Leading an engaged team: it’s more than buying biscuits

We’ve all heard it before – people leave a manager, not a job. Why are your leaders and managers pivotal to building a happy, engaged workforce? And, knowing that they play such an important role here, how can we make sure they (or we) do it well?

What makes us happy and engaged at work?

Employee engagement is a hot topic for businesses right now. Its benefits include such C-suite-pleasing measures as increased productivity, profitability, growth and a boost to innovation. Besides which, it’s what we all dream of – a happy, peaceful workplace full of motivated people. True, biscuits in the office go a long way to achieving that. But it isn’t all about the baked goods.

In Nita Clarke and David MacLeod’s report to government, Engaging For Success, they described four key factors that drive high engagement.

  1. Visible leadership, providing a strong narrative about where the business is going
  2. Engaging managers who treat their people as individuals and actively develop them
  3. A culture where employee voice is heard throughout the business
  4. Organisational integrity, where business values are reflected in day-to-day behaviour.

Straight away at a glance, there’s two out of four factors directly related to how leaders in the business perform. And actually the other two aren’t far behind. As a leader and manager myself, I’m keen to understand my part in this and how I can do it well.

Why are your managers so important?

So it really does seem to be true – a good line management experience can make or break how one feels about a job and the business overall. The Oxford Group’s 5 Conversations website states that ‘true engagement is built by the quality of relationships people develop at work – especially with their manager’.

Strong leaders who can build good relationships with their team members are integral to employee engagement. With that in mind, let’s look back at the four drivers of engagement and what managers can (should) do.

  1. Give context about how team work and tasks fit into the overall direction of the business. Talk openly and often about end goals, with clear information about how individuals’ work can contribute (and has contributed – don’t forget to celebrate that)
  2. Have development conversations with team members. Find out about their long-term career aspirations and give support (including, but not only, training) to help them get there.
  3. Provide time for team members to take part in business-wide initiatives from time to time – whether it’s formal ‘employee voice’ forums or just chances to network and input.
  4. Lead by example when it comes to business values. As a starting point, make sure you properly, thoroughly know what they are! Then make them relevant to your business area and demonstrate them in your own behaviour.

It all seems quite sensible, obvious and achievable for managers. Doesn’t’ it? Well - not if they don’t know how to do it.

So don’t leave it to chance

If you want an engaged workforce and you know that your leaders and managers are key to achieving it, I probably don’t need to spell out what you need to do. Invest in them – make sure they’ve got a good shot at doing this important part of their job well.

Research from the Institute of Leadership & Management revealed that only 18% of business leaders expect managers to have received training before they’re appointed to a management role for the first time. In many cases people are recruited based on technical ability, long service with their employer or project management skills. This could be the first time they’re responsible for managing people, yet they’re left to ‘sink or swim’ in a new role without relevant training.

It seems pretty short-sighted to leave this stuff to chance. We can draw a straight line from business performance, through employee engagement, to successful managers. I think that’s the basis of a compelling business case to provide some support – whether that’s formal training or structured on-the-job development.

As we saw earlier, The Oxford Group’s 5 Conversations programme focuses on equipping leaders to build strong business relationships – a great building block for engaging teams. And our ManagementPlus blended solution helps front-line managers to apply learning on the job, and has a module specifically focused on engagement. It covers principles like clarifying business goals and empowering employees – things we’ve already seen are important for engagement.

Investing a bit of time and resource in your leaders and managers is essential. Why would you leave it to chance that a group of people referred to as the ‘gatekeepers’ to employee engagement will do a good job when it comes to something that’ll make such a difference to your business? There’s only so many biscuits they can buy, after all.

 
 
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