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Opinion: 7 tips to win hearts, minds of employees

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The loyalty that once bolted employees enthusiastically to their employers has diminished over the years.
Employees expect more from employers. They want to be respected and appreciated by management, they want clear direction and goals, and the desire to learn and grow in their careers. If they don’t experience this, many will leave for another employer. 

This job-changing trend coupled with the escalating war on talent keeps even the best employers on their heels. Some are meeting this challenge, and they reap the rewards of higher morale, productivity, adaptability to change and talent retention. Still, other leaders are not doing so well.  

Here are seven ways I’ve seen smart leaders win the hearts and minds of employees. 

1. Think outside in. A few years ago, a CEO client of mine forbid his employees to set personal pictures at their desk because he wanted it to look professional. His policy was ridiculous, of course, because life outside of work is where most people camp their hearts and minds.  

To win your employee’s emotional support and engagement, start with taking an interest in their lives outside of work. 

2. Abolish ambiguity. Ambiguity from a leader in any quantity is harmful because it hinders people’s efforts and organizational results. Be crystal clear with people about goals, responsibilities, resources and timelines. Regularly reinforce important information and check for clarity across various employee levels.  

3. Lean on optimism. Leaders set the tone for employees. One of my go-to books for coaching is “The Power of Optimism,” by Alan Loy McGinnis. In it, he emphasizes that optimistic leaders scan a range of possible remarks to make until they find a positive one. Optimism doesn’t require you to overlook problems, but rather to realize how your words impact people and to choose them wisely.  

4. Master communications. Positive employee experience isn’t likely if a leader is a poor communicator. An online Inc. Magazine article referenced a U.S. and U.K. study that found communication barriers cost a large corporation on average over $60 million a year in lost productivity. 

Effective communicators and organizations talk with employees, not at them. They dialogue frequently, and they don’t use slide decks or complicated management lingo because it doesn’t resonate. They create feedback loops for two-way, honest communications. They listen well.

5. Stay clued in. Smart leaders know their organization’s health, while others don’t seem to have a clue. A recent McKinsey’s Organizational Health Index found that many leaders overestimate the impact of their current communications on employee behavior. Leaders mistakenly believe their communications move employees to make positive behavior changes.  

To be clued in, interact with employees on a human level. Go around and talk with them. Ask questions and comprehend what they’re saying.  

6. Pour on the gratitude. Gratitude brings down relational barriers between a leader and an employee. A Wall Street Journal article cited a 2015 study that found employees are more likely to repeat important behavior when it is appreciated or acknowledged by management. Unfortunately, many managers don’t express gratitude often enough.  

To make gratitude actionable, set a calendar reminder, purchase a box of thank you cards and keep them handy. Give a gift card along with a hand-written note, or stop by their desk and express your appreciation in person. 

7. Show sincere trust and respect. I’ve seen fake trust and insincere respect before. More than one client I’ve worked with promoted their open-door policy or employee suggestion process but didn’t mean it. They had no intention to take action or to provide feedback. Management wanted the appearances of trust and respect but didn’t want to make the necessary efforts to earn it. Leaders, who show sincere respect and trust, evidence it in all of their interactions, priorities and actions.

Winning the hearts and minds of employees is something smart leaders are always thinking about and doing. 

Consultant, professional speaker and author Mark Holmes is president of Consultant Board Inc. and He can be reached at


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