Engaging for success: Motivating line managers to motivate others

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The most successful organisations recognise the crucial role that HR has to play in developing managers to ensure that they are effective at engaging others. 

But in order to be good engagers, managers need to master five fundamental roles and be able to recognise when each one is required and appropriate.   These roles are the prophet, storyteller, strategist, coach and pilot and each demonstrates a specific set of skills and abilities. Most leaders and managers show a natural preference towards one or two particular roles, however.   Based on a survey of these role preferences, which was carried out here on HRZone and elsewhere among other international managers and senior leaders, it became clear that HR directors and managers tend to be strategists.   Just to recap from last week, 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”.   Such traits are positive in an engagement context because, if it is to ever take place, HR professionals need to identify how to get it right and make plans to that end. Otherwise good intentions will stay just that.    But a key challenge here is also to work with leaders and managers to help them become better strategists too by sharing your expertise in and experience of this vital role. Many leaders and managers will require as much support as possible in their quest to generate better performance from others, however.   But giving such support is important as it is they who have the most influence over staff and, therefore, the biggest impact on engagement and performance levels. Yet all too often, they are left unsupported and underdeveloped.    Here are three key questions that must be asked, and answered, if managers and leaders are to become more effective strategists:   1. Do they demonstrate high levels of personal engagement?   A classic assumption of managers who are poor at engagement is that it is someone else’s responsibility. It’s not. Therefore, encourage them to build a plan to boost the engagement levels, not just of their team but also, crucially, of themselves. After all, it’s incredibly hard to engage others if you are not engaged yourself.   The most motivating managers are those who are very clear about their individual purpose and what they personally stand for. They likewise understand how their purpose aligns with that of the organisation.   For those working with or for them, such clarity of purpose has a broad, positive influence, but can also spark a sense of excitement further afield in the organisation.   Although finding purpose and meaning is not always easy, it is well worth spending time and effort reflecting on such matters. Be aware that answers to this question may not come immediately, however, because it is not a quick, one-off exercise.    Top tip – Ensure that Mondays are seen as a weekly high point   For most people, including line managers, Monday is possibly the most difficult day to be as energised and positive as they are on other days. It often takes a while to get back into the spirit of work and refocus after the weekend.    But by changing attitudes and viewing Monday as a high-point, you can encourage managers to see that good performance begins right at the very start of the week. The following tactics may work:  

  • Suggest that, where possible, they schedule meetings and activities that they enjoy and enable them to be at their best on Mondays
  • Encourage them to spend as much time as possible that day with the people who energise them and enable them to play to their strengths
  • Recommend that they keep reflecting on their personal purpose (see above) and finding ways to achieve it in their day-to-day role.

  2. Do they have a strategy for identifying, developing and retaining talent?   It is crucial that managers develop and retain key talent. Clear factors in promoting engagement are ensuring that people see a future within the organisation and that attention is being paid to their career development.   This means that it is important for managers to spend time and energy in one-to-one discussions with team members about their needs, their performance and their future. But they likewise play a vital role in helping to identify individuals with the most future potential, who should be retained.   Nonetheless, there are also a lot of employees who may not be considered ‘strategic talent’ and yet are vital to the organisation’s performance as they effectively ‘keep the lights on’. These individuals represent the organisation’s ‘operational talent’.  Tip - Encourage differentiated development strategies for each team member   Encourage managers to think about each of their team individually in order to ensure that each employee engages with a jointly-developed personal developmental plan that reflects their current and future aspirations.    For example, while some employees may be motivated by flexible working opportunities, others may respond positively to the chance of being mentored by a senior executive or to undertaking a professional qualification.   But it is up to each manager to find out such information and ensure that they work effectively with staff to ensure that desire becomes reality.   Reflecting on as many sources of feedback as possible, ranging from formal performance reviews to informal pieces of insight from other team members, colleagues and managers, is also likely to prove useful for managers in helping to build a rounded picture of their operational and strategic talent, however.  3. Do they actively look for ways to help others thrive and grow?   Being able to delegate is an absolute must for managers if they are to help their team grow and ensure that each individual performs as highly as they can.   If they fail to do so, not only do managers risk being overloaded with work, but they may also stifle the chance for others to broaden their skills and experience, which will be of more value to the organisation in the long-term.   Managers who are good at encouraging engagement among others are usually genuinely interested in the individual members of their team and spend a lot of time and effort in really getting to know them and what makes them tick.    They then use these insights to create opportunities that ignite people’s interest and passion in their work, which ultimately boosts performance.  Tip: Help managers identify how staff could be given more space to thrive and grow   Managers should be encouraged to explore how their team members could be given more space to thrive and grow. One option here if for them to run coaching sessions that provide staff with a forum to express how they prefer to be managed and what circumstances help them to work to the best of their abilities.    Here are some questions that managers might also benefit from asking themselves:  

  • What specific activities or approaches do you find engage your employees and how could you employ them in practice? For example, if an individual has a family but struggles to spend quality time with them, could you recognise their contributions by giving them extra time off to go to a sports day?
  • What key strengths do your team members have?
  • How could you create opportunities to best employ your employees’ strengths and perhaps share their skills with team members or colleagues in other departments?

  If managers are nervous about allowing ‘too much’ flexibility, emphasise how important it is for them to have clear objectives that are well communicated. Also point out that workers who know that they are given the necessary trust and freedom to work in ways that suit them best, will be more prepared to take full responsibility for their own work outcomes. 

Jane Sparrow is managing director of behavioural change consultancy, Northern Flight, and author of The Culture Builders - Leadership Strategies for Employee Performance.

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