Better Engagement? It Trickles Down From Managers to Your Employees

I do not care whether anyone here likes me or not.

Please do not come to me with this, I should be the last person that you come to with questions, go figure it out.

Now I just do my job and what is required. Nothing more.

This one-sided conversation was sent to me the other morning from one of my mentees who is struggling with a bad boss.  She loves her job, but the manager dynamic is fragile, to say the least.

The conversation made me remember a terrific white paper that I recently read — State of the American Manager — produced by Gallup. This is a must read for any organization that struggles with engagement.

One of the most glaring statistic was this:

Managers account for at least 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units.”

The drill sergeant disguised as manager

Forget about all those initiatives you are putting together to try and close the engagement gap. The elephant in the room is the impact of the manager.

I don’t care how great the job is, the camaraderie of the workmates, or your peer groups, what kind of lunch is served, or day care offerings. If you have a drill sergeant disguised as a manager, that is what you are going to have to fix FIRST.

The funny part of about this type of situation is that everyone knows who these people are. They flaunt this as their style, and in the case above, their view is that everyone should just “deal with it.”

I was contacted by a vendor a few months back and they wanted to show me their product app that was going to solve the feedback problem. It would allow anyone to give a thumbs up or thumbs down on someone’s performance.

But, the recent New York Times article about talent management practices at Amazon shows how that type of worthwhile app could be skewed in a harmful way. My thought is that if I can’t connect to you on a personal basis, I don’t think the receiver of my thumbs, up via technology, cares much about it.

Disengaged managers = disengaged employees

This in-depth study by Gallup showed a clear link between poor managing and a nation of “checked out” employees. A great manager will camouflage any organizational flaws because they are connected to their people — and these people are more connected to them rather than to the organization.

While mission and vision are so important today, the first hurdle for any organization is the manager.

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Organizations and leaders, this is how it works: Leaders are engaged, managers are engaged, and employee are engaged. Those are the three pillars that this whole business rest upon. If any one of those columns become wobbly, the entire structure is at risk of falling in on itself.

Any fissures within the levels will wind its way down to the lowest common denominator.

Trickle-down economics works for engagement

This is one documented case of trickle down theory that works. As companies review and discuss engagement, everybody has to be in the room. This is not just an HR exercise — this is a business issue, and it matters.

Imagine a worker interviewing for a job, and once the deal is signed, they offer to come to work four days but want five days of wages. That’s something you would not agree to, but when you ignore engagement, that is exactly what you are doing — you are paying for productivity for the full week but you are not getting it in return.

If you were to calculate that loss in productivity across the enterprise, you would quickly see the business case behind engagement.

So if your organization is ignoring bad managers and their cascading results, just calculate the amount of payroll that you are not getting the productivity to match. With about 60 to 70 percent of your workforce not giving their all, according to Gallup, that is a lot of currency flowing out the window.

That should be simple enough to understand.

These issues within your organization are not only costing you in productivity, but in talented people as well. The thing to remember is that these employees will make a decision — even if you are too afraid to confront it.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.