How Seeing Things Employees-Way Builds Performance - Ideas for Leaders
Idea #353

How Seeing Things Employees-Way Builds Performance

This is one of our free-to-access content pieces. To gain access to all Ideas for Leaders content please Log In Here or if you are not already a Subscriber then Subscribe Here.
Main Image
Main Image


By adopting an employee-centred attitude to the way you lead, your staff will not only achieve the best for themselves and their own goals, but they will also deliver the best for your business. It requires a move away from the controlling orientation of traditional leadership and towards a more communicative process, in which you try to understand the strengths, fears, and aspirations of employees, and manage them accordingly.


If you could eavesdrop on your employees’ conversations, what do you think they would be saying about you? Or if you look back over your own career, considering the good and the bad bosses, how would you describe them? ‘Inspirational’, ‘empathic’, ‘open to new ideas’, or ‘controlling’, ‘autocratic’, and ‘micromanaging’?

Whatever the answers, there is no escaping the fact that bad leadership exists, but why? Perhaps it is the system that is to blame – we are so busy doing our jobs, and so results-driven, that we simply don’t have the time to deal with others. Perhaps we are too egocentric, looking inwards to our own desire for control and for ‘getting on’, rather than outwards to the people we lead?

Recent research suggests that by flipping the lens and taking an employee-centred perspective, leaders can reap the rewards of a happy and engaged workforce, a more productive organization, and a less self-centred self.

The research included an interview with Stephen Martin, CEO of construction company Clugston, who took part in the Channel 4 programme, Undercover Boss, in which business leaders go ‘undercover’ to find out how their own companies really tick.

Martin’s experience of his company from the viewpoint of the workforce was both insightful and, at times, disappointing. He realized how poorly he had understood some of his employees’ concerns, and he was surprised at how certain initiatives had gone awry, often because of poor communication. Going undercover prompted him to make some important changes in how he ran the company and how he communicated with employees across the group.


If going ‘undercover’ is not a realistic option, here are some alternative ways you can tap into the mindsets of your employees, and find out about the day-to-day realities of your business:

  • ‘Skip-level’ meetings, during which senior executives can talk on a regular basis with employees two levels below in the hierarchy;
  • ‘Brown bag’ lunches, which serve a similar purpose in an informal setting;
  • Web-enabled chat and discussion forums, which are particularly suitable for large companies, where meeting all employees is unrealistic. Whether you are answering questions posed by employees via the  intranet, or using private social networks to exchange ideas, use technology to give your employees a virtual connection to the top;
  • Front-line work, a simple way to cut through the hierarchy. Whether you end up dealing directly with customers, or working alongside employees at shop-floor level, it not only helps you see what day-to-day issues exist, but it also makes you look more human;
  • Reverse mentoring, in which a junior but tech-savvy employee tutors an older manager in the latest technological developments affecting the business.

Whether your employees want more responsibility, a chance to develop certain skills, or recognition for a job well done, leaders need to use techniques like these to try and understand their desires.

Structuring opportunities around the skills and motivations of employees may be more costly and time-consuming initially, but it will be far more fruitful in the long term than fitting employees around the jobs.

Once you have worked out what motivates your employees, and tailored opportunities that combine those motivations with their own skills, you need to manage the experience for them. Essentially, this is about keeping their energy and enthusiasm levels up by maintaining a high-quality work experience, involving them in projects which excite and motivate them, and giving them the chance to let off steam when issues arise.

Managing the employee experience is inextricably linked to understanding the employee mindset – if you don’t know what they want, how can you give them what they want?



What your employees really think. Julian Birkenshaw. London Business School Business Strategy Review (November 2013).

Ideas for Leaders is a free-to-access site. If you enjoy our content and find it valuable, please consider subscribing to our Developing Leaders Quarterly publication, this presents academic, business and consultant perspectives on leadership issues in a beautifully produced, small volume delivered to your desk four times a year.


Idea conceived

November 1, 2013

Idea posted

Apr 2014
challenge block
Can't find the Idea you are after?
Then 'Challenge Us' to source it.


For the less than the price of a coffee a week you can read over 650 summaries of research that cost universities over $1 billion to produce.

Use our Ideas to:

  • Catalyse conversations with mentors, mentees, peers and colleagues.
  • Keep program participants engaged with leadership thinking when they return to their workplace.
  • Create a common language amongst your colleagues on leadership and management practice
  • Keep up-to-date with the latest thought-leadership from the world’s leading business schools.
  • Drill-down on the original research or even contact the researchers directly

Speak to us on how else you can leverage this content to benefit your organization.