Here’s a bit of a round-up of recent research and commentary on the role of the leader in employee engagement. Combined, they tell a quite interesting story.
1. Naming the wrong person manager cannot be balanced through other benefits.
At a micro level, the leading factor influencing employee engagement is widely accepted to be an employee’s relationship with his or her own direct manager.
This sentiment is amplified in the report by Gallup CEO Jim Clifton: “Here’s something they’ll probably never teach you in business school: The single biggest decision you make in your job – bigger than all of the rest – is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits – nothing.”
For employees who work for a bad manager, you can’t recognize them enough, appreciate them enough, praise them enough to compensate for the daily grind of poor management.
2. Even the best managers can become bad, disengaged managers over time.
In their recent research, Towers Watson talks about Exponential Engagement or Sustainable Engagement, which discusses the importance of how to maintain high engagement over time (and the significant impact on operating margins doing so can have). Engagement is never a “We’ve done it and can now move on” project. Sustainable engagement requires continued focus.
In his HR Capitalist blog, Kris Dunn offers a good lesson in what happens if you don’t:
The leader starts to disengage, to slip away from being fully present, even when his body is there. They’re more passive, usually because they’ve done what they could do, and it hasn’t worked out. They’ve developed an external locus of control. They’ve quit a little bit, they’ve stopped fighting, etc.
It’s called leader disengagement. And your company/division/department/team can’t win if this is your reality … If your leaders aren’t engaged, your employees won’t be.”
3. Employees want managers who are both “nice” and “tough.”
Employees want meaningful work, and they want to know their work matters. They need support from their managers in understanding both. This means they look to management to “drive” them to achieve great results, but also “enhance” them through support, enablement and recognition when they do well.
Research shared in Harvard Business Review explains:
More simply put, the people working for the really bad leaders were more unhappy than three-quarters of the group; the ones working for the really excellent leaders were more committed than eight out of ten of their counterparts.
What exactly fosters this engagement? During our time in the training and development industry we’ve observed two common — and very different — approaches. On the one hand are leaders we call ‘drivers’; on the other, those we call ‘enhancers.’ ”
Essentially, our analysis suggests, that neither approach is sufficient in itself. Rather, both are needed to make real headway in increasing employee engagement. In fact, fully 68 percent of the employees working for leaders they rated as both effective enhancers and drivers scored in the top 10 percent on overall satisfaction and engagement with the organization.
Clearly, we were asking the wrong question, when we set out to determine which approach was best. Leaders need to think in terms of ‘and’ not ‘or.’ Leaders with highly engaged employees know how to demand a great deal from employees, but are also seen as considerate, trusting, collaborative, and great developers of people.”
How does your organization support managers to ensure the right people are the job, they are sustained over time, and they are both nice and tough to get the most out of their teams?
You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.