Trust in me?
Dynamic Business Leaders
The hidden cost of dynamic leaders
Managers picked for their drive and ambition may not be the best team builders. Their aggressive touch may erode the mortar which holds an organisation together: Trust. Help them brush up on their people skills, if you want to pick employee engagement figures up off the floor.
The role of a manager can be defined as co-ordinating personnel or resources. This definition could include everyone from junior supervisors to the CEO. Management development is the catch-all term for any structured process by which managers learn and improve their skills, thereby hopefully generating benefit for the individual and the organisations which they serve.
"Managers...consistently demonstrate interpersonal attitudes and behaviours which have a deeply corrosive effect on the three-cornered relationship of trust between the manager, the employee and the organisation they both serve"
Given the haziness of these definitions it is hard to determine precisely how much the annual investment in management development costs the UK economy. According to Chartered Management Institute figures the per annum spend per manager on management and leadership development was £1,035, involving an average of 6.3 days per manager. So is this huge collective investment delivering a proportional return? My personal view is much of this investment is being wasted because the focus of management development qualifications has always rested disportionately on management processes and techniques. As a result typical management development qualifications are dominated by topics like absence management, career planning, problem-solving, succession planning, situational leadership, appraisals, reporting and performance management. Whilst these elements represent key bricks in the wall of management best practice, the mortar which creates an effective bond between these bricks is `trust`. Where mutual trust between the manager and the employee is missing these management activities will inevitably fail to operate to best effect. More investment in money and time is needed to achieve excellent results to pull companies into the 21st century for success. Take on board 'Accelerate with Impact' - ISBN: 978-1-84549-289-2 and `Create Your Own Success Story` - ISBN: 978-1-84549-260-1 and successful solutions will be clear.
Unfortunately, many of the UK's best-qualified managers are experts in management processes and techniques but they consistently demonstrate interpersonal attitudes and behaviours which have a deeply corrosive effect on the three-cornered relationship of trust between the manager, the employee and the organisation they both serve (this is also a global issue). It is no coincidence that a surprising number of organisations are finding it difficult to achieve appreciable improvements in levels of employee engagement, despite major investments in corporate communication, in improving compensation and benefits, in family-friendly policies and in improvements to working conditions.
In my view the deep-seated failings and omissions in traditional management development processes that I have outlined are a key reason why so many organisations are finding it hard to pick their employee engagement figures up off the floor.
As we are in the second decade of the 21st Century, technical competence in operational and management processes will clearly not be enough. The next wave of management development best practice will need to reflect an enhanced emphasis on remodelling management attitudes and behaviours.
Why management behaviour is killing employee engagement
In today's task-focused business climate managers are usually selected for their personal drive, ambition and functional expertise rather than for their interpersonal skills. As a result they are not always natural team players or team builders. Equally, because conventional management development programmes focus on management processes and take vital people-skills for granted, few interventions are subsequently made to ensure any gaps in interpersonal skills are addressed.
"In today's task-focused business climate managers are usually selected for their personal drive, ambition and functional expertise rather than for their interpersonal skills. As a result they are not always natural team players or team builders."
As a result of these factors many line managers are ill-equipped to engage with their people and draw out the latent potential. Indeed, in many cases they are contributing to a harmful degree of disengagement.
Research indicates that employees' relationships with immediate line managers play the biggest part in decisions to stay or leave, to work at the minimum or invest discretionary effort, in short to engage or disengage. It is primarily what happens to people in the workplace on a day-to-day basis that gradually turns engagement into disengagement. Trying to build engagement without changing the behaviour of managers is often a fruitless exercise.
Marcus Buckingham summarised the situation precisely in his book 'First, Break all the Rules':
"It's not that these employee-focused initiatives are unimportant. It's just that your immediate manager is more important. She defines and pervades your work environment. If she sets clear expectations, knows you, trusts you and invests in you, then you can forgive the company its lack of a profit sharing programme. But if your relationship with your manager is fractured, then no amount of in-chair massaging or company sponsored dog walking will persuade you to stay and perform. It is better to work for a great manager in an old-fashioned company than for a terrible manager in a company offering and enlightened employee-focused culture."
This situation often goes unnoticed because employee opinion surveys neither place sufficient focus on line manager issues, nor give employees free voice to express their real concerns.
Remodelling management behaviours
It's clear that today success depends on an employer's ability to attract, develop and retain a talented, fully-engaged workforce of any age. In other words, it is crucial to become an Employer of Choice.
But what does that mean? A Google search will show that hundreds of thousands of organisations claim to be an Employer of Choice, yet many of these suffer from the symptoms of low employee engagement – making the claim does not make it so! In most cases this is because the behaviour of line managers runs counter to the people-focused messages emanating from the board. In general, the role of the manager in dragging down employee engagement figures is not being given sufficient recognition.
"In general, the role of the manager in dragging down employee engagement figures is not being given sufficient recognition."
The ideal starting point for a fresh approach to management development is to make sure that your managers are aware of the things that really influence their people. This is essential if you are to begin to redevelop and remodel their people skills as managers.
This is the philosophy behind the Employers of Choice Charter initiative following a two year research and consultation project.
The Employers of Choice Charter addresses the biggest influence on engagement of all: the day-to-day management attitudes and practices of line managers.
The Charter comprises six principles. These mirror the six key drivers of employee engagement and will reflect the established values of many good employers. They are timeless and universal because principles do not change. Each one reflects an innate human need, so the Charter is not bounded by time, or by national or organisational differences – it is relevant to everyone who manages human beings!
As Penny de Valk, chief executive of the Institute of Leadership and Management commented: "Managers are one of the most critical drivers of employee engagement in an organisation which in turn determines an organisation's ability to compete effectively. So it is good to see the Employers of Choice Charter focusing on this key driver and encouraging organisations to develop their managers in the areas that they can strongly influence."
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Note: About the Author Colin Thompson
Colin is a former successful Managing Director of Transactional/Print Manufacturing Plants, Print Management/Workflow Solutions companies and other organisations, former Group Chairman of the Academy for Chief Executives and Non-Executive Director, helping companies raise their `bottom-line` and `increase cash flow`. Plus, helping individuals to be successful in business and life in general. Author of several publications, research reports, guides, business and educational models on CD-ROM's/Software and over 400 articles published on business and educational subjects worldwide. International Speaker and Visiting University Professor.