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Kate Jennings

BlessingWhite Europe

Managing Director

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True engagement – why managers need to be seen as ‘real people’


Managers and leaders within an organisation can make a difference to engagement levels, but only if they themselves are engaged, trustworthy, authentic and crystal clear on their role and what the organisation needs from them. They must then work with their teams to align their personal goals, motivators and drivers to job satisfaction and their contribution to the organisation.

The alignment of individual job satisfaction starts with effective questioning, communication and understanding. Finding out about what an employee enjoys in their role and allowing them to do more of this interesting and challenging work helps increase engagement levels. Confirmed by our global engagement research individuals seek to use their unique talents and key skills more in their role and this helps sustain levels of engagement.

It is not always an easy job – An open working relationship with two-way dialogue does not always come naturally, leaders and managers often hide behind their title and responsibilities, they remain distant to their teams because it’s easier. Yet our research suggests that being known as a ‘real person’ with a personality, strengths and weaknesses is a big factor of employee engagement. Individuals want to work for a manager that they can trust, is open and approachable. 

"It requires courage to give voice to change messages we are required to communicate as senior leaders, as well as to develop the skills of connecting in a way that will inspire others to engage with the ideas and passion of the leader, and awaken the passion in each of those who elect to follow." Terry Pearce, author of Leading Our Loud.

As part of BlessingWhite’s on-going market research, we have focused increasingly on the relationship between the individual and their immediate manager. We have found compelling correlations between an employee ‘knowing their manager well as a person’ and key working dynamics such as the effective use of talents, rewards, recognition and providing regular feedback.

In our research we have ranked the items below based on the gap size between a manager’s and individual’s relationship – how well do they know each other in the workplace? As we would expect the results show that the managers who build better relationships with individuals on their teams have improved communication, give open feedback, ask for input, share ideas, delegate work and build community in their teams. These are difficult skills if the relationship between manager and individual is poor. And more importantly these are all contributing factors to increased engagement so are important to get right.

Tables 1 & 2: Impact of being known as a person on a manager's effectiveness (in the eyes of his or her direct report) 

Percentages indicate favourable responses based on a 5-point Likert scale. Percentages include responses 'strongly agree' or 'agree' to each statement. (BlessingWhite’s Employee Engagement Update 2013)

Organisations often focus on equipping managers with tactical skills such as delegation, but this has little impact on engagement levels if nothing else changes. Managers have to learn to lead their teams authentically, to connect with individuals at a level so they can inspire them to exceptional performance and help individual engagement. 

5 Responses

  1. Managers need to be ENGAGING first!

    Faced with the new economy, finance scarcity, performance deficit and an increasingly disgruntled workforce businesses need to rely on skilled line managers more than ever. Managers at whatever level need to "own" their patch, define it, and engage their direct reports in achieving the objectives of that patch. This cannot be done by top down directives. It has to be generated at the Manager level. They need new skills and a new language.

    Senior management have to do the same thing, define the patch for their direct reports to operate in and then GET OUT OF THE WAY and let the managers do their thing. !interesting blog on the subject

  2. Developing Good Line Managers

    The more I work in HR/L&D, the more I realise the importance of having good line managers in place who have good people skills.

    Most of my career has been spent in the engineering sector where line managers are promoted based on their technical rather than their people skills (usually because this is the only career option for them if they want to move on).

    So how do you persuade line managers that this sort of soft people stuff is there responsibility (and not HR..;-) and how do you skill them up to achieve effective employee engagement.

    Karen is right – this is extremely difficult and will require significant time & effort but starting with some self-awareness for the managers is a good idea. In my last company we used the DISC profiling tool to do this with our engineering line managers in China and it was very successful. Once the managers had a valid sytematic way to understand the variety of different personality profiles that people can have they looked in the mirror at themselves and then started looking at their teams.

    Karen also makes a great point about this being a big undertaking so its important to have a strong business case for achieving improved employee engagement – the UK government's Engage for Success website provides some excellent data on this (see the Macleod report and the "Nailing the Evidence" report on their website).

    My advice is to make sure you roll this sort of program out using a top-down approach and challenge the senior managers to engage the next level down and lead by example (in China we started with the CEO and his board before moving down to department heads then team leaders)

    Lucinda is spot on though that managers need to understand what makes their employees tick and that they will all have their own preferred styles (which are likely to be different to the manager). Again I have found the DISC profile useful for this but I guess any type of similar tool would do (I like DISC as its reasonably simple and also very cost effective as the basic theory is in the public domain).

    I also liked Lucinda's quote from Covey and his son has also written an excellent book which is useful called "The Speed of Trust" which is a good read.

    Great subject – line managers can either be HR's greatest asset or our greatest liability!



  3. Karen I think your point is

    Karen I think your point is very apt and it's a case of the company making the choice to invest heavily in an individual, even in the face of concerns such as the individual moving to a competitor. A combination of coaching and providing the follow-up environment, where mistakes are allowed, that allows them to self-reflect and practice skills, is important.

    I guess the key thing about authenticity is that it has to come within – everything an organisation does can only enable the individual to discover for themselves how to be comfortable in their own skin. Big challenge, and as you say has to go beyond the skills level. 

    And Lucinda, I think that's important. Listening and understanding your team's individual needs means you can respond more appropriately and in a way where they understand your thinking and rationale. And this builds trust. This is a great way for managers to become more authentic: by focusing on the needs of others and truly seeking to understand the person becomes more considerate and empathetic. 

    At the same time, truly seeking to listen and understand confers business benefits – staff on the ground know the basic needs of the company when it comes to pleasing customers, and many managers simply consider how best to confer information to employees rather than how to use the information that only staff know to build a better company.

  4. Isnt it more about managers seeing their team as individuals?

    Thanks for this research – one small point (potentially semantics as I am not disagreeing!) I wondered about the emphasis in the title on seeing the manager as 'real' – it feels a little back to front for me. If every manager took an interest in what made each team member tick as an individual and responded to those differences positively then that will generate trust and understanding.

    The article does talk about questioning and listening and I agree, however not as a means to an end. In Covey's words – if managers learned to "Seek first to understand" first rather than seeking to be understood first then positive changes would be afoot in the workplace.

    Lucinda Carney



  5. Easier said than done!

    Thanks for sharing this research, really useful for us in our business as it supports how we deliver our services.

    Developing people this way is in the easier said than done pile for business though isn't it? How do you coach and train someone to be authentic? It takes a really good training and development plan combined with a supportive culture to bring this out in managers. We find that a combination of excellent training (at more than just skills and behaviours level) which develops the persons self esteem and confidence and helps them to get to know themselves better, with some one to one coaching (to deal with any issues not suitable for training and provide a confidential space to explore ) and a culture that allows them to practice has great results.

    It might seem like a big undertaking but companies that do it report it is so worth the time, money and effort. As well as having well functioning managers you begin to grow the leaders of the future which mean less expense needed when they reach top exec level. Also unpicking bad habits and developing your own style is easier when people are managers rather than too senior, it enables them to feel safe to practice and not too exposed.

    I hope this is a useful addition to the article, as you can probably tell it's something I feel very strongly about.

    [email protected]

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Kate Jennings

Managing Director

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