October 11, 2010 | last updated May 29, 2012 10:46 pm
TALKING POINTS

Four-Step Plan Leads To Better Performance

A lack of confidence in management suggests managers may be shouldering the blame for issues related to the dizzying pace of workplace change.

Confused, insecure and stressed out, employees are unhappy and inclined to blame the leaders in their direct line of sight — their immediate managers. Facing significant challenges and pressures of their own, immediate managers are being asked to deliver increasingly demanding results but given little support to lead. To be effective, they must redefine their mindsets and skill sets to accommodate workplace changes, while recognizing the important and essential contribution they make to influencing engagement.

Addressing engagement is the key to managing change. It is precisely when change disrupts established routines that employee satisfaction, commitment, loyalty and advocacy fall away. Although repairing the damage requires action on a number of fronts, we shouldn't discount the practical measures managers can take to advance the cause.

In research that identified and ranked 10 group drivers and 91 individual drivers of employee engagement, Right Management found that the managerial function touches on a large number of the most important. On the basis of this finding, we recommend that immediate managers concentrate on four areas of action:

1. Communicate! Help your people understand change — Initiating conversations that lead to greater understanding is essential to effective change management. The research shows that engagement is positively affected when employees are clear about:

• What is expected of them at work;

• How they can contribute to meeting customers needs;

• What the organization's mission is;

• What the organization's business strategy is.

Don't assume that employees simply understand. Be proactive in discussing change and what it means for them.

2. Provide learning and development opportunities — Employees feeling less secure in the wake of workforce reduction or simply disconcerted by major changes in the workplace want to know there is a meaningful future ahead. The same is also true of employees asked to take on new responsibilities. Providing such employees with learning and career development opportunities is among the most important ways an organization can demonstrate its commitment to them.

Immediate managers have a key role to play. Our research shows that initiating career discussion has a greater influence on how employees rate their managers than just about any other action a manager can take. Talk to your employees about their careers, present them with development opportunities and position them to succeed by providing the necessary tools, resources and support. You will be rewarded with higher levels of engagement.

3. Empower your people — Managing change often means learning to manage differently. As organizational structures become flatter, organizations become more global, increasingly diverse workforces have increasingly diverse needs, and as people with specialized skill sets become harder to find and retain, traditional command and control modes of management are yielding poorer results.

According to our research, engagement is positively impacted when employees are empowered to succeed. Ensure that everyone is treated with respect. Ensure that their opinions count. Encourage them to take ownership of their work. And provide them with the authority they need to do their job well.

4. Organize work processes to minimize stress — One constant of organizational change is the almost unrelenting pressure organizations feel to improve productivity. As the leaders who interact most regularly with employees, immediate managers normally bear the brunt of inspiring and otherwise enabling employees to do more with less. In this role, a manager treads a fine line.

Productivity is tied to engagement and engagement, our research shows, is strongly impacted by the appropriateness of an employee's workload, by the pressure he or she experiences at work, and by his or her ability to balance work with family life and personal interests. Push team members too hard, put them under too much pressure, ask them to sacrifice too much and their engagement and productivity will actually decline.

Conclusion: Sit Up and Take Notice

Some managers may feel that winning the respect and good opinion of their employees has little to do with sound management. But when an employees' assessment of leadership is directly tied to his or her level of engagement, a manager should sit up and take notice. As engagement fares, so fares productivity, retention and organizational performance.

Kathryn Nell is the senior talent management consultant for Right Management's Northeast Regional Operations. Right Management (www.right.com) is the talent and career management expert within Manpower, the world leader in innovative workforce solutions. She can be reached at kathryn.nell@right.com.

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