Do Your Managers Understand the Importance of Engagement?

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Aug 23, 2016

Imagine if you will that you owned a factory and it was operating at 50% capacity. You would pull your hair out trying to get capacity back up.

If you ran a customer service survey and your customers gave you results showing they are not pleased with your company, all hell would break lose trying to figure out what went wrong.

Those were my thoughts as I gave a recent speech concerning the stagnation of employee engagement numbers, which, for the most part, show the vast majority of workers are not engaged with their companies. My dilemma is having conversations with senior leaders who pay lip service to their most important asset. They all talk a good game, but in the end they could really care less.

It is a business case

As in my examples of a factory and a customer survey, engagement survey results should take on the same monumental importance.

All companies love customer feedback, but only a handful devote as much energy to employee feedback. “For every dollar spent on employee feedback, companies spend hundreds of dollars on customer feedback,” said Troy Stevenson, former vice president of customer loyalty at eBay.

That statement is an indictment of the situation. You want great customer interaction and you spend sleepless nights trying to engage your customers. However, when it comes to your workers the same level of concern is not there.

What gives?

I remember sitting in on numerous survey results meetings and sensing senior leadership was ambivalent about the findings. The gaze of non-attention was written on their faces. They asked a few perfunctory questions and that was it. As the meeting adjourned they went back to their normal routine. To them it was just another meeting and HR would handle it; HR will propose some perks and, viola, it would get better. If it was only that easy

I was asked in an interview a while back, that if you were to add a gym on the premise, would it increase engagement? Trying to stifle my laughter, I explained that perks are not the answer. Perks would only be a short term solution.

As I am approached for consulting assignments, I have now begun asking to take a look at the engagement numbers to try to get a sense of the culture; especially if the assignment concerns leadership development.

Leadership development is about people. Companies have to realize the task of growing leaders is a long-term journey. In order to ensure an organization’s sustainability engaged leaders are the secret sauce.

This journey, however, will only be successful if leaders interact more with their employees. Not the distant chap who is only concerned about the deliverables and nothing else. The connection has to go beyond the work. Matter of fact the work should come last. Work with them, chat with them, get to know them, give them everything they need to get the work done and then step back and let them get it done.

Leadership is the missing link

Aon Hewitt conducted a study of approximately EMEA 25,000 middle managers and one in four stated that they believe nothing will change and no action will be taken after an employee engagement survey. This does not surprise me at all. But let’s go back to the beginning of this article. Would they feel the same way if it were a customer service survey? They would know that if the numbers were bad, it would be a priority to correct or improve those numbers.

Everyone seems to grasp the concept of having employees engaged in their work and embracing the responsibility of creating a 21st century workplace. But our managers/leaders don’t fully understand their role in this process. They do not understand how to manage from an engaged vantage point.

Consider these key points

There are some key points to consider in the role managers play.

  • Managers are the ones who interact the most with employees. They account for 70% of the variance in engagement scores according to Gallup’s State of the American Manager study.
  • In order to engage employees, managers need to understand how managing people translates into everyday actions;
  • It is a business case. Develop them to understand the direct relation between employee engagement efforts and business results;
  • Are your managers engaged? That may be something you want to track in your next survey. According to that same Gallup survey, manager engagement is at an all-time low. They have to be engaged before engaging their team.

While this all may seem like common sense to HR professionals, it is not understood by a great portion of leaders. So as we think about leadership development, our focus should be on building leaders that understand the role of the engaged leader in guiding and coaching an engaged team.

The formula is simple; it is just a matter of driving home the importance of engagement to ALL your managers. It is just as important as those customers you profess to care about.