How to Engage Your Managers
Any number of strategies can foster employee engagement, but the truth is that your company’s managers generate the greatest results because they occupy the hot-seat positions that affect day-to-day operations, company culture and staff performance. In fact Gallup research reveals managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units.
Managers – often conflicted by organisational change, strategic pivots, responsibility without authority as well as the lure of entrepreneurship – are leaving their positions to advance their careers, and ageing senior staff are retiring from their positions. The management vacuum that these trends create generates a need for effective in-house promoting policies that HR departments manage, and HRM duties increasingly focus on developing better managers through internal policies. Managing and leadership skills can be developed and nurtured; without these efforts, promoting from within could lead to disastrous results from the weaknesses of disengaged, autocratic or self-serving managers who lack true leadership skills.
The Characteristics of Great Leaders
Great leaders make the best managers, and engagement and leadership can be cultivated by a company’s culture, HR policies and executive support. The personal attributes of great leaders include focus, energy, engagement, confidence, passion, patience, inspiration, innovation, integrity and transparency, but more specifically, great leaders follow these best practices:
- Leaders motivate their employees and teams to foster greater engagement.
- Strong managers stand by their people and decisions when faced with challenges.
- Leadership builds trust in relationships.
- The best leaders promote accountability instead of CYA behaviour.
- Great leaders make decisions only after weighing the alternatives carefully and planning action strategies.
Senior leaders and HR staff need to align their corporate business strategies with talent management to develop, nurture and engage managers. Providing middle management profiles offers stronger ways to align developmental and engagement goals. Manager profiles and duties can vary tremendously, so an out-of-the-box profile won’t cover every job or engagement strategy. Once these goals are established, they should carry over to the company’s promotion, recruitment, selection, succession management and development processes.
Seven Consensus Strategies for Manager Engagement
There are many engagement strategies for managers that encourage them to perform to higher levels. For example, succession planning is critical to any organisation, so HRM should maintain a pipeline of high-potential candidates and motivate managers to work for viable promotions. Communications are essential. While it would be unwise to guarantee a particular position that’s already filled, these candidates can be told that they’re being groomed for possible advancement. Their leadership skills can be increased by assigning them high-profile assignments, mentors and extra support and training for leadership development and long-term engagement.
Developing leaders is a proactive strategy for the engagement of manager candidates, and the details of how extensively HR pursues development depend on each company’s succession needs, number of key positions available and how many employees already qualify under different succession strategies. However, it’s never wasteful to foster manager engagement to inspire loyalty, encourage managers to pass on engagement practices to their teams and maximise productivity. Seven strong methods of engaging managers include:
1. Build Trust
The Harvard Business Review blog recommends four ways that managers can build trust with their teams through better engagement practices, and these methods also apply between top management and managers. All too often, managers are left to their own resources to explain inconsistent, unpopular or rapidly evolving policies. These four methods include:
Consistency and transparency are among the most critical elements of building trust. There are times when some company initiatives can’t be disclosed, but you should be as transparent as possible with your managers and explain why some information can’t be disclosed at present. Honesty about the company’s goals, metrics and current performance should be shared as much as possible unless the information would generate overwhelming desertions or security concerns
Use Persuasion Instead of Making Demands
Executives – and in turn, managers – call the shots, but that doesn’t license them to be remote, autocratic and bossy. Leadership involves coaching people to understand why they’re being asked to do certain things or change policies. If a given result could be achieved in several ways, try leaving the details to each manager’s discretion. This strategy can foster an atmosphere of innovation. A persuasive approach will encourage managers to let their teams find the most efficient strategies to accomplish company goals
Any company strategy has its supporters and critics. Admitting mistakes does engage critics of failed strategies by giving them the chance to vent, “I told you so.”, but more importantly, it demonstrates true leadership by taking responsibility. That approach encourages rank-and-file employees to do the same. Admitting mistakes also creates bonding opportunities and forestalls criticism from the supporters of failed policies.
2. Respect Everyone
Admitting mistakes or criticising performances should never devolve into name-calling or badmouthing anyone. Make a concerted effort to criticise an offence and not a person. Tolerating gossip and negative personal comments empowers others to engage in backstabbing activities and CYA behaviour. People who share negative comments know that they could be targeted next for a smear campaign.
3. Collaborate More Often
About 39 percent of employees feel that their organisations don’t collaborate enough, and 75 percent of companies rate team collaboration as critical, but only 18 percent of employers evaluate communications during performance reviews. Collaboration and engagement are basically synonyms, so collaborating with managers is an ideal way to foster engagement. Numerous studies have supported the value of collaborating and engaging managers and employees, and the United Kingdom’s ‘Engage for success Movement’ identified manager engagement as one of the four critical steps of fostering engagement throughout the company.
