The primary purpose of a business is to maximize profits. To achieve this, organisations keep thinking of various ways to reduce costs and also use various process improvement methods and tools. However, studies suggest that one of the most effective things an organisation can do to boost productivity and profitability is to ensure that its employees are engaged.
But what is the meaning of employee engagement? The Conference Board, a non-profit business research organization having Fortune 500 companies as members defines employee engagement as “A heightened emotional connection that an employee feels for his or her organization that influences him or her to exert greater discretionary effort to work.” What it means is that when employees feel a strong emotional connection for their organization, they care more deeply about their job and are ready to voluntarily put in extra effort without their boss having to ask them.
What are the benefits of having engaged employees? A 2020 study by Gallup across 2.7 million employees, 276 organizations and 96 countries found that organizations with highly engaged employees have 14 per cent higher productivity, 23 per cent higher profitability and 81 per cent lower absenteeism than other organisations. However, studies show that worldwide, only 15 per cent of employees are engaged in their workplace.
What factors boost employee engagement? Some of the factors that can boost employee engagement are a mentally stimulating job, pride in the organization, relationships with co-workers, opportunities for career growth and employee development, and relationships with one's manager. Studies indicate that the single most important factor that can boost engagement levels of employees is having a manager who cares about them, their growth and development.
Based on my experience over the last 12 years as a corporate behavioural trainer in Goa, let me share a practical example of how line managers can boost employee engagement by showing interest in the growth and development of their team members. I get invited by various organisations to conduct behavioural training to boost the productivity and motivation levels of their employees. In most organisations, it is considered the HR’s job to organise such behavioural training.
However, studies show line managers play a crucial role in determining the effectiveness of any behavioural training. I have observed that regardless of how much effort the trainer and the HR put in, no training can lead to any lasting behavioural change without the support and active involvement of the line managers.
Here is what typically happens if the line managers are not closely involved during the design and the rollout of the training programme. Post the training, the participants temporarily feel motivated and charged up and are eager to apply what they have learnt. However, once the employees return to work after the training, they are not provided with any opportunities or encouragement to apply their learning.
As the line managers are not aware of what was taught in the training, neither do they neither encourage the employees to implement the learning nor do they appreciate them if they apply their learning. As a result, in a few weeks post the training, the motivation levels of most participants drop to the pre-training levels, they lose interest in trying out the new behaviours, and there is no lasting behavioural change.
To ensure the support and involvement of the line managers, organisations need to:
Involve the line managers right from the start while designing the training programme.
Have a meeting of key stakeholders like line managers, HR and the trainer where line managers share their inputs about what behavioural changes they would like to see in their team members. This serves two purposes – firstly, it ensures that all are on the same page regarding what behavioural changes are expected to post the training and secondly, it makes the line manager feel involved in designing a relevant training programme for their team members.
Sensitize the line managers about the importance of their role post the training in encouraging their team members to apply the learning and ask them for their help and support in making the training programme a success.
Line managers can encourage team members to try out the new desired behaviours by:
Scheduling a short 10-minute meeting with each of their team members after they return from the training. In this meeting ask them what they learnt in the training and how they plan to apply it at work.
Encouraging their team members to apply what they have learnt and provide them with suitable opportunities for the same.
Appreciating their team members on seeing them apply their learning and exhibiting the new behaviours to reinforce the new behaviours.
If line managers follow the above steps, their team members feel motivated to apply their learning leading to long-lasting behavioural changes. The team members also get a feeling that my manager cares for me and is interested in my growth and development. This positive feeling about their manager, in turn, boosts their engagement level which ultimately leads to an increase in productivity and profitability.
For line managers to feel the need to get actively involved during the design of training programmes for their team members, first there needs to be a “paradigm shift” in the way they look at their role as a manager. Writer Stephen Covey in his bestseller book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People defines a paradigm shift as “the "a-ha" experience associated with finally understanding some aspect of the world (or a circumstance) in a different way.” In simple words, a paradigm shift happens when we are able to see the same situation in a totally different manner. When this happens, it can lead to significant changes in our attitudes and behaviours. Here are 3 paradigm shifts needed for managers to boost employee productivity and retention.
Paradigm Shift #1:
From only focussing on production to the wellbeing and growth of employees,
Managers (and organisations) often expect high levels of productivity from their employees without putting in the effort to take care of their employees or develop their capabilities. The consequences of this can be understood through the tale of the hen that laid golden eggs. A poor farmer’s hen starts laying a golden egg every day. After a few days, the farmer becomes greedy and kills the hen to get all the golden eggs at once. However, when he kills the hen there are no golden eggs in its stomach. The learning from this story is that if we only focus on production - the golden eggs and don’t take care of the hen that produces the golden eggs, a day might come when there will be no hen (and no golden eggs).
To take this analogy further, managers (and organisations) need to understand that they need to feed and carefully nurture the hen to keep getting more and more golden eggs. Stephen Covey refers to this as the Production / Production Capability balance. So, the first paradigm shift for managers is to shift from only focussing on production to also taking care of the wellbeing and growth of employees. However, if managers are expected to take care of their team members, it is only fair that they expect the organisation to take good care of them. Hence this same paradigm shift is needed for the top management of organisations too.
Paradigm Shift #2:
From believing people quit for more money to understanding that they quit due to other reasons,
According to one study, 89 per cent of managers believe that their employees quit for more money. However, according to a study by Leigh Branham of 19,700 post-exit interviews done by the Saratoga Institute (a division of Pricewaterhouse Coopers), only 12 per cent of employees say they left for more money while 88 per cent of employees say they left for other reasons. Based on my experience over the last 12 years as a corporate behavioural trainer in Goa, I too have personally observed that most managers believe that people quit for better pay.
However as shown in the above research, people mainly quit organisations due to factors that are under a manager’s control. I have noticed that some organisations (and their managers) believe that double-digit attrition percentages are acceptable, and the HR team is expected to continuously recruit new employees. This significantly increases costs as considerable time, effort and money are needed to find suitable employees and to make them productive. So, the second paradigm shift for managers is to shift from believing that people quit for more money to accepting the reality that people mainly quit due to reasons that are under a manager’s control.
Paradigm Shift #3:
From developing one’s technical competencies to developing one’s people management competencies,
In many organisations, people are promoted as managers not because they have good managerial skills but because they excelled in their earlier roles as individual contributors. However, the competencies needed for an individual contributor role are very different from those required for the role of a manager. For example, a person in an individual contributor role needs to be good at hands-on work, needs to be self-motivated and needs to develop one’s technical skills.
However, a person in a manager’s role needs to possess different competencies. He/she needs to be good at getting work done by team members, needs to motivate team members and needs to develop the capabilities of team members. So the third paradigm shift for managers is to shift from developing one’s technical competencies to developing one’s people management competencies. Once this shift happens, managers will be more open to upskilling themselves. Organisations need to help managers develop their people management competencies by organising long-term training interventions and providing them with a suitable environment to practise these learnings at the workplace.
I hope that these three paradigm shifts will inspire managers to develop their people management competencies and get actively involved in the growth and development of their team members leading to an increase in employee productivity and retention.
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