We're trying to focus on what are the strengths that each employee and manager has and how can they respectively play to those over time and build and strengthen one another."