Written by
Rahul Chaudhari

Jul 30, 2018

6 Things Managers Can Do to Drive Employee Engagement

The global market has been changing, the business models evolving and all the transformation brought about by technology cannot be overlooked. Along with this transformation of infrastructure, the most critical aspect, i.e. people, has been affected too. The hitherto, stringent roles are being diffused and the functionalities of different levels in the organizational hierarchy have now begun to overlap to a certain extent or have become cross-functional. One such role is that of the managers.

Managers have forever been the connective link between management and the employees. However, with the current state of the workplace, the workload and stress involved, employees tend to require greater support, encouragement and motivation to be engaged in their work. The role of managers has hence, evolved to a more communicative and supportive bracket, emphasizing on engaging teams, while the Human Resources (HR) function supports the endeavor as an assistive mechanism. Managers hence act as the first level contact for driving people engagement while the HR devices policies, activities and allocates resources to facilitate it.

Engagement here doesn’t just imply employee satisfaction, but is an umbrella term for the interactions, emotional attachment and general connection that the employee has to the organizational goals and principles. Managers as facilitators should be able to relay the common objectives and assist the employees in planning strategies that lead towards these goals. A Gallup research highlighted that, “30% of employees strongly agree that their manager involves them in setting their goals at work, and those who do strongly agree with this statement are 3.6 times more likely than other employees to be engaged.” The role of managers hence becomes vital when it comes to team engagement, thereby increasing employee retention and productivity.

 How Can Managers Drive Employee Engagement?

The managerial role is vast, however communication, performance management, and building on individual strengths are factors closely linked to employee engagement. While managerial conversations usually fall under the cap of instructions, a dialogue aimed at engaging teams will have other elements too. Here are 6 things that managers can include in their dialogues with their team members to drive employee engagement.

1. Build Rapport

Different employees come from different backgrounds and have different skill-sets. While the process of building rapport usually takes time, building a bridge helps in  identifying common ground, valuing the employees for their strengths and tapping their potential. This starts when managers are involved in proactive conversations and they facilitate employees to voice their opinions. One of the techniques that we at Element78 have deployed with various managerial groups in our interventions is to use the “non-purposive conversations” framework to get to understand and build rapport with their teams over a sustainable period. Purposive conversations become safe where there is rapport.

2. Ensure Emotional Safety

Conversations can become difficult when emotions are high, opinions differ or when one of the party views this as a high impact conversation, thereby creating tension even before the conversation commences. Marshall Rosenberg’s theory of ‘Non-Violent Communication’ explores the crucial role of language and our use of words in assuaging our team’s potential fears due to our communication.

While working with a group of leaders in a large engineering company, we realized that the leaders were plagued with a situation wherein their team members mistook instructions as diktats from an authority. This led to mere compliance and often re-work. By reframing how the leaders expressed themselves and heard their team members, they built safety and respect in their conversations, while expressing themselves with honesty and clarity. Was it a surprise that these leaders started experiencing cooperation from their teams soon thereafter?

3. Share Information, Build Transparency

Trust matters a lot when it comes to engaging employees, and very often trust hinges on the manager’s role in keeping the employees updated about the changes occurring in the organization / ecosystem, about the upcoming challenges and other such developments. Such sharing gives the employees an opportunity to come up with ideas that could help the organization / department.

The Managing Director at a mid-sized client organization of ours was in a dilemma while navigating through some of the business challenges that he was facing. When he shared his concerns transparently with his direct reports, not only were they empathetic but also offered suggestions and help. The overall engagement and bonding that developed during this period is helping the MD to navigate other storms in business too.

4. Provide Encouragement

Employees commit their time and efforts towards the company and its success, and to be a good manager one must learn to appreciate good work. Offering recognition through simple actions such as sending a congratulatory email or giving a pat-on-the-back or a simple word of appreciation go a long way in engaging employees. It is the ability of the manager to identify strengths of his/her people that really matters.

When we worked with a group of sales managers recently in a workshop, a point of discussion was around managing their teams. In addition to deliberating on various levers that they could work with, the need to identify and offer recognition for their team members’ strength was brought up. This was experienced through an activity and there was an ‘aha’ moment. Boy, did we have to reiterate the need to recognize talent again with this group of managers?

5. Keep Your Commitment

Managerial dialogues are not just about the conversations happening between two people, but also about being committed to what has been agreed upon. Keeping up to your commitments will define the nature of the next dialogue with that individual. Not keeping your commitment will hamper the trust, making future dialogues difficult. Hence follow through on commitments becomes a big enabler to maintain engagements.

A senior manager in an organization promised his teams some lofty awards on attainment of the targets. When targets were met, and the awards never came their way for long, the team members developed lack of trust for their manager and disengagement crept in.

6. Be Aware of the “Stories” in your Mind

Being flexible and open to listen to one’s team and their ideas will help significantly in engaging the youth of today. In order to be flexible, it is important to be aware of one’s biases and assumptions that make us rigid in the first place. Often, our past experiences create baggage and influence in the way we analyze a situation. These are the “stories” in our mind that we need to be aware of while engaging in conversations with teams.

A few years ago, we were consulting with an auto components manufacturer and had a group of seniors and another group of juniors working on some project. During an exercise on the lines of the “game theory” when we divided them into 2 teams by hierarchy, the seniors understood what was needed for win-win. They believed that the juniors would demonstrate distrust with the seniors, which thus made them pick choices that were not leading to win-win. The juniors on the other hand demonstrated complete trust on the seniors repeatedly through the exercise, at the cost of their team’s loss. It was quite obvious to the seniors at the end of the game how the “stories” in their own mind led to a disastrous outcome.

The versatile role of managers keeps getting complex and so does the importance of communication to navigate through these complexities. According to a recent research , “83 percent respondents state that Communication is the most important skill area to managerial success.” The role of managerial conversations in employee engagement cannot be undermined. In this VUCA world, with emphasis on business targets, cut-throat competition and hard numbers, it is critical for the managers to be trained on the softer aspects of holding effective conversations with their teams to engage them better thus yielding higher performance.

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