Understanding the critical nature of managers is key in optimizing employee engagement.
Earlier this year, we posted an infographic about employee engagement and the importance of managers in fostering a motivated, inspired, team-oriented workforce. It was so well received that I thought we should follow up on the topic.

Gallup did a study this year on the makeup of managers titled, State of the American Manager. Researchers took an in-depth look at what makes great managers and examined the links between talent, engagement, and business outcomes such as profitability and productivity. The research indicated that managers directly account for as much as 70% of variance in employee engagement scores.

This metric speaks to the importance of the discretionary effort that companies see from engaged versus non-engaged employees. It’s the welcome initiative you see from the salesperson who stays at the office making calls because “people on the coast” are still open for business. This “extra” effort, the choice to give a little more, try a little harder, or persevere through a rough patch, is what produces the boost in company performance.

Gallup estimates the cost of disengagement to be between $960 billion and $1.2 trillion per year.
If employee engagement is critical to company performance and we recognize the essential role of the manager in fostering engagement, it’s worth thinking about some of the challenges companies face with their management talent.

Many managers were promoted into management roles because they were great at something else. It might have been sales, communications, or engineering. They were offered a management position as a next step and while the step might have come with higher status and increased salary, it is not always a “logical” next step. What makes someone great at accounting may have little to do with being an inspiring manager. As a result, we often see people who are brilliant and talented independent contributors but who are challenged when it comes to managing others.

Often times, new managers receive little or no training. New managers are frequently expected to learn “on the job”. It is surprising that more companies don’t have formal “new manager training” programs given the importance of the role. Understanding a new manager’s “skills gap” and appreciating that it can adversely affect a dozen or more direct reports goes a long way to building engaged teams.

Let’s face it, managing people can be difficult. Managers are challenged by the number of subjective “close calls” they must make. How to set realistic yet ambitious goals? How to give feedback that's clear, specific, and actionable yet inspiring and motivational. How to stay involved without becoming a micro-manager. How to modulate your management style for different types of employees. Think about how you can support your managers. Coach them through making those challenging subjective judgments.

Managers' actions are so visible. Even if managers suffer from the same number of faux pas as individual contributors, their mistakes are noticed by more people and can have more significant consequence. When a manager stumbles, it can potentially impact the success of a whole team. Help your managers to understand the consequences of their actions. Assist them with guidance on when bold moves are called for and when to exercise a more cautionary approach.

Identifying and communicating what makes a great manager. In general, there is a lack of clarity on what makes a great manager. Is it team building and a “happy” environment or a driver who produces results? Both can be effective but which type is right for your company and culture? Clearly defining expectations will help managers to monitor and measure their own success and likely have a positive impact on overall company performance.

No manager can be great at all things. Sometimes a person is great at certain aspects of management, such as setting goals, timetables, and staying on budget. Yet the same manager may not be very good at inspiring the team, orchestrating operational success, or delivering outcomes. Each company must determine the critical manager characteristics that will lead to the desired outcomes under the current circumstances. I mention “circumstances” because the best managers adapt and learn to change style based on personnel and business conditions.

As Simon Sinek, leadership guru, professor at Columbia University, and author of Start With Why puts it, “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking charge of those in your charge”.
As you survey your cadre of managers take an extra long look at the management team. How can you help them develop the necessary skills? Have you provided opportunities for management development? How can you ensure that they understand and embrace the three most important ingredients in encouraging engagement: growth, recognition, and trust? Great managers can instill those feelings in their team members and help your company build a highly functional culture.

If you aspire to increase your workforce engagement, our advice is simple…Mind your managers.

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