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Nik Penhale Smith

Effectory International

Online and Content Marketing specialist , HR Author & LinkedIn publisher

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Multinationals: How managers can engage employees


Throughout the majority of our engagement research, we’ve seen that immediate managers continually play a key role in employees’ engagement and commitment. The questions we’re often asked are: what makes a great manager and how can managers increase engagement?

During the previous two articles I examined engagement in multinationals and outlined why engagement needs CEOs.  In the last of our three part series on engagement in multinationals, I discuss what makes an effective manager, explore why motivating employees is so essential for engagement and look at a common employee development pitfall HR fall into.

Engaging employees in multinationals

Over the last two months, we’ve released several articles here on HRZone on engagement in multinationals. The insights are from our study of 46 European multinationals, with the data coming from the employee engagement surveys that we’ve conducted with them over the last 18 months.

The aim of our study was to comprehend the key factors and drivers of engagement and commitment, and to gain a deeper understanding of the current challenges and successes that multinationals are facing. The conclusions of the study can be found in our report Engaging employees in multinationals, which contains all of the insights, as well as best practices and case studies. 

Why the impact of managers is so great

Immediate managers have one of the biggest effects on employees’ work experience. Although teams also have an effect on work experience, our experience has shown us that managers’ immediate influence is greater.

There are several underlying reasons for this. Firstly, managers spend significant amounts of time with employees, both one to one and within the team. Secondly, managers create and shape the work environment standards.

Whilst employees may spend more time with their team, it is managers who ultimately set the precedent for employees’ work environment. Lastly, the decisions that managers take have a more frequent and direct influence on employees.

What makes effective managers?

Modern immediate managers face multiple challenges. Today’s fast paced work floors often means that time is short and expectations high. Despite this, many immediate managers are excelling in their roles. Our study uncovered that the most effective immediate managers all share three common traits:

  • The ability to motivate
  • Being proficient in giving and receiving feedback
  • Recognising and encouraging employee development

Although many immediate managers are excelling, there’s still much work to be done. At present 51% of employees in multinationals feel they are sufficiently motivated and 43% of employees are satisfied with development opportunities. Alongside this, managers appear to be neglecting praise in their feedback; just 46% of employees feel their manager gives regular positive feedback.

Motivating employees is key

Whenever we research engagement and commitment the theme motivation is a reoccurring one. In our previous European research, one of the four influencers of engagement and commitment was motivational managers.

What we see is that great managers bring out the best in employees and motivate them to perform. The effect of motivating employees is that managers have a positive effect on individual and team productivity, as well as teamwork.

Crucially, our study found that when employees are effectively motivated by their immediate managers, they are four times more likely to be engaged and committed. Most concerning for HR Directors and CEOs is that just 51% of employees in multinationals feel their manager motivates them.

At present there appears to be a gap in many managers’ motivational skills. What we’ve learnt is that the basis of effectively motivating employees includes three aspects:

  • Getting to know employees and what motivates them. Knowing what drives people is key to successfully maintaining their motivation.
  • Applying situational leadership where possible. Unfortunately there’s no one single magic leadership style, and as such a balance of several styles is best suited to keeping employees motivated in the long term.
  • Establishing a good match between the employee and the position they are in. When employees like their position and the work they do, the motivation to perform follows natural

A common development pitfall

Employee development lies at the heart of being an effective manager. All too often however, managers and HR tailor development specifically towards promotion and do so with the belief that that it is the sole thing that employees want.

Within traditional organisations, employee development is commonly equated to a move up the career ladder. We see first-hand how some managers simply don’t listen; they make assumptions about employees’ development goals and wishes.

It is important that HR and managers realise that employee development should not always be aimed at a promotion. Employees do not always see development as a progression upwards. Most employees that want to develop themselves don’t just see a promotion; they see the development of skills, new possibilities and the chance to improve. The best results come when HR and managers recognise this and value their specialists.

One of the most common pitfalls where we see this happening is in subject matter experts (SME). Far too often, SMEs are being put into management programmes on the presumption that this is the development path for them. Making SME’s managers can yield some success, however more often than not, SMEs do not make outstanding managers.

The best results come when SMEs are rewarded for being specialists, rather than being pushed into management career paths.

Author Profile Picture
Nik Penhale Smith

Online and Content Marketing specialist , HR Author & LinkedIn publisher

Read more from Nik Penhale Smith

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