Effective, engaging people managers – the key to organisational success

Effective, engaging people managers – the key to organisational success

Pebble and Beanstalk HR - December 2022

Long read

If you’ve been employed it’s likely that you’ve had a few managers, and will remember them because of good and bad experiences. If you’ve ever been a manager, you’ll probably have had times where you’ve given good and bad employee experiences. 

The majority of people managers become so by default – entrepreneurs that start their own companies; people who excel at the technical aspects of their role and end up managing other employees.

These ‘accidental’ managers are often thrown in the deep end, and might not have HR support to advise on processes and good practices, or leadership role models to aspire to. However, a wealth of research shows that how people are managed hugely impacts employee engagement and business success. Understanding the skill sets required to be both a manager and a leader is vital. Look at it like this, managers build the processes, and leaders build relationships.

We hear the words all the time, leadership, and management, they are often used interchangeably as well as in our job titles, but do you know the differences between the two? It's not as easy to define as you may first think, yet we can all probably describe the actions or feelings we get when we describe the two. Leadership is the act of guiding, motivating, and inspiring people to achieve a common goal. It's about building a shared vision, and then working with others to achieve it. You've heard the sayings... "Never ask anyone to do anything you wouldn't do yourself" and "Lead from the front, manage from the rear"

Leadership is not always an easy task because it requires a certain personality type to do well in the role. The qualities of leadership are typically associated with extroversion, confidence and charisma - all qualities which may be difficult for introverts to possess or project. But yet, still possible with the correct training and practice. Management on the other hand does not require any specific personality type but does require a certain skill set in order to be effective at managing others or tasks effectively. Management deals with overseeing operations to ensure that they are carried out effectively and efficiently. It's a skill set all about organising and directing. It's ensuring that things happen as they should, when they should, where they should and by whom they should.

Whether you consider yourself to be a leader or a manager, the fact is as business owners or people who are responsible for others at work you are both! A good leader is someone who can motivate their team to work hard and be productive. They are also someone who can make sure that the team is happy and healthy. A good manager should have a lot of skills, such as communication, leadership, and problem-solving skills. They should also be able to delegate tasks to their team members in a way that will make them feel valued.

“Companies with engaged employees outperform those without engaged employees by up to 202%” (Glassdoor 2015). Glassdoor has been tracking stock performance as it relates to companies named in their Best Places to Work (BPTW) list since 2009. They found that U.S. BPTW winners outperformed the S&P 500 in nine of 11 years. Additionally, rising 10 spots on the BPTW list translates to a 1.7% increase in annual stock.

According to Gallup research, companies who score in the top quartile for employee engagement benefit from 41% lower absenteeism; 59% lower employee turnover; 70% fewer safety incidents; 17% higher productivity; 20% higher sales; and 21% higher sales.

So, what is employee engagement? Put simply it’s an approach to people management and leadership focussed on achieving employee commitment to the organisation’s goals, values and success. In 2009 the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills published Engaging for Success (more commonly known as the MacLeod Report), a study by David MacLeod and Nita Clarke of organisations across the UK demonstrating high employee engagement and high levels of organisational performance. They concluded that the common factors in all these organisations were four Enablers of Engagement:

  • Visible, empowering leadership providing a strong strategic narrative about the organisation, where it’s come from and where it’s going.
  • Engaging managers who focus on their people and give them scope, treat their people as individuals and coach and stretch their people.
  • Employee voice throughout the organisations, for reinforcing and challenging views, between functions and externally. Employees are seen not as the problem, but rather as central to the solution, to be involved, listened to, and invited to contribute their experience, expertise and ideas.
  • Organisational integrity – the values on the wall are reflected in day-to-day behaviours. There is no ‘say–do’ gap. Promises made and promises kept, or an explanation given as to why not.

There are many strategies that can facilitate the achievement of these four, and will need to be tailored based on organisational goals, vision and values. But a way to increase the odds is to maximise the organisation’s management and leadership capabilities. That might be through formal training, on-the-job learning, shadowing, coaching or mentoring. You might concentrate on the skills of those who have leadership potential, or take an inclusive approach and empower the whole workforce to develop leadership skills.

The Four Enablers can be factored into almost any organisational activity or change as there will be very little if anything, that you do that doesn’t involve a human aspect. Strong leadership and employee involvement can make or break an exercise to embed new technology or working practices for example, And organisational integrity is vital to gain employees’ trust when dealing with change. As one contributor in McLeod and Clarke’s research suggested when they said “the line manager is the lens through which I see the company and the company sees me.”. Managers have a responsibility to effectively and consistently represent the company through implementing its processes, policies and values; and ultimately build a positive company culture.

Take, for example, ‘visible and empowering leadership’. A step in the right direction here to empower your employees and improve trust is to manage by outcomes and not by visibility. Be a role model of empowerment, and trust your teams to do the work they are tasked with and capable of doing, their work will speak for itself. Open up lines of communication for your people to raise issues and concerns to highlight where work and tasks are falling short, having visible employees does not necessarily equal productivity and things are going well.

