Insight & Analysis

The art of putting round pegs in round holes: people management for treasurers

Published: Oct 2019

Team building is one of the most important aspects of a successful company. After all, without good relationships with staff, you’re unlikely to have a good quality of work.

Team building exercise, trying to balance a stick

The O.C. Tanner Institute and HealthStream conducted a 100,000-person study throughout the US and Canada and found that 79% of employees who quit their job give lack of appreciation as a key reason for leaving. Of the participants that reported the highest morale at work, 94.4% of them thought their managers were effective at recognising them. Of the employees that had the lowest morale, only 2.4% said they were.

Clearly, management has a heavy impact on employee satisfaction, and by extension, employee performance. If you do an online search for ‘developing management skills’, or ‘building team rapport’ you can find an abundance of journal articles, PDFs and self-help books, all offering to improve your abilities. But nothing can quite beat real-life experience, or at least an account of it.

Hemsley Fraser is a training company with bases in the UK, the US, Canada, Germany and India. Ian Caldecourt is one of their senior consultants based in London and he says that the best way for managers to develop a good rapport with their team is to simply speak to them. The way to establish a strong relationship is communication and Hemsley Fraser encourages face-to-face interaction, even in the increasingly digital age. “You need to be recognised as a leader, not just a picture from the intranet,” Caldecourt says, “it’s important that staff have face-to-face time with their leaders, even if it’s over something like Skype, or as a blended experience.”

“Eyes are the gateway to the soul, so look in them,” he states. In order to build a good rapport with your team you need to take the time to talk to them. “Understand what they enjoy, what they don’t enjoy. Spend 20 minutes per week talking to your people,” he advises.

Sonia Clifton-Bligh, Director, Regional Treasury Services Centre Asia Pacific, Johnson & Johnson, agrees wholeheartedly. “Face-to-face exchange is always more desirable,” she states. Not only does it allow staff to connect with you, but it ensures that communications are clear and strong – a necessity for any workplace, but especially for treasury where miscommunication costs money.

Taking the time to get to know your team and caring personally for them is a key part of a manager’s role, and can make the difference between having a good relationship, and by extension a good quality of work, and not. This doesn’t necessarily mean becoming their close friend, but it does mean learning about and understanding them.

As for encountering team members that you struggle to build this connection with, it’s a very human and innate desire that a lot of leaders want to be liked, but unfortunately you can’t possibly be liked by everybody. Is this an issue? Of course not, says Caldecourt, unless it begins to impact work.

Caldecourt mentions a favourite quote of his by Dan Pink that defines how management changes throughout time, “Management is not a tree, it’s a television set,”. A tree is organically grown and doesn’t need to evolve with the times. A television set built in the 1970s worked great then, but won’t really be accepted now. Similarly, a management style that worked and was accepted in the 70s won’t necessarily work and be accepted now. Management theories have evolved from a focus on authority and structure, to a more open and wider remit, including the wellbeing of the employees. “As a leader, don’t set out to be perfect,” he adds, because whilst mistakes are not ideal, they are how we learn.

But, Caldecourt points out that there are a lot of paradoxes with managerial styles in that companies want their leaders to be brave and make snap decisions, but they also want them to engage with their staff. “They want you to be curious, but then they want you to be structured with critical thinking,” he adds. It begs the question: just how should managers and leaders behave?

Well, from Caldecourt’s experience the key thing for him was learning that not everyone works and thinks the same way as himself. “The best leaders are the best learners,” he says, and a leader needs to learn to work to their team member’s strengths instead of trying to make them conform to how they believe is the correct way to work. There are in fact a number of key leadership traits in the digital age and perhaps it’s about keeping the balance right in these?

He adds that companies need to stop trying to ensure all staff are ‘all-rounders’ and allow some of them to specialise in their strong areas – in much the same way that you wouldn’t expect an excellent cricket bowler to suddenly become an amazing batsperson. Instead, you focus on their bowling capabilities and allow them to excel at that, let the batspeople do the batting, and allow the all-rounders to do everything they’re good at.

Clifton-Bligh makes an effort to ensure that her team always feels “empowered, trusted and respected,” and encourages “an environment where people feel their voice is heard and that they won’t be judged for their contribution”. In a treasury team this is especially important, as staff with differing areas of expertise need to feel like they can be heard when they speak out.

Hemsley Fraser itself has transformed its approach to learning, going from predominantly classroom-based courses to offering on-demand, blended learning and even experiential courses, including ones where you learn to sail, or spend the day rowing. People can sometimes learn better by doing something not work-related, says Caldecourt.

For him, the important thing is that the learning experience is impactful and that you actually learn from it. It’s all very well learning how to sail and having fun whilst doing so, but did you utilise people’s strengths in the right places? How did you adapt when you were in crisis and how is that like a crisis you face at work? What’s the work benefit in doing an activity like that? It’s the transference of skills that’s important in these courses, and the fun then builds team rapport on its own.

So how would we summarise how treasurers can develop their management skills and build team rapport? Well, from Caldecourt’s expertise the answer lies in communication and open-mindedness. Communication is key to all successful managers and leaders, and learning to understand each employee’s strengths will ensure the smooth running of a team.

Clifton-Bligh’s focus is on her communications with her team, and agrees that it’s essential for inspiring, engaging and encouraging a team. Taking the time to get to know and care about your staff will build a good rapport with them, thus improving the quality of their work, and the treasury team as a whole.

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