If you rule with an iron fist, it’s time to loosen your grip. Gone are the days of a frightening, inaccessible hierarchy. Gone are the days where “open door policy” meant unlocking your office door just so you could get fresh air. These sorts of management styles have failed time and time again.

A survey of 80,000 managers by the Gallup Organization found one quality that sets apart the greatest managers: “They discover what is unique about each person and then capitalize on it.”

Leaders that have proven success all have one thing in common: they use their people as their greatest asset. They don’t hire people to accomplish menial tasks that inch the company forward; they form a team of engaged, innovative employees who show up to work ready to make the company and client experience better than the day before.

But in order to use the skillsets and talents of your workforce, you need to know your employees firsthand. You need to get them engaged with 1) your company, so they’ll love showing up to work, and 2) your management style, so they’ll respect and follow you as a leader.

The Engagement Gap

What happens when you don’t engage with your employees?

There is often a natural segregation that comes between a manager and his or her employees simply due to seniority and job function. Even if you’re the nicest manager in the world, your employees may still see you as “scary” or “intimidating” if you seem like an unapproachable, distant entity. But it doesn’t have to be that way… in fact, it shouldn’t!

If you don’t break this barrier, you create a divide between management and worker. This divide means employees:

  • Will be hesitant to come to you with problems or concerns
  • Won’t give you frank feedback (feedback that could make their engagement or the business better)
  • Will have a negative view of you and the company
  • Won’t be as engaged
  • Will have a higher turnover rate
  • Won’t provide top-notch service to your clients

In order to bridge this divide and avoid those issues, you need to make your employees feel like equals. You need to develop relationships beyond conversations about time & attendance, yearly reviews, and daily tasks.

So how do you build those connections in order to bridge the gap?

1. Have an open door policy.

Be accessible to your employees. Don’t just open your door and give your employees a confused look when they walk in. Instead, encourage them to come talk to you. Bring them in not just for “scary” talks but also just to have a conversation about how things are going. Put cookies or candy on your desk, so people will feel more comfortable walking into your office for both the good and the bad.

The goal with an open door policy is to provide your employees with an appropriate space to share their feedback, discuss concerns, share wins, and create a stronger manager-employee bond.

If you’re looking to go bold, forget the open door policy. Make it an open concept policy. Don’t have your own office. If you do have your own office, make it available to others to use during break times or for back-house work. Make your office the “working” office for anyone in the store or restaurant. This makes the physical space less intimidating, and you will be more approachable by extension.


2. Get on the floor.

Remember that an open door invites people in and encourages you to leave your office. Don’t spend the entire day in the back of the store or restaurant, plugging in numbers and running the “behind the scenes.” While that’s important, it’s equally as important to get out in the muck of it with your employees. You want to see them in action, coach them in real-time, and work alongside them.

Being on the floor will make them respect you more because it proves you can walk the walk. It will also make you a better coach and help the development of your employees, since you can provide feedback as it happens. You’ll also better understand the needs of your business from the frontline, so you can create improve processes for both your employees and customers.

3. Coach your employees.

An open door policy and being on the floor helps give you face time with your employees. People want to be coached. They want to do better in their jobs. They want to be more successful and less stressed. If you provide them the appropriate feedback to help them develop, they’ll thank you for it. Face-to-face coaching and training boost employee engagement and happiness while also providing better service to the client.

4. Understand your employees’ working habits.

In order to coach your workers in the way that will be most fruitful, you have to understand your employees’ unique working methods. People learn differently, approach feedback differently, and handle situations differently. In this way, it’s important to deeply understand how each individual works and learns so you can approach situations accordingly.


If you find out how they best retain information (listening, seeing, touching, experiencing), then you can figure out the best methods for coaching and improvement. This means you must also have an adaptable coaching style. You aren’t just throwing feedback at them; you’re actually presenting them value in a way that fits their individual style.


You should also provide them with feedback the way that they want feedback. Some people like constructive feedback because it helps them grow, while others see it as a personal offense if done publicly. Find out how they like feedback: informal or formal, in person or email? Ask your employees outright: how would you like me to communicate feedback with you?


In which areas do they thrive? When do they need additional guidance? When are they most productive? What makes them more productive? How do they handle customers? How do they handle their coworkers? Know their working habits to schedule, balance, and interact with employees appropriately.


Find out what inspires your employees. What brings them to work every day? What goals do they have? What are they looking forward to? What are they passionate about? If you find their inspiration and passions, you can best coach to those motivators. Training with respect to an individual’s specific stimulus creates a deeper bond, more engaged employee, and higher rates of coaching success.

5. Recognize achievements.


Recognizing your employees makes them feel good, boosts their self-esteem, and raises their engagement with their work. Even small recognitions go a long way. You can thank someone for staying an hour later than they were scheduled or you can appreciate the way an employee handled a difficult customer. The more you show genuine gratitude and respect for your employees, the more often they’ll do tasks and actions that deserve praise; consequently, they’ll be doing more good deeds, and your business will grow through your people.

It’s important to note that you should take #4 into account here as well. Find out how each employee likes to be recognized. Some people love a huge fanfare, and some people like a pat on the back. You want to recognize them and appreciate them in a way that will make them feel comfortable.

6. Ask non-personal personal questions.

Get to know your employees on an individual level to help build rapport. Don’t ask too many personal questions about their home-lives as this can be uncomfortable (and sometimes illegal). However, there are non-personal questions you can ask that give insight into the individuality of your employee.

These questions can include:

  • What’s your spirit animal?
  • What is your favorite book? movie? TV show?
  • What’s your favorite food?
  • What are some of your pet peeves?
  • If you work in a restaurant, what’s your favorite thing on the menu?
  • If you work in a store, what’s your favorite piece from this season’s line?
  • How do you like to relax?
  • What are some of your pet peeves?
  • Do you have any secret talents?

These types of questions not only help you learn more about your employee, but they also can help you use that information in your leadership role. What kind of animal a person relates with can say a lot about their character. Are they a powerful lion or a free-flying bird? Knowing their pet peeves can help you understand what not to do around them in order to best build a relationship. You can even inspire them using a quote from their favorite movie! These tidbits of information will show your employees that you care about them, and this will make them feel more comfortable and content with their work environment.

7. Have team bonding exercises.

Get everyone out of the store. Bonding outside of the work setting can help boosts the relationships within it. Volunteer as a group, start a softball league, or have a pizza party. These social situations can create more engaged employees that will seep over into the workplace as well.

What happens when you bridge the gap?

employee engagement

  • New ideas
  • Honest feedback
  • Sense of community and culture
  • Teamwork
  • Engaged, innovative workers
  • Customer-focus
  • Better processes for client
  • Better leadership
  • High-functioning team

The Bottom Line

Engagement directly correlates to retention, company culture, and future growth. Your business can only run and succeed through your employees. By bridging the gap and closing the divide, you create stronger relationships of engagement, value, and achievement.