Less than one-third of workers believe their workplace has a strong culture and 43% would be willing to leave for a 10% salary increase due to weak company culture (TinyPulse 2019), and according to Forbes (June 2022), toxic work culture is the number-one reason people cite for leaving their jobs.

What is ‘toxic’ is somewhat subjective but includes a culture of bullying or harassment; unethical practices; dishonesty with employees; poor or unfair pay and reward; failing to prioritise health and safety; denying employees a voice, or normalising overwork and burnout. Leaders should purposefully create a positive culture but too often can become the cause of workplace toxicity. One approach to removing ‘toxicity’ from a workplace is through building a resilient workforce. Providing your people with the necessary skills to deal with life’s challenges by investing in people’s mental health and well-being creates engagement and shows you treat people as individuals.

Becoming a manager or leader of people is a career shift, Training, coaching and support are usually given when employees branch out into new areas in the workplace…. it would be unfair not to right? But even though our people have so many opportunities to influence – for better and for worse – this is often seen as a ‘natural progression’.

Here are just a few examples of skills new managers need to learn:

Effectively implementing HR management processes – HR professionals train in this area, often for years. There is plenty of opportunity to add value by getting this right, or create a headache by getting them wrong! A well-implemented absence management system combined with a well-being strategy, for example, can help reduce absence, improve productivity, and reduce employee turnover. On the other hand, poorly implemented employee relations processes have the potential to end disastrously – in tribunals, workforce demotivation and erosion of trust.

Giving and receiving feedback – This is an essential part of any relationship, whether it's personal or professional. Giving feedback is an opportunity to help someone grow while receiving feedback allows us to take an honest look at ourselves and make improvements. However, it can be difficult to do this in a way that is respectful and constructive. When giving feedback, it's important to be direct and honest, but also considerate and understanding. Try to focus on the behaviour, rather than the person, and give specific examples where possible. When receiving feedback, remain open-minded and be willing to listen. Instead of getting defensive, try to focus on what you can learn from the feedback. By doing this, you can create an environment of open and honest communication that benefits everyone.

Emotional intelligence (EI) – This is the ability to recognise and understand our own emotions and the emotions of those around us. It is a key factor in our overall success and well-being and helps us to develop meaningful relationships with others. Emotional intelligence involves being aware of our own feelings and how they can affect our actions, as well as being able to recognise and respond effectively to the emotions of others. It helps us understand the impact of our words and actions on those around us, and find ways to manage our own impulses in order to stay in control of the situation. By developing our emotional intelligence, we can become better communicators, more empathetic listeners, and more effective problem-solvers.

Building employer brand – In the current tight labour market, employees have more choices than ever before including going self-employed, which is on the rise. This means that as well as companies standing out in their industry to attract clients, they also need to compete in the labour market.

The unemployment rate for June to August 2022 decreased by 0.3 percentage points in the quarter to 3.5%, the lowest rate since December to February 1974. (ONS) 46% of recruiting employers have hard-to-fill vacancies. These are most common in transport and storage (60%), voluntary (56%) and healthcare (55%). (CIPD Autumn 202)

Employers value company culture more than ever before. By 2030 the workforce will be 2/3 made up of Generation Z or younger. We know that Gen Z judge a prospective employer on their values and what existing employees say about them, over their products, website or social media (Amba People 2022). What current and future employees perceive is influenced by the management – that ‘lens’ through which the organisation is viewed.

Building and managing diverse teams – As well as the younger generations coming into the labour market, older people are economically active for longer, meaning teams are often multi-generational. Diversity in organisations and teams has been shown to improve outcomes, with a big BUT… without a focus on inclusion the opposite can happen.

Diversity Q (2022) found that ‘79% of organisations had put more budget and resources toward diversity initiatives in 2022, from revamping hiring practices to reviewing promotion protocols. Unfortunately, the emphasis on diversity has been met with an unequal focus on inclusion. There’s a strong indication things have gotten worse, with 84% of teams reporting a “lack of meaningful progress on building a more equitable environment.”

Human Resources Management (HRM) capability is essential to the success of any organisation. HR professionals provide a wide range of services to ensure that employees have the support and resources they need to do their best work. This can include managing recruitment and onboarding, overseeing employee benefits, monitoring employment laws and regulations, and providing guidance on employee relations.

With the right training and coaching, your people managers can be the difference between an organisation achieving its goals and struggling to get by. Having well-trained people in place can help boost morale, improve communication, increase productivity, and ultimately lead to better organisational success.

To learn more about how Beanstalk can support your business with everything HR related, and how Pebble Professional Development can train and coach your teams to create the best possible leadership working environment to attract, engage and retain employees, get in touch.

This was a co-authered blog article between Beanstalk HR and Pebble. To find out more or to enquire about any of our services, please get in touch.

Contact details: Beanstalk HR [email protected] or visit beanstalkhr.com

Contact details: Pebble Professional Development [email protected] or visit www.thinkpebble.co.uk

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