By James V. D’Ambrosio

In the last few years I’ve heard numerous complaints from people in many circles about how poorly they have been treated by management. To be sure, some of that anger and frustration can be attributed to the severe recession, layoffs, and prolonged high unemployment. While there will always be friction between staff and management — ever been involved in contract negotiations? — it doesn’t help anyone to create further animosity. From a management perspective, there are things that can be done to improve relations with staff. To that end, I strongly endorse a supportive management style for nonprofits — and everyone else.

What is supportive management? First and foremost, it’s a genuine respect for ALL EMPLOYEES. It doesn’t matter whether someone sweeps the floor or directs human resources, each person deserves to be treated with respect and civility. Here are several ways to be a supportive manager and earn employees’ respect:      

MAKE YOURSELF AVAILABLE: Staff need to know they can turn to someone — often confidentially –when problems arise. Accomplish this by setting aside a block of time — perhaps several hours on Friday afternoon when things are winding down — where your door is literally ‘open’ for employees to discuss whatever is on their mind. Just knowing there is someone available for help makes people feel more comfortable and secure. And happier employees are less likely to complain, argue with co-workers, get caught up in minutiae, or spread damaging rumors. Ultimately they become more productive workers — something all managers want.

MAKE YOURSELF VISIBLE: Once a week, walk around the office, meet staff, and ask how they’re doing. Let people know they’re appreciated and thank them for work well done. This provides employees a sense of personal worth by validating their work. In addition, by being ‘out there,’ you’re less likely to be seen as detached and unapproachable — cloaked away in a corner office protected by a  cadre of gatekeepers. Whatever level of management you’re at, the organization benefits as a whole when you increase positive interactions with staff. (I’ve seen the director of my local library do this with great success — nearly every interaction has been positive, problems have been averted, and staff feel valued. Everybody wins.)      

MATCH YOUR MISSION: A supportive management style takes on greater significance for nonprofits. After all, if you want employees to embrace a higher calling and altruistic spirit, make it your business to display progressive leadership: avoid public criticism; encourage suggestions; remain calm amidst difficulties; admit mistakes; focus on the big picture; recognize others’ accomplishments; and strive to find the good in most things. An organization is only as good as the people in it. When managers keep the ‘human’ in human resources, everyone benefits.

QUESTION: What other supportive management techniques do you think are important?

One Response

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