When it comes to staff engagement, there are three groups involved: HR, employees, and their direct managers. HR can (and does) introduce programs to improve engagement, but the people with their eyes on the prize are the managers. Getting them to own engagement initiatives isn’t just convenient – it’s actually quite necessary.
Why Managers Really Matter
Gallup, a leading expert on engagement, recently asked this question: “Whose job is employee engagement?” The response: “70% of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager.”
If this is so, then why is HR still the main address? The answer lies in the basis of organizational culture for most companies. Managers are seen as supervisors. They give orders, and workers, if properly trained, are expected to understand them. If they don’t, a common response is to send the employee off to HR for a bit of L&D to resolve their issues through skill building.
But this runs the risk of a communication breakdown. Experienced managers can often tell exactly what an employee is doing wrong after just a few minutes of analysis. In addition, they are also the ones who see whether or not the upskilling effort has succeeded. Sending employees to a course can give them a general boost. But it is more efficient to have the manager involved throughout.
Google has been running its Project Oxygen since 2008. Interestingly, it started as an effort to show that managers don’t matter and don’t have an impact on productivity. But the company soon discovered that managers have a widespread impact on employees and the quality of their output.
Project Oxygen involves asking employees about the characteristics that make for a good manager. It discovered ten categories, with the top five being:
- Is a good coach
- Empowers the team and does not micromanage
- Creates an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and well-being
- Is productive and results-oriented
- Is a good communicator — listens and shares information
None of these responses include the traditional idea of a manager who gives orders and expects immediate results (actually, that sounds more like a boss who will ruin engagement).
Rather, four of the five results are about being helpful and supportive. The first response in particular is very important for companies that want to improve engagement, as coaching is a way to both motivate and advise.
3 Ways for Managers to Get Involved with Engagement
Some managers naturally encourage employees to do their best, and are a big part of a productive work environment. Other managers need more direction, and perhaps monitoring and feedback from HR as well. So, depending on the talents of the individual, here are some recommendations that HR should present to managers to bring them deeper into the engagement challenge.
Build Familiarity with Staff
Personal contact with workers should go beyond assigning tasks and evaluating results. Managers who know their staff on an individual level can develop a basis for activities that promote engagement, for example:
- A personal connection that inspires loyalty
- Knowledge of an employee’s skills and areas of weakness, leading to relevant L&D programs
- Employee advice regarding efficiency, the needs of other employees, and product issues
- Discussions about the employee’s future and greater insight regarding possible internal promotions that are pertinent to them
Enable Skills and Experience
An organization that promotes learning and development for employees is taking a smart step towards higher engagement rates; 92% of employees say that appropriate training has a positive effect on their feelings of engagement. It’s also great for retention, so that all of those hard-earned skills don’t walk out the door. 94% of employees would remain longer with their current company if it provided L&D.
The issue is how to make sure that each employee gets the skills that they need. Managers are the key. It’s a regular part of a career management program for HR to sit down with the employee and their direct manager. This is an opportunity to talk about the employee’s current level of progress and where they see themselves in the future. A manager who has been talking with their people will already have an accurate sense of how the worker’s chosen career path and the requirements of the department connect in terms of skills.
Make Employees Part of the Big Picture
A few of the essential aspects of job enrichment, which is related to engagement, are task identity, task significance, and autonomy. The idea behind these concepts is to let the employee understand how they enable others, and to give them the experience of controlling their own part of operations. Managers can go even further through activities like:
- Briefs on overall company performance
- Temporary leadership positions
- Mutual feedback sessions
- Decision-making opportunities
- Recognizing excellent performance on a company-wide level
Get Managers in the Engagement Game
If you’ve heard of GrowthSpace, then you probably know that it is used by HR/L&D teams to improve all sorts of employee metrics, with engagement being a particular strength. But GrowthSpace was designed to meet the requirements of the whole organization, including managers.
With a simple interface, intuitive controls, and a unified platform, GrowthSpace is easy to use for all L&D stakeholders, and enables managers to be part of the entire talent development process. Given that managers are so essential to engagement, GrowthSpace is the go-to gateway for their effective participation.