A Relational Framework For Work Power Dynamics

A Recipe For The Digital Age: No More Employees

The word “employee” is getting re-evaluated. Groups of individuals cooperate to achieve specific goals in companies. Hence, companies have collaborators whom they still call employees. This is a mistake. Companies have collaborators. Recognizing the distinction is the first step in rebalancing the power dynamics in the relationship between managers and employees. It is not purely semantics. The relabeling softens the use of top-down power. When a company redefines its power structure with employees/collaborators, it is creating room for connection.

Connection is the currency of the new emerging workplace. Connection is possible when the relationship reaches a more horizontal plane. This update also allows the company to meet modern workplace expectations. So, we begin our journey to becoming a digital age leader by erasing the word “employee” from our environments.

This rebalancing of power would be pointless without getting a big serving of skills. The emerging labor force will seek to work for companies where connection, alternative work arrangements, and personal development are possible. During my 25 years of legal practice, a common thread of employment claims were failed relationships with employees. The lack of a relational framework for managers creates dysfunction in their relationships with the employees. In turn, those failed, dysfunctional relationships morphed into employment claims against the company. When analyzed, the root cause of the failed relationship was the absence of a work-specific relational framework for managers.

As managers, we are able to improve employee engagement by inspiring rather than by coercing collaborators into production. Inspiration is not something you can order and impose on an employee. It is something you elicit. And you inspire when you are meaningfully connected to others. Using triple respect, empathy and detached mindfulness (RED) in tandem is what I do that works to connect with collaborators meaningfully. Connecting in a meaningful way is what will get you on your way to inspiring collaborators into engagement.

Quick story: the clue that managers are never taught about how to relate to collaborators came to me a while back. When I was litigating, I would repeatedly hear things like: “We were like a family. I treated him like a son/brother/father/cousin and look like I got repaid. I cannot believe that after all I did for him/her , I was left hanging.“… or similar statements. This type of statement reveals disappointment at failed expectations, failed expectations because the employee did not behave like a family member or friend although he was treated as one.

Those failed expectations will unfold every single time you use personal-interpersonal skills at work. When it was my turn at managing employees, I designed a relational framework that I called RED to relate to employees. I knew that relating to collaborators with the skills I was using to relate to family and friends was setting myself up for failure.

I taught the RED framework to my direct reports. I validated that the skills were teachable, repeatable and that they work! Once managers and supervisors began using the skills, the transformation in the organization’s culture and the transformation in the individuals abounded. Employee engagement improved and the dismal turnover rate decreased. It was not easy. Teaching supervisors and managers to leave behind the top-down style of bossing around was difficult at first. However, when the inspirations and transformations began, the surrender of the old way also began. The results spoke for themselves.

Changes in leadership styles began decades ago. Even in the 1970s, Peter Drucker was urging companies to become “human beings” centric. Fifty-two years later, that change is still incomplete. Why? The reasons vary. But the main reason is because managers could get away with it, until now. I propose managers are neither given the emotional intelligence tools nor held accountable for the methods they choose to interact with employees, as long as they are lawful

If you have ever managed employees, you know that within certain bounds a degree of lawful mistreatment of collaborators is tolerated. For example, managers get trained in sexual harassment and the like but are not required to abandon top-down management interactions filled with controlled coercion and subjugation. They are trained to know the boundaries but not how the interactions are to take place within those boundaries. They are shown the legal limits of their behavior, but the quality of the interaction with the employee is mostly discretional.

Hence, managers that learn specific emotional intelligence skills that will allow them to interact with employees with a high degree of respect, empathy, and mindful detachment are ahead of the curve. The manager who is able to consistently relate to employees within the bounds of the RED framework will make meaningful connections with the team members and collaborators they get to lead. They will become a trusted growth leader.

Excerpted from: Yvette De Luna, Broken Work Vows: 3 EQ Skills to Build Strong Relationships with Employees in the Digital Age. Independently published: 2021.

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