Collaborative efforts have sky-rocketed globally due to increased communications and breaking down barriers, but some managers find it harder to find out what’s going on in other areas of their companies than other areas of the world. It’s important to foster a collaborative culture of engagement within any organisation by taking ownership of problems and working to improve things continuously. Increase teamwork, let different departments know what the others are doing and improve intra-office communications. It’s also important to include company stakeholders in engagement and collaboration efforts to ensure that any policy changes meet their needs. Support for telecommuting workers is critical to involve them in work collaborations. These remotely situated employees and business associates require extra engagement efforts.
Coaching and cross-training can increase collaborations among employees, which strengthen engagement. Companies can assign managers to fill-in or represent other managers in special circumstances. Creating small, expert teams that can tackle highly technical problems across departments is also a useful strategy, and these teams can keep managers engaged and informed about larger trends and issues. Encouraging peer-to-peer networking, using technology to increase participation on projects and building and maintaining social relationships contribute to a company’s collaborative culture. Managers who collaborate are the first chosen for complex projects that involve interdepartmental cooperation, so it’s critical to instil collaborating and engagement skills in managers.
4. Institutionalise Empathy
Showing empathy for managers is the key to fostering that quality in them and strengthening their engagement with the organisation. You can offer empathy training and encourage your managers to practise it, but the effort will fall on deaf hears unless you consider the managers’ situations where they’re often stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Try to instil empathy in managers by practising empathy with them, seeking managerial input and learning from failures while maintaining optimism about the company and its practices. These are tasks that HR departments are eminently qualified to perform.
5. Recognise Performance
Managers often receive the worst aspects of employee recognition programs, which damages their engagement. Top management executives delegate performance recognition and team engagement to managers, which expands their duties if they’re doing the work properly. Meanwhile, managers get little credit for engagement and performance successes, but they’re blamed when the programs fail to deliver measurable results. Recognising manager performance should be integral when recognising individual and team achievements. Incentives and rewards that include managers have greater chances of success – it’s just human nature for busy managers to resent the honours that their teams earn if they’re never recognised for their own contributions.
The other part of the equation is authority. Managers should be empowered to make as many of the daily decisions as possible. If this backfires – and it will occasionally – management should support their managers’ decisions unless there are egregious violations of company policies. The price of engagement is accepting some mistakes in the interests of growth and development.
6. Empower Managers
Oracle reports that even the best leaders are often hampered in their engagement efforts by outdated technology and antiquated HR systems that don’t offer mobile access to employees and managers or self-service access. Other shortcomings of effective management include a lack of automated intelligence-gathering integrations of third-party resources for environmental inputs, on-the-job-managing tools, business intelligence, connections with recruiting consultants and projective tools.
7. Provide Opportunities for Training and Growth
Give managers every possible resource to grow into their roles through engagement. These resources include offering engagement opportunities for management candidates to gain experience by managing non-critical projects and development teams and providing support services that nurture professional growth. These engagement strategies might include encouraging managers to develop their peer-to-peer networks, provide assistance for earning industry certifications and actively pushing people to fill any skills or competency gaps in their educations. Relevant questions to consider on a case-by-case basis include:
- What experiences or abilities do you managers lack?
- What are managers’ greatest weakness as a group and individually?
- Which programs are likely to close some of these gaps while generating high participation rates?
- How do the long-term career goals of your managers align with education and certifications?
- How do these goals align with their current managerial roles?
- Would manager engagement benefit from cross-training and short departmental transfers, some of which might even require operating in a foreign jurisdiction or culture?
Corporate learning and training software is another option that managers can use to strengthen their abilities, learn new languages and cross-train in different skills. Satisfied managers need opportunities for growth and development, and offering these options can foster loyalty and generate obligations to give similar options and encouragement to their teams.
Create a Culture that Recognises Personal Drivers
It’s not all about business in the most successful companies. Holistic employee engagement has become the hottest trend in HRM, and engaging managers as human beings is a big step toward achieving company-wide engagement goals. You can increase manager engagement by learning about them more intimately through their social media and networking connections. Staff engagement in social media to leverage your managers’ personal drivers might include hosting informal social media competitions based on building followers, raising funds for charitable causes and other social media activities like scavenger hunts or even bar or food crawls. Let your managers’ interests guide you in scheduling outside speakers, hiring entertainment for social gatherings and participating in community-based events. Teams can compete for their favourite charities, causes or simple recognition. It’s also important to engage managers and employees through amateur sports, fitness programs and company-sponsored recreational activities.
Engaging Managers to Boost Your Organisation’s Goals
The seven recommendations for fostering engagement aren’t the only techniques, but they represent a consensus gained from dozens of authoritative sources. The key to manager engagement might well be summarised by this caveat: Look for ways to increase manager energy and focus. After all, most companies run along adequately without managers. Management roles involve innovating, changing processes for greater efficiencies and managing staff problems proactively. Company leaders and HR departments can create this engagement dynamic by reducing busywork, loosening formal guidelines, communicating with managers regularly and seeking genuine engagement and honest opinions instead of rubber-stamp endorsements.