What would the Godfather have advised?
It’s a question that many companies ask, particularly when they’re thinking about conducting an engagement survey for the first time. It reflects, I think, a natural desire to avoid seeking feedback when you’re concerned that something like a restructuring, a pay freeze or redundancies will have a negative impact on engagement. However, I’ve always thought that’s a rather dangerous approach. Far better to take a leaf out of Don Corleone’s book and insist on hearing bad news immediately. At least you can then act before employee disaffection begins to hit
customer satisfaction or sales or some other important metric.
With that in mind, I was very interested to hear Alex Lewis, HR Director of BAE Systems talking last week about managing engagement in times of economic adversity. The thrust of his talk was that it is in difficult times that the organisation is closest to the employees’ personal life, and a focus on engagement is most vital. And he highlighted four key employee needs.
- People need to know where the business is going and what change will mean for them. So it’s important to deal with those concerns directly and ensure that the key strategic messages are being properly understood.
- People will seek out their leaders and look to them for confidence. Line managers are the lens through which people view their company; managers need to involve people in the change process and support them through it.
- People will want to be involved in working out solutions. Shared ownership will help them feel fully committed to making their solutions work.
- People will look for honesty and integrity. Integrity is the foundation on which trust is built. Therefore, building trust is vital and people will hold managers to what they have said. Trust grows when what is said is done.
These four needs are, in fact, the four enablers of engagement that emerged from the extensive research captured in the Engaging for Success report to government (also known as the MacLeod Report) – A strong strategic narrative, Engaging managers, Employee voice and Integrity. Taken together, they include many of the
key ingredients of employee engagement.
Alex Lewis’s talk was a summary of the research carried out by one of the Engage for Success movement’s Research teams into managing engagement in adversity. That research suggests that Don Corleone was right: it’s important to get the bad news immediately. You can then start to help your people through the difficult times before engagement turns to disaffection and performance takes a dive.
Are your line managers your Achilles heel?
The CIPD has just published two valuable survey reports: its latest quarterly Employee Outlook Report1 and the Learning and Talent Development Annual Survey Report2. They are valuable not so much because they provide new insight but rather because they support the findings of other research and put renewed focus on the shortcomings of many of the UK’s line managers in terms of their people management skills. Shortcomings which, according to the CIPD, represent a significant impediment to economic growth.
In this piece I focus on four key findings. The surveys show that:
- Employees are generally positive towards their line managers as people
- But a significant proportion say those managers are poor at providing feedback on personal performance, coaching and discussing personal training and development needs
- Few line managers are aware of these shortcomings
- But 85% of organisations do recognise they lack leadership and management skills.
Our own research supports these findings, and also points to the qualities people most value in their immediate managers:
- Setting clear and consistent expectations
- Giving positive feedback and recognition for work well done
- Encouraging and supporting people’s growth and development
- Valuing people’s unique qualities
- Showing care, concern and interest in people.
As the CIPD research shows, these qualities are frequently key drivers of engagement and they’re manifestly lacking in many line managers. The result is low engagement and poor performance.
So the question is: are your line managers your Company’s Achilles heel? And if so, what’s to be done?
Clearly there are no simple answers. Changing attitudes and behaviour is a major undertaking. But perhaps a good starting point is to ask five basic questions:
- How effective are your senior team as people managers? Do their attitudes and behaviours reflect the attributes employees most value? Are they good role models for your line managers, team leaders and supervisors?
- Do you recruit and appoint people with the right people management attitudes and behaviours? Or do you need to review your recruitment processes?
- Do you recognise and reward people for their performance in terms of people management and raising the level of engagement?
- Is the way you train and coach people consistent with the development of the right people management attitudes and behaviours?
- Are care, concern and encouragement part of your company culture? Are they really part of “the way we do things around here”?
The answers should inform your next step.
This blog draws on the following:
1 CIPD Quarterly Employee Outlook Report
2 CIPD/Cornerstone on Demand Learning and Talent Development Annual Survey Report
You may also want to visit our webpage ‘What impact do line managers have on engagement?’
Using employee engagement surveys to raise the HR profile
Back in May of last year one of my blogs referred to an influential report which suggested that “…the fate of HR departments in the year ahead may hinge more on proving their value than maximising their contribution.”
Nearly twelve months down the line Neil Roden of PwC, one of the profession’s most senior figures, has resurrected the issue claiming that “…The quality of HR senior leadership is declining” and the profession is losing influence. The reason, he says, is that “Not a lot of HR people do much on metrics and analytics, despite the fact that we all know that’s how most chief executives and chief finance officers think”.
And nowhere is that truer than in my area of expertise – employee engagement surveys. All too often the HR mindset seems to preclude a systematic approach to linking employee attitudes and behaviours with people performance metrics and key business outcomes; in some instances it seems to recoil at the very prospect. But when it does happen the results can be truly transformational: the survey becomes a vital business tool and HR quickly assumes a new and compelling relevance at the heart of the business.
Of course many companies have long understood the importance of metrics and analytics. Neil Roden quotes General Electric and in recent blogs I’ve referred to Marks and Spencer and Mitchells and Butler. Not surprisingly they all tend to be leaders in their fields.
This blog draws particularly from the following article in our Resource Centre:
“Quality of HR senior leadership is declining”, says Neil Roden – Rob MacLachlan, People Management