“We know a lot about what should be done, but when it comes down to it, it’s not getting applied on a daily basis.” Jim Harter, Gallup
Think about today’s business organizations. The demands keep growing: People have to do more (sometimes with fewer resources), perform better, and these demands only keep escalating. And for good reasons: competition is global, and it’s fierce. No doubt you are vigilant but clever competitors can still disrupt your business at any time. Customers expect more. Organizations can’t rest on their laurels – same old, same old is not good anymore. In the face of all this, change is ever-present – the organization may take a new direction, units get restructured, employees may need re-skilling.
Not only have external demands grown and become unpredictable. To perform at demanding and ever-growing levels, to be resilient in the face of change and to bring their best to work, employees also have a new set of expectations. Work has to be rewarding – people want to be learning and growing their skills, they want to be contributing to something significant, have their contributions recognized and work as part of collaborative teams. So creating a rewarding experience for employees has become paramount. It’s a rewarding experience that leads to strong performance and loyalty. Without it, people walk – literally or figuratively – they either walk out the door with all their experience and knowledge, or they go “below the radar” – they learn how to get the work done but without going above and beyond – they learn how to meet expectations without attracting negative attention. Their hearts are not in their work. Some discomforting questions: Have you calculated the cost of “only adequate” performance (disengagement)? What are you doing about it?
So there is a maelstrom of change occurring, and it’s not going away. Yet, in the middle of all this tumult, one feature of the organizational landscape endures – the manager. Yes, organizations have flattened, they have been experimenting with autonomous teams, they are trying to replace old, once-a-year performance discussions with more frequent and informal conversations. And yet, in most organizations the hierarchy persists. And that means that the manager continues to wield big powers. Managers have a huge influence on employees. They have a big contribution to the employee’s experience, and through it they influence performance, morale, retention and loyalty among other things. One recent study points out that managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement. Managers’ influence is for better or worse – if you have a good or even great manager chances are you know your work matters, and you are developing your skills (for example). Conversely, if you have or had a poor manager, how often have you felt deflated or simply felt that you are stagnating?
Do managers understand the importance of the employee’s experience? If they are talking with their employees, they probably do. Are they aware that they contribute greatly to the employee’s experience? Sadly, not all of them do despite the growing calls for managers to move from managing to coaching and leading.
And this brings us to a big question (look at yourself in the mirror as you read this): Do your managers have the skills and support for helping the employee craft a compelling experience? Don’t answer “Yes” too fast. Maybe your organization provided management training once, but when was that? How effective was it? You may also know that training by itself, without continuing coaching and other support, doesn’t deliver sustainable positive change in management styles. To make matters worse, according to another study, far too many managers are poorly trained – a whopping 98% of managers believe that managers in their company could benefit from more training to deal with key matters such as professional development, conflict resolution and turnover. Another statistic that could be disconcerting: 40% of employees say they don’t get the company’s vision or have never seen it. (Again, this is just the basics – if your employees were lucky enough to see the vision, is it inspiring?). We’ll end with one more statistic – according to another recent study, only 35% of US managers are engaged. Add another crucial component to the manager’s influence – can disengaged managers engage their teams? Engagement (as well as disengagement) cascades so the answer is obvious.
We have to add another important caveat to this discussion. What every employee seeks is unique to that individual. So be careful not to treat employee experience as a mass program.
A few across-the-board initiatives – “Let’s improve the benefits package for everyone” – will not excite some (or many) of your employees. Nor will putting a ping pong table in the lobby. Yes, employees want similar things – they want to learn and grow, they want to make a difference, and they want work that enhances their strengths. But the combination of specific elements that matter for each person is unique to that individual. Sally wants regular feedback while Jim wants to work on new initiatives that stretch his creativity. Employee experience has to be personalized, and the best way to determine what will be compelling for Jennifer is to talk with her.
Back to the quote at the start of this article: managers do understand what good managing looks like, but can they provide it? Not without more support. All in all, there is work to do.
Let’s bring this closer to home. Try to do a ballpark guesstimate about your own organization. Be objective! What percentage of your workforce has great employee experiences? What percentage has average experiences (with some room for improvement)? What percentage has poor experiences? Since the quality of the employee’s experience is very closely related to performance, this gives you a rough idea of the percentage of your workforce who are performing really well, doing average work, and seriously need to improve. Now, what if you could improve the work experience of the middle and low groups by just 10%, what would be the dollar gain when these two groups improve their performance by 10%? Is achieving this gain possible? Why not, but you may need a business case. If you ask ten people to do a similar calculation and there is a consensus that makes you sit up and pay attention, well, you just may have a business case that investing in improving employees’ experience will pay off.
You might be asking by now, so what are we to do? Do I have to shut the company down and send all my managers back to training? Is there a silver lining here – if I make this investment, what will be the payoff? First, organizations with engaged workforces decidedly outperform those with higher disengagement (you probably know this already – that’s why going down this road to stronger employee experience may not be easy but can be enormously rewarding). Second, sit back and relax – you have come to the right place. Over the next few months, we’ll expand on the big question of how to make managers more effective in raising performance. In the coming blogs we’ll take a deep dive into the manager’s role and how you can support managers to help in your organization’s goal of creating great performance, the kind of performance you need for improved business results in a hyper competitive environment. Stay tuned!
Do you have any thoughts about this article you would like to share? We would welcome hearing from you! Our focus is helping organizations improve employee performance by making managers more effective. Contact us for further details.
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