Sustained engagement - the biggest challenge yet

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This investment goes much deeper than the usual engagement activity that HR is so often involved in - and where so much money is effectively wasted. Real engagement happens when leaders and managers create a culture where the relationship between employee and employer is more meaningful and purposeful.

Engage for Success has kicked off with the serious task of ensuring the UK does not continue to lose an estimated £26 billion in wasted GDP. Companies should be under no illusions that their managers have a key role to play in influencing and sustaining engagement. But, for the middle manager tasked with engaging others, it can seem a daunting and complicated task. They need support from HR to ensure it happens.

Most engagement investment focuses on the comms-style events and road shows and not in the day-to-day practicalities of helping managers unlock greater performance. This is where HR yields incredible influence in creating performance cultures by helping managers become the very best enablers of engagement, by giving them development, counsel and the practical tools they need. This enables sustained engagement levels rather than annual events that create a buzz but don’t actually change behaviour or attitudes.

Know your managers as engagers

To build performance cultures that last after the CEO road show, HR must be confident that it has a clear understanding of where, in the context of engagement, the strengths and weaknesses of the management community lie. As I outlined in ‘Making engagement happen – what HR needs to do now’, I believe there are five key roles that managers need to embrace as engagers: Prophet, Storyteller, Coach, Strategist and Pilot). 

No-one is a perfect engager and managers will naturally be drawn to some roles more than others. My profiling of a sample group of managers highlighted the low preferences managers have for Strategist and Coach. This means managers are more likely to spend time engaging others with the future vision (Prophet) and championing the communication about what that journey will look and feel like (Storyteller). These are very important roles but they cannot stand alone because a high-performance culture also needs the logic and planning of the Strategist to make sure engagement actually happens. It also crucially needs the insight of the Coach who knows his or her employees as individuals and as a result, understands the specific development, opportunities and resources each employee needs in order to be effectively be engaged in the plan. Without these, sustained engagement is unlikely to occur.

Of course, it may well be that within your own culture (and indeed across different teams within the same culture), different strengths and weaknesses across the five roles exist. But, the survey evidence shows there is a typically weaker preference for Strategist and Coach clues to watch out for include:

  • lack of an engagement plan than goes further than the results of the latest survey
  • most conversations between managers and employees are limited to the daily, transactional issues, with little time for developmental discussions 
  • lack of developmental plans that people can tangibly get hold of, own and action

All five roles are needed to sustain engagement

The lack of strategic focus when it comes to engaging others explains why so many engagement initiatives are not able to sustain high performance. The momentum and excitement created around engagement campaigns quickly loses its focus and drive without managers who are able to pull together the detail and practicality of how employees will consistently be engaged. For anyone inspired by the vision and narrative of the Engage For Success campaign, the harder work comes now in making intention a reality. That will only come from a culture that supports, recognises and rewards Strategists and Coaches and not just the fanfare and excitement that Prophets and Storytellers create.

Build teams that complement the strengths and weaknesses of your engagers

Strong and influential engagers that I have worked with demonstrate a marked difference in their profiles compared to average leaders. They have a much more balanced profile because they consciously apply more effort and application in the roles they find hardest. In fact, it is often quite hard to spot where their low preferences lie. 

Knowing the preferences and strengths of your managers will help HR to offer specific support and development for them. 

If Engage For Success is to build new levels of performance in corporate GB, it is absolutely fundamental that companies have invested in the right way to ensure their latest engagement initiatives do not fizzle out. Exceptional managers and leaders consciously build their capability and capacity in all five roles, flexing across all five to help sustain high performance. Recognising when managers are stuck in comfort zones and operating in one preference only is one way that HR can help broaden the skill and expertise of its managers-as-engagers.


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