Simply put, managers drive employee engagement, which drives business results.

The Facts

Being a leadership and career development enthusiast, I naturally find myself drawn to research and strategies to improve employee engagement.  I have seen first-hand that it drives business results by lowering turnover, boosting productivity, and enhancing quality.  In fact, a recent study shared by Bluebridge, a technology company focused on tools to improve employee engagement, indicates higher engagement drives 22% higher productivity, 50% lower turnover rates, and 3x more in profit margin.  Another organization, FirstPerson, who helps organizations design meaningful employment experiences, recently shared this video to illustrate this clear need.  Other smart organizations like Gallup have been measuring engagement for years.  And, it remains stagnant in the U.S., hovering around 32% according in the most recent Gallup study.  In this report, Gallup recommends that “organizations approach employee engagement as an ongoing human capital strategy and consider all of the elements that matter in performance management – from leadership accountability and manager education to clear role expectations and employee development opportunities.”

Further research indicates similar strategies.  If you search the term “employee engagement,” you will likely get articles with a titles such as – “7 ways to engage your employees” – with similar recipes.  The ingredients go something like this:  create a team culture, require individual development plans, foster work/life balance with telecommute opportunities, provide real time feedback, hire talented managers, etc.  The list goes on.  While all of these approaches have significant merit, these one-size fits all strategies do not work.  Why?  At the risk of stating the obvious, all organizations and teams are not created equal.

My Story

I remember my first management role.  I led a sizable 60-employee team on second shift, and managed the safety program for our 200-employee facility.  I was a young manager and zero management experience placed in a very challenging situation.  I had, however, recently graduated from a two-year leadership program that taught me how to communicate and build cohesive teams.  I had a serious advantage.

This organization measured employee engagement, and, as a manager, I was accountable for my team’s engagement.  It was on my performance review, and it was measured throughout the year.  At first, my reaction was, “Oh no, that’s not fair.  I cannot control how happy people are at work.”  I inherited a team of disengaged employees.  They worked a lot of mandatory overtime, they had a rough safety record, and they just frowned a lot.  In the beginning, I felt sad coming in most days.

Yet, over the course of my time with the organization and this team, I came to appreciate my pivotal role in engaging that team.  The employees responded to how I chose to interact with them.  When I asked for input, rather than barking orders, they took note.  Meetings were different, people talked to one another, people smiled coming into the warehouse.  It felt like a winning team.  So, how did it happen?

In the spirit of simple strategies and themes, I have a few ah-ha’s of my own to add:

  • It took time. My team did not believe me day one or month one that things would change.  I had to keep saying the same thing to the team for them to believe me.  Over and over again, I fielded their challenging questions, walked the racks, and positioned myself physically on their side when talking to them.  It takes time to build trust.
  • I had a talented team. Once we set goals and held people accountable, and they knew what good looked like, they wanted to succeed.  For those not on the bus, we helped them self-select a position or another organization that was a better fit for them.  There were tough talks, and we coached first, but we had to make decisions with a team mentality.  I asked myself, “If we keep him/her, how will that impact the team?”  If the answer was negative, the decision was easy.  Once a disengaged team member exits, the team rises to the occasion.
  • People need a voice. Employees must be heard, even when the decision is not aligned with what they want.  Having a healthy team meeting as often as we possible where people could share successes, challenges, and ideas, gave us an instant boost in morale.  People left those meetings with more pep in their step.  The best ideas come from the team, not the leader.

Although I could list another 10 themes, at the risk of being one of the 7-step articles, I will refrain and stop here.  The point is that my team was unique; they were motivated by different things.  I had to find out what made them tick before we could ever improve engagement.  I had to utilize my communication, teambuilding, and leadership skills to drive that success.  Still, today, my most proud career accomplishment is winning the Chairman’s Employee Engagement award for my team’s 95% engagement score at the end of my two years in that role.  We were one of the top five facilities globally that year.  It was a long road, but one that inspires me still today.

Call to Action

Working now with organizations that recognize the value of employee engagement, I see a variety of strategies at play.  The most central theme to all of them is the importance of the manager.  I was lucky to see what good looked like.  I was a part of a two-year leadership development program leading up to this role that armed me with the necessary communication, teambuilding, and leadership skills to be successful.

Yet, this approach is different for different organizations.  The non-profit, corporate, and small businesses I work with invest in their managers because they believe that it will drive business results, with positive effects on turnover, productivity, and quality.    Clients tell me they see a difference when managers use the tools we discuss in our coaching.  It does not need to be a two-year training program, but what’s a $1,200 per year per employee investment likely to yield for a ROI?  According to the Association of Talent Development, on average, organizations invest $1,200 in their employees.  Those that I work with that invest even more, particularly in their managers, report better business results.

An organization I partner with, Synergy Consulting Services, believes that learning is a process, not an event.  Their Vital Learning content provides learning experiences in areas of Leadership Essentials, Customer Service, Productivity, Team Development, and Talent Management.  They also design custom training programs to meet specific needs for organizations.  If  If you are not currently investing in your most talented and important managers, now is the time.  I realize now that I was lucky.  I worked for an organization early in my career that invested in me.  As a result, my employees stayed longer than other companies in the area, they worked more hours, and we set record quality and safety numbers.  And, I give glowing recommendations for that organization without being asked.  Their investment paid off.

How will you invest in your managers?

#helpyourteamgrow #employeeengagement #investinmanagers

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