Why building rapport with staff is “crucial” and how to do it

Building rapport with employees and boosting productivity are the two biggest challenges faced by chief financial officers (CFOs) in their first 100 days on the job, a new survey indicates.

Increased profitability was cited as the third major challenge in a poll of CFOs conducted by Menlo Park, Calif.-based Robert Half Management Resources that provides staffing and expertise to help companies meet accounting and finance project needs.

The CFO challenges are closely interconnected, an executive with Robert Half says.

If you increase productivity, chances are you’re creating greater output with less cost, so profitability is positively affected, noted David King, executive vice-president at Robert Half.

He said in these tough times CFOs and others joining an organization  are required to make some sort of impact relatively soon. But you can only do this if you are part of a team that’s properly trained and oriented.

King said CFOs must quickly get up to speed on challenges faced by their current management team. Financial managers, he said, should connect with HR departments to understand what motivates employees to perform at their highest levels.

And as IT can  play a vital role in boosting productivity, King said CFOs also need to ensure technology is used effectively and people understand its capabilities. You often see “duplication of effort across organizations because technology isn’t being used properly.”

Power of a positive work culture

King said business leaders should make sure attitudes in their organization are positive and upbeat, as happier employees are generally more productive.

“If your staff is preoccupied with happenings around them and loses focus on day-to-day tasks, that could prove to be quite costly, especially if [the pattern] is repeated over a period of time,” said King.

Negativity in the workplace is a pervasive problem in Canada.

According to a poll released in October by market research agency Ipsos-Reid, half of working Canadians have issues fitting into their workplace and are dragged down by a negative work atmosphere.

Sometimes people tolerate a negative work environment and stick around even if they’re unhappy because they need the security of a job, said Gail Rieschi, president and CEO of Mississauga-based HR services firm VPI Inc.

There are also cases, where people enjoy the work they do, but end up in an organization that isn’t a good cultural fit for them, Rieschi added.

For instance, she said if someone who values diversity, challenge and creativity lands in an organization with a lot of protocol and process, they would “feel like a fish out of water” even if they do like their work.

And that, she said, could prove to be a problem – as an important aspect of job satisfaction is the sense of connectedness with an organization.

If there isn’t that alignment, and someone continues to stay with
the organization, negative emotions take hold, she said. This result could be “presenteeism”, which means you’re at the office, you’re taking up space, but you aren’t engaged or productive.

Assessing suitability

The task of assessing whether a candidate would fit into the company’s culture should be made at the very outset, Reischi suggests.

She said facts about the company’s culture should be clearly articulated in job postings and during interviews, so candidates can make an informed decision about whether they would fit in.

If the organization isn’t forthcoming on these matters, she said, the job seeker should try to obtain that information during the interview.

A better fit means, greater job satisfaction, less turnover and ultimately greater profits, she said. “What can really trip organizations up is the constant churn. Job satisfaction reduces that significantly.”

Being very ask-oriented, business leaders, focus on getting the job done, and often don’t understand why they need to get into the heads of their employees, or how to do that, Rieschi said.

She said the business managers need to rely on HR professionals, because the latter can provide that “very necessary information beyond the hard skills.”

According to the VPI chief, business leaders often forget the main role of the manager is to motivate and respond to the needs of the individual employees. “That’s where a consultative approach between HR specialists and business managers is critical.”

In the case of IT, she said, the problem may have something to do with inadequate communication and the fact that many tech professionals find it difficult to communicate the worth and value of what they do in business terms.

“That’s a huge problem, especially in IT, because when everything’s working well in IT, nobody notices,” said Jennifer Perrier-Knox, senior research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont.

Earning staff trust

When it comes to management and staff, the “us versus them” attitude is quite pervasive, she says.

“Efforts by management to force staff to trust them won’t work when there’s a basic mistrust, especially if it’s ingrained.”

In such situations, said Perrier-Knox, anything coming from management will be viewed by staff as an attempt to either manipulate or placate them.”

Business leaders, the Info-Tech analyst said, need to walk the walk to develop that trust.

“Too often there’s one set of rules for management and another for staff. For example, if a business leader always shows up late for meetings, it sends a clear message that this isn’t considered important.”

She said there are times when a business manager passes on the message about an executive decision to subordinates, who know their leader couldn’t possibly agree with the decision. So the business leader ends up looking weak and spineless, or comes off as a liar.

“Managers often don’t understand they’re communicating [as much] by what they’re not saying,” said Perrier-Knox. “As an employee, you might not like the truth, but at least you know it isn’t being hidden.”

Performance is also closely linked to how employees use their time, and monitoring this could be worthwhile, provided staff don’t feel they’re being spied upon, Perrier-Knox says.

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