There is no getting away from the simple fact that effective management is about effective communication.  Survey after survey is also telling us that on average 70% of employees are disengaged from their work.  What is going on?  What are managers missing?  As is often the case, the answer is surprisingly simple . . .

A number of years ago two of the researchers at Gallup reverse engineered literally millions of employment survey responses and collated the key things that great managers did on a regular basis.  They defined great managers as the people who were leading highly engaged and high performing teams.

Common Characteristics of Great Managers

The researchers concluded that these managers had different communication and management styles but they all had the following characteristics in common:

– They motivate every single employee to take action and engage them with a compelling mission and vision.
– They have the assertiveness to drive outcomes and the ability to overcome adversity and resistance.
– They create a culture of clear accountability.
– They build relationships that create trust, open dialogue, and full transparency.
– They make decisions that are based on productivity, not politics.

How well are you and your managers demonstrating the above? 

Every one of these characteristics is driven by effective communication and the willingness to put the time and effort into getting to know your people, one conversation at a time.  This is not always easy because the nature of an employment relationship is very different from the ones we have with loved ones or friends.  Building trust and openness is a skill that needs to be developed and there are two key elements that need to be considered:

1. Knowing ourselves.

2. Knowing our people.

Knowing Yourself

Consider this quote from the Tao Te Ching (6th Century BC):

“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power”

Or the more recent quote from Carl Jung (early 20th Century):

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to a deeper understanding of ourselves”

How well do you know yourself; your vulnerabilities and what triggers you?  How well do you master yourself, your emotions, your biases and your assumptions? 

Many wise leaders and managers are recognising the power of having a trusted mentor or coach who provides an objective perspective and enables a more balanced exploration of these sensitive areas.  Others are practicing mindfulness in order to get a better perspective and develop the ability to observe their feelings and thoughts instead of just reacting to them.

Knowing Your People

Over the years I have had numerous examples of managers finding certain staff ’impossible’, ‘difficult’ or just ‘awkward’ to manage.  However, when the manager increases their self-awareness they begin to recognise that the member of staff is not ‘being difficult on purpose’ – they are just very different.  This means that they have different working and thinking styles, traits and mental patterns.  They also probably have very different needs, values and desires.  As soon as we bump into people with opposite patterns to our own, our hypersensitive Limbic (ancient reptilian) part of the brain perceives them as a foe to be very cautious of.  This is picked up on both sides and can rapidly spiral out of control and become intensely personal.   Once it’s personal, emotions take over and reality goes out of the window. 

Understanding Differences

A manager who seeks to identify the differences and objectively understand them can adopt a more flexible approach than their normal ingrained and automatic patterns.   This takes effort but it is far less effort and stress than the alternative.  Sadly, the alternative often ends up in claims of unfairness and even unlawful behaviour, because the member of staff feels and perceives it that way, even if it is not actually happening.  But as you probably know, in employment law, you are guilty until proven innocent.  Tribunals have little tolerance of managers who are acting emotionally and letting their biases and assumptions drive their behaviour.

Gaining Objectivity

An article entitled ‘State of Employee Engagement 2014’ by Modern Survey, states that “Nothing will create high levels of engagement throughout the organization like candid conversations between managers and direct reports about what each employee wants and what engages them.” 

Engagement is all about interest in the work and enjoyment in the task at hand because it relates to a bigger more meaningful purpose.  But what interests your people and what do they enjoy? 

There are now some very interesting analytic tools that can objectively identify people’s working preferences at a level beyond their own conscious awareness.  These tools can also identify what the individual enjoys most at work.  The results of these ‘engagement analytics’ provide a very powerful basis for an objective and candid conversation between a manager and team member.

Some people can get stuck because they are conflicted at a level below their awareness, and this can lead to under or inconsistent performance and a lack of motivation.

In a recent article Dr Dan Harrison gave some useful examples of inner conflicts where people:

– Want career advancement but hesitate to take on the challenges related to such advancement.

– Give high importance to career development but hesitate to embrace the self-development that would be necessary.

– Desire higher pay but lack the self-motivation necessary to earn it.

– Want social opportunities from the workplace but may be so introverted that such opportunities are hindered.

It is essential for a manager to understand these paradoxes and help the individual to recognise how they can help themselves.  If they are armed with reliable engagement analytics the manager can facilitate candid conversations about what interests their people and how the business can help create opportunities for them to achieve their personal goals and satisfy their needs.  This increases individual motivation because they become aligned with business objectives and this releases great potential.  However, it can only happen when there is an objective, honest and frank conversation about what really drives individual performance.

It is worth mentioning that if there is a genuine mismatch between the individual’s engagement criteria and what their current role can offer it becomes clear to both parties that a change in role to something more suitable is the appropriate thing to discuss, even if this means moving to another department or another organisation.

Some managers may say to this “But what if I lose my people?”. The answer is to consider whether they would rather have disengaged underperforming people stay waiting to be managed out through a disciplinary process or a healthy and mature candid conversation about how to be creative and manage the situation to ensure a win-win outcome for both parties.

Building Trust and Accountability

It all begins with ensuring that you make the time to have regular conversations that allow you to build trust and rapport.  Once you have rapport you can be far more candid without the fear of things being misunderstood because the member of staff will not be listening via the Limbic part of their brain.  It’s easy to forget that once the Limbic system is triggered it creates an expectation of negative outcomes and makes accidental connections that confirm the perception of negative intentions, even where there are none.

The exciting developments in engagement analytics mean that managers can now very easily become more self-aware by identifying their own individual drivers, they can also begin to identify the inner dynamics of individual engagement for each member of their team.  This makes it far easier for the manager to have a supportive yet candid conversation and together with the employee explore if there are any unmet needs, or paradoxes that may need to be addressed by the individual themselves.

This type of conversation creates more accountability and responsibility because the employee cannot reasonably expect the organisation to fulfil their needs and aspirations without them being actively involved.  It creates the opportunity for you to develop a culture of engagement and high performance together.

This is quite a simple approach which links very neatly to the characteristics of Great Managers mentioned above, but the statistics show that it is sadly missing from most organisations.  By taking the initiative to build rapport and start the candid conversations you will be able to keep your best people for longer and reap the rewards of a highly engaged team.

As you consider all of the above you may be curious about exploring more about the very affordable analytic tools now available and the powerful insights they provide.  If you want to discuss them please let me know.

I am always interested to hear your thoughts and opinions about any of the above so please drop me a line at [email protected]

Remember . . . Stay Curious!

With best regards

David Klaasen