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Carolyn Nevitte

People Insight

Marketing Director

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What is the management culture like in the most engaging organisations?


Top performing organisations develop thriving cultures and winning people practices that propel them into the upper quartile of engaging organisations.

People Insight, a consultancy supporting hundreds of organisations to measure and improve employee engagement, have created PIPER (People Insight Peak Engagement Research), a new study asking the most engaged employees in the most engaging organisations precisely what makes them buzz.

This is the third in a series of themed articles (see aticle one here and article two here) which shares practices and behaviours at Cancer Research UK (CRUK) and Henderson Global Investors.

They are upper quartile performers; defined by having an engagement score in the top 25% of the hundreds of organisations we survey. They couldn’t be more different in terms of sector, but a key engaging practice that unites them is how their management structures support both autonomy and development.

Managers empower

A frequent complaint in poorly engaged and under-performing organisations is management; employees feeling undervalued by senior bosses or constricted by line managers who don’t have the experience to manage efficiently.

At CRUK and Henderson the story is markedly different. At both of these organisations, employees talk of feeling empowered, with underlying encouragement and support, then recognised and rewarded appropriately.

CRUK recognises that everyone works in different ways. Trust between managers and their teams is a key factor in creating the environment for autonomy. The priority is that the team understands what their deliverables and targets are for the year and generally individuals are left to decide how they will get there.

Earning autonomy is a great incentive

Of course, autonomy must be earned. Employees at CRUK must show they have delivered and been able to meet targets. Autonomy is a reward for great performance, and something that is really empowering for employees. Where it happens, managers are hands-off and even distance-manage. Employees feel that working autonomously can also allow them to be creative and take more risks.

“I was allowed and trusted to manage the project. It was a learning curve and I was expected to manage the project with little guidance but felt I was able to reach out for support from my manager if I needed help. I feel more confident in my ability to deliver projects and feel like I have added value to the team and organisation. I also feel like I was also able to stretch my skill set.”

In the background, CRUK managers help staff prioritise challenging workloads while managing expectations of senior leaders above them. One–to–one meetings feel like a quality conversation.

“What is massively important to engagement and perhaps the singularly most important thing is the relationship you have with your manager. Managers are generally approachable, communicative, available and supportive.”

Managers take note

Managing up as well as down is an incredible skill yet upper quartile organisations such as Henderson understand that providing autonomy, empowerment and involvement improves everyone’s outlook.

Henderson’s managers understand that involving the team to find the solution to a challenge builds confidence and esteem. They often ask team members ‘what is your opinion?’

Once a solution is agreed they provide initial support, then as an employee put it, “allow you to get on with it.” Managers appear to wear two “hats.” One is the friendly colleague hat, and the other gives guidance and encourages high performance.

A more informal approach doesn’t mean employees take their foot off the gas, as this comment proves:

“Even with bosses, it doesn’t feel like they are telling you what to do – it’s like everyone is working together to make money, create value and achieve goals.”

Managers communicate effectively across different platforms

Communication, as proves time and time again, is key. The more managers and their teams catch up across different platforms (email, phone, Whatsapp) when working remotely or in a different part of the building at CRUK, the more openly they’re able to talk about their feelings in relation to the organisation.

Managers encourage career moves

What defines many high-performing organisations is how they develop their staff and Henderson is no exception.

Internal movement is actively encouraged by both managers and HR who advertise the majority of posts internally before wider publication. What underpins this is the strong psychological contract between managers and employees with the latter understanding that in order to progress to a different role they must demonstrate initiative and hard work. They are then rewarded with their manager’s support in making a move happen:

“Managers wouldn’t just try keeping hold of the employee because they are good where they are. They will see what they can do to support.”

While operating in two different worlds, both organisations understand that in order to get the most out of your staff you have to know when to step in, and importantly, step back. Then to help them go when the time is right, as what goes around comes around. The PIPER research, from the voice of the employee, provides the evidence of Henderson’s and CRUK’s line management strengths, helping them achieve peak engagement performer status.

Is your organisation in the top quartile of engaging organisations?

Talk to us at People Insight to find out how your engagement levels compare with your peers, and find out what you can do to become an upper quartile engagement performer.

To find out how engaged your people are, and to be in with a chance of being recognised externally enter The Employee Engagement Awards’ Employee Choice Award 2015 here.

Author Profile Picture
Carolyn Nevitte

Marketing Director

Read more from Carolyn Nevitte

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