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By far the greatest impact on Employee Engagement in companies is made by managers. Gallup estimates that managers account for 70% of the variance in Employee Engagement, while my own research via exit interview analysis suggests they influence somewhere in the region of 80% of the employee experience.

If we agree that Employee Engagement is the key lever of human value creation in organisations, then it makes sense to pay the greatest attention here. How, and how well, are managers being served? Typically, organisations support managers on a systems level (with tools, practices and frameworks) and on a training and development level.

The practices and frameworks on the systems level most commonly include performance management and competencies. These have been around for over 50 years now and there is little or no evidence that the latter (competencies) add any value at all, while the data on the effectiveness of performance management is in. As study after study has shown (most recently by an excellent review by Elaine Pulakos) Performance Management disengages employees, costs companies millions in wasteful admin time, and destroys value.[1] How many more decades are companies going to continue with this nonsense?

On the training and development level, things are hardly any rosier. Nearly $50bn is spent p.a. in the US alone on manager development.[2] What have companies got to show for this investment?

On the surface of things, not much. The management practices scores of US companies have stayed around the not-so-boneshakingly-exciting 3.3/5 level as measured by the World Management Survey since inception, and this is made more sobering by the fact that, by country, that’s the world’s best score.[3] Returning to Employee Engagement, according to Gallup (as well as other consultancies in the field) over the last decade employee engagement scores have barely moved.[4] So $50bn gets us… $0 value in return. If this were a government, there would be resignations.

Sources of disconnect

Clearly, there is a massive systemic problem in management. Without going into too much depth, the sources of this disconnect are likely to lie in academia (for pushing blinkered theories without reference to real-world application or data); HR (applying systems and practices from these theories without critically analysing their effectiveness or impact); and senior management (not holding HR accountable for adding organisational value through management).

Then there are the practices involved in Training and Development. If Employee Engagement is such a game changer, you would think HR professionals would train their managers in exactly those skills, wouldn’t you?

It seems even this elementary piece of logic is missing from the profession. At a recent conference I asked 53 HR Directors, how many of them linked the training and development of their managers to their Employee Engagement questions. Only one person put his hand up (another half raised her hand saying some were linked). The other 51 HRDs did not train their managers on the questions that they said drove corporate performance.

Imagine if airlines trained their pilots how to drive trains. You might also wonder how these HR professionals would react if their own children, having enrolled to study German, were given a French exam when the GCSEs came around? Remarkable.

What companies need to do to get around the nonsense

Let’s not lose sight that all of this nonsense is costing even mid-sized companies tens of millions of pounds every year. When they scrapped their performance management process, Adobe found that simply preparing for these appraisals took managers 17 hours in time, amounting to a whopping 80,000 hours spent annually across the company. These are not small numbers. And all for… $0 in return.

Then there are the voluntary staff turnover costs from these poor management practices and engagement levels (which companies seem unable to fix). Add some more millions. Silos, poor communication and self-serving behaviours – add some more millions there. It all adds up. And that’s to say nothing of the opportunity costs of not being able to keep and engage customers, execute strategy and promote change and innovation in the organisation.

Thankfully, there are solutions, and they are not especially difficult. But companies need to stop doing the nonsense to let the common sense breathe and thrive.

Here are the basics:

  • Build your company’s internal management practices around Employee Engagement, nothing else
  • Religiously link training and development of your managers to these questions
  • Test the questions and impact of learning against both Employee Engagement survey data, but also the business outputs Employee Engagement supposedly delivers
  • Training and development: 3 days manager training per year is almost certainly not enough. You’ll need at least double that to develop their skills and change their behaviours
  • The learning experience: this has to be a crafted combination of an emotional, reflective and hands-on experience (‘Head, Heart, Hand’). It must change behaviours. And there has to be follow-up to have any hope of follow-through
  • Design and delivery of these programmes makes a huge difference! The real factors of facilitator effectiveness are often overlooked. Talent really matters.

Find out more – sign up here

Nick Henley will be taking you through how he has been able to achieve manager excellence using precisely this methodology in his forthcoming session The Manager Magnet – how you can help your managers make the difference at the Employee Engagement Summit on 10th May.

Make sure you attend by signing up here

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