Employee Engagement Depends on Great Managers

Make a Manager Training Program Part of Your Company Strategy

For 18 years now, Fortune has published the country’s Top 100 Companies. A random sample of company employees are sent out two different surveys measuring employee attitudes about management’s credibility, solidarity with fellow workers, and overall job satisfaction, benefits, pay, hiring practices, communication, and recognition. 2/3 of the company score depends on the The Trust Index Employee Survey, 1/3 on The Culture Audit.

Google has ranked number one for six years in a row. This is not luck.

There’s a maxim that states, “People don’t leave companies, they leave managers.” With over fifteen years in the business of working with companies, we’ve found that the principle drivers of disengagement are managers. Managers. Managers.

Though co-workers and company mission are a huge part of the engagement equation, it just takes working under a detestable manager a few months to purge some of your best talent.

So, what are companies doing right – the ones on this Top 100 list?

The companies that are fostering cultures of engagement have hired and trained great managers. Since Google’s clearly done it, why not pluck their managers out, offer them loads of cash, and let them lead your company? Miracle, the film about the US hockey team that won the Gold in the 1980 winter Olympics, led by super coach Herb Brooks, touches on the pulse of engagement. There’s a phenomenal exchange between Herb Brooks and his assistant coach Craig Patrick:

Craig Patrick: You're missing some of the best players.

Herb Brooks: I'm not looking for the best players, Craig. I'm looking for the right ones.

Google managers don't "just happen." In fact, Google does the hard work to choose good people and help them become great through strategic training and support within the company. This management training program is called Project Oxygen – an entire strategy designed to hire, mold and create great bosses. Though Google’s findings about what make great managers echoes industry standards, when they started splicing the standards and putting them in order of importance, they were pretty surprised at the results. (Adam Bryant, Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss, March 11, 2011, www.nytimes.com) (Improving Management at Google, HBR, December 2013, hbr.org).

The eight pillars of great managers, according to Google and Project Oxygen are (in order of importance):

1. Be a good coach.
2. Empower; don't micromanage.
3. Be interested in direct reports, success and well-being.
4. Don't be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented.
5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team.
6. Help your employees with career development.
7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.
8. Have key technical skills so you can advise the team.

Google has the best managers for Google. So how do you find the best managers for you? It’s harder than picking them out of a lineup. Here are four tips to find and/or train the right managers for your company:

1. Research what makes great managers great at your company. Each company culture is different. Which managers, in your organization, outshine the others? What are they doing? Which teams are out-performing the other teams? Study it and bottle it up. (Kind of) You can do 360 Degree Feedback Surveys with your managers to get a better vision of which ones are working and which ones need more training.

2. Make manager training part of your company strategy. The money you spend on manager training and coaching is an investment.

3. Train (or retrain) managers what to do: So often HR departments focus on traits. But it’s really hard to change someone’s personality and traits. Train your management team to embrace the qualities you’ve discovered drive employment within your organization. Teach your managers what to do.

4. Monitor, retrain, evaluate, communicate with your managers. Make sure they’re not talking the talk, instead walking the walk. Accountability is one of the biggest drivers of engagement in any organization. Instead of a yearly review, consider doing Pulse Surveys and quarterly reviews as part of your company strategy to assess and improve management.

When an organization makes hiring and training managers part of its strategy, that organization will get results. Managers that foster and build on the drivers of engagement – personal expression, autonomy, accountability, respect, fairness, values, teamwork, trust and communication – will have successful teams. Though some of these skills might be innate in a natural leader, every manager, without exception, will need to be trained. By using Google as a model for building great bosses, each organization can do something similar to help create a company-wide culture of engagement.

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