By: Roberta Chinsky Matuson
In their bestselling book, First Break All the Rules, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman of the Gallup Organization argue that the number one reason why people flourish in an organization is their immediate supervisor. It's also the number one reason they quit. Studies across the globe support their findings. Yet many businesses operate as usual and are then surprised when the expected occurs.
Business is anything but usual these days. The power to hire and retain employees may be in the hands of employers today, but this will inevitably change as we move through the recovery.
Baby Boomers, who were supposed to begin retiring in droves, will start to execute their plans as their portfolios recover. Younger people, who for the first time in their lives have experienced a layoff, will set sail on their journey towards becoming business owners to avoid this happening again. Thus businesses will find themselves in the midst of another war on talent.
Companies can shore up their organizations and prevent people from leaving by pulling out their secret weapon. That weapon is called middle management. These are the people on the front lines. They are the glue of the organization and in the trenches with the troops everyday. They are the ones who can minimize your risk of losing your best people. But they can’t do this alone.
Here are some best practices to help your managers re-engage their teams:
Engage Your Front-line Managers
Employee engagement is defined as an employee’s willingness to expend discretionary effort on the job. Highly engaged employees are more productive and provide higher levels of customer service than those who are moderately engaged or disengaged. They are also more likely to remain loyal to the organization, which cuts down on costly employee turnover.
To create this type of environment, you must first fully engage your managers. Their feelings of commitment and connectivity will be apparent to their people, who will most likely follow suit.
Here are some ways to accomplish this.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
It is important, especially during difficult economic times, to keep the lines of communication open so people know what to expect. In today’s fast-paced global world, consider using whatever forms of communication are available to you and your people.
Memos are fine, but it may be more efficient (not to mention more green) to communicate via a company Intranet. This will help prevent communications from being lost in the mounds of paper or e-mail sitting in people’s in-boxes. Streaming a live webcast is also a great way to ensure your message is heard by all, particularly when you have a remote workforce.
Keep in mind communication must be a two-way street. Employees need to feel their concerns have been heard and that they can impact change.
Engage by Growing Trust
Engagement begins with trust. It is important to feel confident, that with the right resources, your managers will be able to create a strong connection with their people. However, this connection has to start at the top. You have to demonstrate that you trust your own people before they will trust others.
Take a closer look at your systems and processes. Does everything require ten signatures for approval? Are employees empowered to make customers happy without having to call the boss? The ability to make decisions without close supervision is a clear sign of trust. If you allow your people to operate as if they were business owners, they may very well surprise you and deliver better results.
Empower Middle Management
Having a position with a title and little authority can be quite frustrating for most people. Yet this is exactly what happens in many organizations. Give managers the authority they need to be effective in their roles. Allow them to make decisions that are well within the scope of their expertise. For example, involve them in the budgeting process and give them responsibility for bringing their departments in on budget. Give them full authority for decisions regarding staffing and employee terminations.
So often middle managers are asked to be less than truthful to their own people, in order to protect the firm. For example, they may be instructed to tell people there will be no further staff reductions, even though this certainly could be a possibility if the company’s largest client chooses not to renew their contract. This type of scenario prevents managers from establishing authentic relationships with their people. Weave transparency into your organization and encourage your middle managers to do the same.
Set Clear Goals
Share the company goals with managers and encourage them to do the same with employees. This helps keep employees committed to the mission. Show each employee how his or her work contributes to the health of the organization. When goals change, don’t forget to keep people informed so they remain on the right path.
Free Up Resources
Managers (and their people) have been asked to do so much with so little that most are exhausted. As the economy improves, free up financial resources. Give your managers permission to provide salary increases to those people who have excelled under less than optimal conditions. Allow them to replace substandard equipment and to staff vital positions that have been on hold.
Follow these simple steps and you will sail through the choppy waters of the recovery with the wind behind you.
Roberta Chinsky Matuson is the President of Human Resource Solutions and is the author of the forthcoming book, Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around, (Nicholas Brealey, January 2011). Her firm helps organizations accelerate productivity and profitability by increasing employee engagement. Sign up to receive Roberta’s complimentary newsletter, HR Matters.