Are Your Managers Spending Enough Time Selling to Employees?

It seems organizations recognize the need to sell outside the company, but often don’t consider the importance of winning over their own team members. Some tips to consider.

When work groups go on business trips together to industry events, it’s easy for managers to focus on finding potential new customers to eat meals and share drinks with.

I once heard an employee worry about keeping it secret that she was spending the evening with her colleagues rather than with a prospective customer. More recently, however, I heard another employee tell managers directly that he wanted to spend the evening with his colleagues for a “team dinner.” That told me that it’s possible progress is being made. For years, it seemed that companies recognized the need to sell outside the company, but didn’t consider the importance of winning over their own team.

I found an article by Sammi Caramela on that looks at “How to Improve Relations Between Your Managers and Employees.” She points to conflict management, workplace safety, career development, teambuilding, and employee appreciation as being essential to employee engagement success.

The trickiest items on that list are teambuilding and employee appreciation. When do you find time to do it, and when you do it, what works best? Companies have downsized for years, so many work groups are managing with skeleton staffs. That means activities intended to be rewards could cause undue stress because of the time required.

The solution may be to focus on times when the group is already together, and then make the most of that time. Work groups sometimes have lunch together, but it’s often not the whole group, it’s usually rushed, and it may be infrequent. A staff lunch once per quarter at a restaurant near the office could be both a reward that shows appreciation and a way to solidify relationships. A colleague once remarked jokingly about how well our work group ordered dinner together, picking out side dishes everyone liked. “Well, we would really be in trouble if we couldn’t even order food together,” I said, laughing. The truth is, you can tell how well a work group collaborates sometimes by how well they are able to spend time out of the office together. There are people I haven’t enjoyed working with, But I am nevertheless able to have a pleasant meal or drink with them. When a work relationship(s) gets to the point where even casual, “off-duty” conversation becomes difficult, it’s a sign the manager has serious problems.

If everyone in the work group is able and willing, a work team could take monthly, or even weekly, walks together in a nearby park or walkable area of your city. Since walking and talking in a large group is hard, you could walk together to a spot in the park, and then do your talking there. If it’s just two or three people in the work group, you may not have to stop anywhere, and can just have your discussion while in motion. The great thing about mobile meetings is you know no one will fall asleep!

There is also great power in “Let’s get coffee.” The manager who takes time at least once a week to sit down for 10 to 20 minutes with each employee is the manager who will keep their pulse on employee engagement and problem areas that may be brewing, such as an assignment that isn’t going to be successful.

I had a friend who used to go to the gym after work with her boss. They didn’t do it for any reason other than the two of them both needed to exercise after spending the day sitting at the office, but the time together probably gave them a chance to get to know each other better. I bet that work-related topics sometimes naturally came up, in a more relaxed way than they would have in a formal meeting setting. Similarly, I once took a weekly yoga class after work with two of my colleagues. The class was held about a 20-minute walk from our office, so we would walk there together, and then also have the time together in the class. One of those colleagues was a person I felt I had tensions with, so being able to get to know her away from work gave me insights into who she was as a person, including how her mind worked.

Productivity is an important marker in business, but sometimes a corporate culture can put such a compulsive emphasis on productivity that managers have a hard time looking past it to the importance of spending quality time with employees. For example, in my career, I have had the experience of noting the “fun” of a staff dinner, or other event, and having the manager reflexively make a note about the business success of the meeting we had attended. He seemed afraid to acknowledge that we had experienced a fun evening together as a group.

It’s OK to openly have fun with your work group, just as you would proudly boast about a fun “client” dinner. A manager would be eager to spread the word about a client dinner that was so enjoyable that better relationships were forged. Managers could be trained to look at time with employees the same way. The culture could evolve to include valuing employees as people managers have to win over as much as they have to win over prospective new customers.

Do you emphasize the importance of winning over both new customers AND your own employees?