The CEO is where we typically focus when we evaluate a particular company, which makes sense given that this is the leader with the biggest impact on the organization’s success or failure—at least in terms of profitability. However, when it comes to getting work done and employees being engaged, it’s all about managers.
Managers are the ones who execute the strategy, deliver products or services, and ensure that the overall objectives are carried out. Managers are also the ones with the biggest impact on employees and greatly determine whether they are fully engaged or not.
According to a 2017 Gallop report titled “State of the Global Workplace,” companies in the top quartile in employee engagement deliver 17 percent better productivity and 21 percent more profitability than those in the bottom. To improve employee engagement, look no further than the manager.
Former managing director for Gallup’s Global Leadership Advisory, Larry Emond, said “the manager explains 70 percent of engagement.” Better engagement is a function of better management, and worse engagement is a function of worse management.
“People need clear expectations, the autonomy to craft and pursue their agendas, support to achieve success, and help thinking about their careers,” writes Russ Laraway in his book When They Win, You Win: Being a great manager is simpler than you think. “Three important words managers use that demonstrate they care about the people: time, help, success. Take time to help people be more successful.”
According to Laraway, managers must provide three things: direction, coaching and career. By focusing on helping their people win, managers win too.
Direction – Setting the direction anchors the team to an aligned result through a combination of purpose and vision (long-term), and OKRs and ruthless prioritization (short-term). Setting direction ensures people know both the what and the why things need to get done, provides clear measures for what results look like, and a shared understanding of the most important tasks of the day, week, or quarter.
Coaching – Coaching is about encouraging people to change what’s not working and continue doing what is working. The first involves giving feedback in a way that is supportive; the second involves helping people explicitly understand what they have done well so they can do more of it. Neither of these should be considered micro-managing but instead are about keeping a close eye on what is happening to immediately correct when things go off-track and to encourage and praise when things are going well.
Career – Managers should do more than help employees succeed in the job at hand. They must also assist people in discovering a long-term vision for their careers and show them what actions they can take right now that enables tangible progress toward it. In doing so, managers can show employees that they care for them above and beyond the immediate work and current organization. Managers can demonstrate that they value their people more than simply as employees.
Laraway, a former executive at Google and Twitter as well as co-founder and COO at Radical Candor, says managers whose teams are most engaged, and whose organizations produce the best results, are able to systematically:
- Create a culture of candor
- Actively prioritize
- Respond to ideas and concerns
- Establish explicit expectations
- Support growth and development
All of these are likely to increase engagement because they extend beyond typical company perks or benefits. They are about the behavior of managers leading the work.
To improve any company, look no further than the managers within it. Hiring and retaining the best managers makes business sense because good managers are those who develop engaged employees resulting in measurably superior results.