The recently formed government taskforce ‘Engage For Success’ is urging employers to prioritise staff engagement as means of achieving economic growth.
As Russell Grossman, director of communications at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, observed at this year’s Institute of Internal Communication conference, if the UK’s 4.8 million businesses could boost engagement levels by just 1%, the impact on growth could be incredible. The problem is, however, that every year millions of pounds are invested in engagement programmes, which are intended to boost motivation levels and encourage employees to work harder. But every year, despite the best intentions of HR and business managers almost all of this time, money and effort is wasted. Why? Because all too often their engagement strategies simply focus on staff communications rather than ensuring that HR, communications and line managers all work together in tandem. A key challenge is that, once leadership events, kick-off meetings and values programmes are launched, many organisations find it difficult to maintain the commitment, energy and expertise that these initiatives require on an on-ongoing basis. Middle managers are just expected to ‘get on with it’, despite ever-increasing demands on their time. While HR often contributes by revamping organisational design, learning and development and recruitment processes, even more important is that they build up the capacity, capability and confidence of line managers in order to ensure that engagement levels can be sustained day in, day out. Engagement is key This requires finding ways to embed positive managerial behaviour into everyday ways of working such as making changes to both business processes and recognition methods. It also means that middle managers must be able to see that organisational initiatives in this area are not just about engagement for engagement’s sake. Instead, they need to understand that staff engagement is and must be a core part of their job. For such an approach to be effective, however, HR must take control of the conversation about ‘how do we build (or re-build) our culture’. The function also needs to focus on a number of areas that it traditionally hasn’t such as stakeholder management and building up the strategic knowledge of the business. Ask yourself, for example:
- How well do you really know your stakeholders and when was the last time you talked to them as opposed to emailing them?
- Do you regularly make the effort to spend time in different areas of the business in order to understand how people are thinking, feeling and performing?
- Could you honestly advise a departmental manager on how their team might react to any given announcement in the pipeline?
Moreover, most employers prefer to measure activity using key performance indicators and financial targets. So it’s hardly surprising that many managers feel that their number one focus is to deliver operationally, while the ‘soft’ people management and engagement stuff often comes a pretty poor second. However, there are five key characteristics that managers must display if they are to truly engage and get the best from their people: 1. The prophet Prophets are all about passion, vision and inspiration. They paint a visual picture of the future in a highly emotive way that others understand and are keen to be part of. Their vision packs an emotional punch, resonating with everyone and leaving people in doubt as to what exactly their values are. 2. The storyteller Storytellers use a mix of emotion and logic to tell the tale of how their vision will be achieved and how people can live out their purpose. They describe what something looks and feel like, how to get there, what destinations will be passed on route and, crucially, what it means for both individuals and the wider team. 3. The strategist Strategists know exactly who their talent is and have a plan for how to engage, retain and develop every person in their team or under their influence. They form the logical, rational side of management, taking intention and making it a reality. 4. The coach Coaches understand what makes an individual tick and works with that knowledge to help them grow and deliver more value. This role is both vital and rewarding as, at its core, engagement involves treating people as individuals. This means that the key role of a coach is to ensure employees feel that their own needs are being met and valued. 5. The pilot Pilots comprise the calm, measured component of managers. Their goal is to be a respected role model, the ‘parental’ adult with one hand on the tiller. Solid and trusting, they are able to balance a need to be authoritative with being facilitative. It is in this role that a manager’s personal style becomes most evident in the way in which they go about their everyday job of engaging and supporting others. My research into these five roles indicates that a high proportion of managers are weakest in the strategist and coach categories. But HR can have a big influence here through activities such as talent management and leadership development. Next week, we’ll offer some practical suggestions on how HR can better support line managers in becoming expert people managers.
Jane Sparrow is managing director of behavioural change consultancy, Northern Flight, and author of The Culture Builders - Leadership Strategies for Employee Performance.