I am pleased Joe Folkman’s article Workers Aren’t Engaged points the finger in the right direction: “Everyone appears to agree that the primary problem of engagement is a management one, not a worker one. If there is an employee engagement problem, it lies squarely at the feet of the managers and the organization that tolerates ineffective managers.” (Italics mine.)
It comes down to manager engagement.
Of course we want employees engaged.The stronger an organization’s employee engagement, the better for the organization’s results. That is on both the revenue side and the expense side. Results include:
- Increased productivity;
- Greater customer satisfaction, loyalty;
- Reduced tardiness and absence;
- Greater employee retention;
- Greater revenue and profitability.
The truth of manager-employee relations for decades tells us manager engagement is the cause, employee engagement the effect.
Let’s consider specific ways strong manager engagement spurs employee engagement.
1. Manager Engagement in Expectations.
Knowing his manager’s expectations stimulates an employee’s true engagement in his work. Robert Schaffer views the failure to set clear and explicit expectations for employees as a cause of inadequate performance. That’s inadequate performance by the employee and his manager. A manager can demonstrate exceptional engagement in her role by:
- Sharing specifics of job expectations with a new employee from Day 1;
- Frequently reviewing and renewing those expectations with new and more seasoned employees;
- Providing every worker ample opportunities to express uncertainty and to ask for clarification as to what’s expected;
- Conveying information about expectations in a variety of media: face to face, documentation, email, team meetings.
2. Manager Engagement with Confidence.
An engaged manager expresses two types of confidence: real and potential. He demonstrates both types by engaging with confidence. For example, to show his confidence in the company’s contributions to the community he participates visibly and vocally in community projects. He may show confidence in the potential of a new process by working with energy and honesty toward its success. The more actively a manager digs into doing and showing what builds his confidence, the more employees’ confidence he builds. That confidence has driving impact on greater engagement by employees.
3. Manager Engagement by Communication.
Communication gets the most attention as an “employee engagement tool.” Deservedly so; yet that attention may be superficial. Assuming we all know what communication means and does, we feel we don’t need to pay too much attention to its details.
Not so. A manager’s communication with employees should always do all it can to boost and bolster their engagement. That communication must be viewed as a skill worth consistently improving. Honestly, how many managers do you know who do more than just one or two of these:
- Schedule informal meetings?
- Hold regular one-on-ones?
- Evaluate their own communication skills?
- Work to improve their messages, especially email?
- Prepare for meetings?
- Consciously read employees’ body language and apply it to communication?
- Invite formal and informal feedback from employees? Frequently?
4. Manager Engagement with Attention.
A manager makes her engagement known by what she does and says. That shows she pays attention on distinct levels. She pays attention to the business as a whole: from vision through goals and YTD performance to current challenges. She stays attuned to her team and what is/isn’t working, how well it is fulfilling its objectives and contributing to the company’s, and what can be done to ramp up its effectiveness. She pays attention to each of her individual employees. This means knowing every employee’s skills and where he is on the weak-to-strong continuum for each skill. This feeds her ability to coordinate team members for performance synergy.
Note that this manager behavior is not merely “paying attention.” A manager’s engagement must be demonstrated, made apparent to employees. Consider the three preceding behaviors: expectations, confidence, and communication. Each of those can be a powerful avenue for expression of an engaged manager’s attention.
5. Manager Engagement through Self-Awareness.
A positive manager wants (and assists) continuous improvement for his employees. He also seeks and finds opportunities for his own self-improvement. Strong self-awareness generates this desire to improve constantly. And strong self-awareness comes from the manager’s:
- Listening: When a manager listens to everything around him, it lets him know where his knowledge can be improved. Conversations on a variety of topics offer a turnkey start. Topics like the work environment, job processes/procedures, customer concerns, suggestions for streamlining, and more.
- Studying: The studying may be only as structured as reading one professional/industry journal each week. It may be a class in professional development. It may be working one-on-one with a mentor within the company. This engagement demonstrates management responsibility.
- Learning: Commitment to understanding information and concepts, to self-improvement, to turning knowledge into wisdom is the direction of learning. A manager who is thirsty to learn and makes that apparent in a variety of ways is likely to stimulate the same in his employees. Their learning is component to their engagement.
A manager’s engagement is the motivator for employee engagement. There’s little chance that an employee is spurred to become work-engaged if her manager’s not. The employee whose manager demonstrates engagement continuously is much more likely to engage herself.