Employee Rapport: Are You Connected?

Dec 3, 2009

As a business owner, you know how important it is to be “on the same page” with your employees. The question remains, how exactly do you get on the same page with your employees and why is it so important?

Although at first it seems fairly obvious, yet many managers and owners are equally divided on the importance of building employee rapport. Paul Barnaby, national sales manager at BBK Performance, Temecula, Calif., says “Building good rapport with your teammates is one of the single, most important things you can do to ensure a healthy, productive and long-lasting relationship in the workplace.” On the other hand, a manager, preferring anonymity, at a large warehouse distributor says, “…We’re not interested in these methods and we do not practice any special method in developing employee rapport. Our environment is based on each individual and the will to succeed.”

Still, effective employee rapport is a requirement in today’s relationship-driven business.

Rapport… Excuse Me?

First off, if you’re like me, you’ll need a quick refresher on what we mean by “rapport.” Rapport (ra por’) noun, French, meaning close relationship, harmony. Let’s look at rapport as building trust and a strong interpersonal relationship with your employees. Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia found at www.wikipedia.org, has one of the best descriptions I’ve seen: “Rapport is one of the most important features or characteristics of unconscious human interaction. It is commonality of perspective, being in ‘sync,’ being on the same ‘wavelength’ as the person [with] whom you are talking. Informally, rapport can also refer to a feeling of harmonious connection between people or groups of people.

It’s important to note that, although on the surface rapport appears to look a lot like friendship, in the work environment it’s simply another effective management tool. You build rapport by taking a genuine interest in your employees through workplace conversation not personal conversation. Bruce Tulgan, author of “It’s Okay To Be The Boss,” writes, “If you build your rapport with employees by talking to them as if you’re friends, when the conversation turns serious (as it always does), you have to go from being Mr. Nice-Guy-Friend to Mr. Jerk-Boss. Then, after the dust settles, you go back to being Mr. Nice-Guy-Friend. The problem is that Mr. Friend starts feeling like a fake and Mr. Boss struggles for legitimacy, especially because all the rapport-building was done with Mr. Friend.”

‘Mirror’ Imaging

There’s no better time to begin building rapport with your employees than on the first day of employment. Most managers I spoke with use some form of “mirroring” by pairing the new employee directly with a seasoned employee to learn the intricate details of the job while at the same time getting to know the employee on a personal level.

Malen Reger and Brian Lounsberry, the team behind the remarkable success at Motovicity, Madison Heights, Mich., explain that they begin with “developing a personal relationship with new hires on day one by letting them work with a senior sales rep. We take them to lunch and we spend some time getting to know them as an individual.”

Bob Scheid from Fidanza, Perry, Ohio, adds “be sure to introduce the employees to as much of the staff as possible, ask about their family and interests, treat them like you would want to be treated.”

A successful manager will look for and find those things he has in common with the employee, thus allowing the employee to gain confidence in communicating with management.

Build It And They Will Come

BBK’s Barnaby says it best: “How do you extend the honeymoon phase?” It’s being consistent and it’s being communicative. In fact, the word “communication” came up in every interview. To build and maintain employee rapport you must continue taking a genuine interest in your employees through active listening and responsiveness. Fidanza’s Scheid adds, “No matter what your position your employees hold they want to be appreciated. Take the time to tell them when they’ve done a good job. Do it in public so other employees can see the praise.” He goes on to say, “Keep them involved and ask for their input when considering changes to their job. This gives them ownership in what they do.”

Lounsberry notes that the Motovicity sales team spends a lot of time together inside and outside of the office, which not only aids in team building but helps build rapport and long-term trust among each other.

“Rapport becomes a professional friendship throughout the distribution channels as we build trust amongst ourselves and between the manufacturer and the retailer,” Lounsberry says.

Gigi Ho, co-founder and vice president of aftermarket technology firm Digital Performance, Long Beach, Calif., adds, “Let your employees know that you have a vested interest in their success and personal growth. Have daily, weekly, monthly walk-and-talks or sit-and-gab.” Ho goes on to illustrate this based on something you’re probably already doing: “This could be a walk to get coffee in the morning or an after-work beer and pretzels,” she says. “Be genuinely interested, listen, ask questions, then follow up.”

You can maintain and build employee rapport through a consistent and interactive dialogue with your employees, checking in on everything from outstanding tasks, problems to be solved, workplace enhancements and anything related to keeping your employees focused on the job.

Is Worker Rapport Measurable?

Beyond the seemingly obvious “happy employee,” how do you know if you’ve effectively accomplished workplace rapport with your employees? “What I have found works the best is to simply talk to your employees,” says Scheid. “The more conversations you have with them the more likely they are to open up to you about how they really feel. A simple ‘How was your weekend?’ works wonders -” so train your management to take an interest in your employees while still keeping the chain of command intact.”

Barnaby agrees adding, “Some ways you can measure your rapport with your co-workers other than the seemingly obvious like attendance, quality of work, quality of interaction and so on, is to listen to your employees. When we are unhappy we share those frustrations.”

Employee rapport is subjective and cannot be effectively quantified, but it’s certainly measurable and it’s up to you, the manager, to keep a barometer of employee rapport handy. Gauge your employees’ reaction to wins and losses, and their ability to communicate this information to you in a timely and accurate manner. Use this growing knowledge of your employees to guide your management strategies. The more you know, the stronger the rapport and the better your understanding of what your team can accomplish and with what resources.

Lost Rapport? Rebuild It

“First and foremost, head off the problem before it happens,” says Scheid, adding that “we had a major flood two years ago. Most of the employees looked at the building and thought their jobs were gone. It did not do much for morale.”

“We saw this and made sure we set the example by showing them we would roll up our sleeves and work even harder. It changed their outlook from ‘we’re sunk’ to ‘we can do this.’ Be the example.”

Every work environment will provide managers an opportunity to rebuild rapport through gained trust. Ho says that “employee rapport is often lost because, in times of difficulty, most people have a tendency to turn inward, which in turn shuts down communication.” She goes on to echo Scheid’s comments: “This causes feelings of insecurity among your employees, and powerlessness. It is important that in the difficult times – especially in the difficult times – that communication stays open within your company.”

Start Today!

You are constantly communicating and interacting with your employees, and in doing so effectively you are building and maintaining necessary rapport for long-lasting and trusted working relationship. In the end, Digital Performance’s Ho says it best: “At the core, building rapport is about building trust, credibility and understanding.”

So take a few minutes today to catch up with your employees on a more personal level. Back in June there were local car shows over the weekend, presidential candidates making stops in town, and one employee I know had gone to his son’s first tee ball practice. There’s plenty to talk about, and in doing so, any manager can gain insight into his or her employees’ current task list, issues with customers or products, etc. Talk to them and you’ll begin to build rapport.

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5 Active Steps to Build Employee Rapport

  • Use active listening by asking probing questions and following-up.
  • Be genuinely interested in your employees and their lives.
  • Be authentic and flexible in your communication with your employees.
  • Engage your employees, strategize with them, and use their input.

Always remember, people forget what you’ve done and said, but they never forget how you make them feel.