Managers play a crucial role in engaging team members and, according to research conducted by Gallup, account for 70 per cent of engagement levels in companies.
It’s a complex role in that managers need to wear several hats, which include being individual contributors, developing each person on the team to help them achieve their goals and then managing the team to achieve team goals and excellence. Most managers are competent at driving the team to achieve results.
As an executive coach, where I see disconnect is in manager effectiveness to help each person on the team develop and create a path for growth while achieving the desired results. This disconnect results in lower engagement levels and team members feeling unfulfilled in their roles and potentially leaving the company. Here are several key steps managers can take to understand and engage their team.
1. Play in your zone of strengths
Managers need to understand the natural talents, strengths and needs of each person on their team and help each person work in their strengths zone. What happens in many companies is projects are matched with available people rather than specifically selecting people to work on projects according to their strengths. It’s a small but major difference. Managers need to consider how each person can contribute to a project and are they in a position to excel by using their strengths. If someone is naturally adept at coming up with innovative ideas is there room for this within the project or is the plan already determined with no room for input? If someone has the ability to be a sparkplug and help the team move into action is there the opportunity to share this strength or it is a slow-moving project which will be extremely frustrating for this person? If someone has the ability to masterfully take ownership of a project are they being put in a position to do this or will they be following someone else’s lead with no room for ownership? When people leverage their strengths, the result is an increase in engagement levels, productivity, profitability and satisfaction.
2. Provide continuous feedback
Feedback is critical for people to learn, improve and grow into better leaders. There is no substitute for it. The challenge is for managers to find the balance between how often they share feedback and how often their direct reports need feedback (millennials prefer continuous feedback rather than annual or bi-annual reviews which too many companies use). The co-founder of Warby Parker in an interview with Tony Robbins shared that when they were starting their company one of the key processes they put into place was to share continuous feedback so specific areas of conflict would be addressed before they became detrimental to the team. This is a core priority they maintain as they grow their business. Too many managers rarely speak to their direct reports unless there is an issue. Don’t be afraid to speak to your team and let them know what’s working well and what can be improved. It’s also important to understand that feedback is a two-way street, meaning that managers can give feedback to the team and the team can give feedback to others and the manager. One note, make sure to give positive to negative feedback in a 2:1 ratio rather than giving critical feedback only.
3. Have the tough conversations
Most people don’t get excited by being the person to deliver tough news such as you didn’t get the promotion or the funds weren’t approved for you to attend that conference or the report you prepared is below your usual work standard. Obviously, it’s much easier to let someone know they did a great job and will be getting the promotion - any manager can do that. Some managers think it’s better not to communicate a message that may not be well received than to have the undesirable conversation. This can lead to unnecessary team drama, toxic energy and a breakdown of trust and respect. It’s important to realise that having a tough conversation is not good or bad, it’s neutral and part of managing. The best managers are able to have the difficult conversations and still maintain a high level of respect and trust from their team.
Being a manager is a complex undertaking. It involves motivating yourself to achieve goals and understanding what drives each person on your team to help them achieve their best results. These objectives must be met while engaging the team and helping them do more of what they enjoy and excel in while meeting their needs for growth. Managers need to balance the need to achieve results with the need to engage and develop team members.