Sam Lombardo mediated more than 1,000 employee grievance hearings during his 14 years as the president of a large labor union and experienced firsthand how small misunderstandings often escalate into full-scale wars too often fueled by stubborn people and poor communication.
Along the way, he discovered that much as the human body needs oxygen, food and water, there are three factors that fuel human relationships: significance, integrity and respect, or what he likes to call the "SIR Principle."
Lombardo eventually left his labor days behind to launch his own consulting business, Worklife Inc. Since then, the Ford Motor Co., the City of Cleveland and a host of other Northeast Ohio businesses have enlisted his help to improve communication within their organizations.
"The typical CEO is great at running a business and also running people over," explains Lombardo. "They have good intentions but usually they are very driven and it's very difficult for them to communicate."
Too often, he says, the day-to-day demands of running a business do not allow business owners and managers to connect in a meaningful way with the workers they supervise. That sets the stage for unhappiness, bickering and loss of interest in doing a good job.
Think your company may need a shot in the arm? Lombardo offers four ways to improve your relationships with the people under your charge.
Running a business in the connected world is no small task, and the Internet Age has only increased the speed at which people work. However, Lombardo says most managers would be best served to slow it down a notch and make time to meet with the people they supervise.
"The biggest obstacle is that inaccessibility," he explains, adding that many people in the American work force do not believe their managers have time for them. "You, as the boss, must say, 'I know I'm busy, I know I'm difficult to reach at times, therefore I'm going to set a time once a week when we can meet.'"
Learn to be a listener
Meeting with your employees is one step, but creating a positive experience for them is another altogether. Lombardo suggests discussing on-the-job challenges by asking a question, then sitting back and listening.
"Catch yourself every time you try to tell, advise or correct," he says. "Quit advising, quit correcting and start asking. Keep it in their frame of reference. Ask questions like, 'What have you done to solve this problem?' and 'What's preventing you from taking action?'"
Discover what is important
The relationships with your subordinates will be positive ones if you know what it is that motivates them to do their best. If they view spending time with their family as important, do what you can to help them do that. If one of your workers wants to learn a new skill, make sure that happens.
"The company who believes that their people are their greatest asset and their greatest liability needs to equip their people with what they need so they can grow personally and professionally," says Lombardo.
Ask for a critique
If you're still trying to find out how effectively you communicate with your employees, the best plan of action may be simply asking them. However, Lombardo says, avoid the quarterly employee paper survey in favor of a more personal critique of your efforts.
"Surveys are best done one on one," he says. "It almost defeats the purpose by giving them a written survey. You need to have meetings with your people and it needs to be pushed down through the organization." How to reach: Worklife Inc, (440) 888-0066Jim Vickers (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an associate editor at SBN.