Reality TV with a message: How to be a better boss

Business, Money, News

Contestants on reality TV shows are no strangers to tough feedback and teachable moments. Every person who ever fired up a sewing machine on Project Runway has had mentor Tim Gunn tell them to “make it work,” usually after providing some harsh real talk about why their garment isn’t working at all.

But some of the best mentorship and coaching on TV is with an actual coach on the docu-series Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Houston Texans on HBO. Viewers get to watch Texans’ Head Coach Bill O’Brien meet with players to provide instant feedback on performance—or deliver the tough news about roster cuts.

Aside from being entertaining, voyeuristic television, there is a lot to be learned about how and when to give feedback, how to be a leader, how to empower your employees—basically how to be a better boss. And being a better boss translates into dollars and cents when you lower your risk of employment-related litigation.

Give constructive and timely feedback—and document it

Good bosses don’t wait for an employee’s annual review to let a direct report know that they’ve done something wrong or need to improve in a certain area. Like Bill O’Brien with his Texans, corrections need to be made immediately, so coaching and counseling with employees is an ongoing practice. HR Daily Advisor puts it this way, “Think of the performance appraisal as an ongoing workplace conversation.”

That conversation should also include proper documentation. Creating a paper trail and creating an environment where employees understand what behaviors are required and what is being expected of them helps eliminate confusion. This is particularly important in the event of terminations and job reductions; an employee who is surprised by a termination decision is going to be looking for answers. And those answers just might come in the form of a lawsuit, another scenario in which proper documentation is a good thing.

Keep your “open door” actually open

A lot of bosses say they have an open-door policy, but when an employee actually approaches that boss, the door is either figuratively or literally closed. We’re talking about a boss who is constantly checking her email or rushing an employee with an issue out the door. That type of “closed” open door isn’t going to win any fans among the employees. On Hard Knocks, the entire Houston Texans’ coaching staff keeps their doors open. Even General Manager Rick Smith tells one of the players on final cut day, “Let me know if you need anything.” That’s what having a true open-door policy means.

Certainly every manager is going to have a lot of different tasks on her plate, but actively listening to employee concerns is important. Credibility comes into play here, too. If you say you care about employee concerns but never actually demonstrate that you care, then employees will start to question other management statements and decisions.

Companies like Google are famous for their employee innovation programs that allow employees to identify problems and opportunities and suggest solutions or innovation. Programs like these build engagement and get employees invested in not just their own success but also the success of the company.

Value diversity

Employers who value diversity and take it into account in all aspects of hiring, firing, and promotion of employees show people (and government agencies) that diversity isn’t just a slogan in a mission statement.

Instigating hiring practices that bring in candidates from a variety of locations and backgrounds is a great start. Providing opportunities for all employees to participate in training and advancement programs is also important. And of course, defining diversity goals and holding managers accountable for them is equally vital. These measures work to eliminate discrimination claims before they happen, but also help defend against any claims that do happen.

For a football team, diversity isn’t defined by race or ethnicity. Bill O’Brien needs all different types of players—stars, utility guys, speed guys, tough guys—to put the Texans in the best position to win on game day. Team chemistry is important and that chemistry can only come from the right mix of differences.

Team chemistry matters on the playing field of business, too. IBM, for example, is a global company that couldn’t do what they do without valuing diversity in cultural and gender differences as well as differences in thought, practice, and style. Their diversity and inclusion program is engrained in their worldwide culture.

Building an environment where people are engaged and feel valued will lower your risks of employment-related litigation. More importantly, employees will be more productive, more excited about coming to work, and provide better service to customers and clients.


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