Guest Blog: Why I Believe Managers Are the Real Secret to Employee Engagement

Sharon Patterson
Guest Blog: Why I Believe Managers Are the Real Secret to Employee Engagement

Every year when it came time to run our annual engagement survey, I had a feeling of dread in my stomach. It was that time again: time to try to convince managers that this was for their own benefit, like their annual physical exam. Much like the annual physical, preparation for the engagement survey began a few weeks beforehand, with last-minute efforts to lose weight and get in shape. Suddenly there were spontaneous t-shirt giveaways, bagels in the kitchen on Friday morning, and managers leaving their offices and chatting with employees for the first time since the last survey took place.

Like the physical, the results were often frustrating to managers since they hadn’t developed good leadership habits throughout the year, and their short-term efforts had little impact on the overall morale of their employees. It was time to find a different way to measure employee engagement – one that was less of an event and more of a culture change that benefited our managers, and in turn, our employees.

Why traditional employee surveys put managers at a disadvantage

With the traditional employee survey – the approach that I was so used to for the majority of my career – everything was “top down”. The decision to conduct a survey came from our senior leadership, and managers definitely felt that to some degree the whole process was being imposed upon them.

It’s an understandable reaction, because the annual engagement initiative was viewed as a singular event in time. When you’re only encouraging employee feedback once a year, “feedback” is not part of your culture. It’s a one-off, and something that managers (and employees) feel obliged to take part in.

In this situation, managers play a very passive role. They associate “engagement” with a once-a-year survey, and don’t see it as something they action or can influence at a local level. There’s very little about this process that encourages a sense of ownership over their results.

It was the first time I had seen anything like it: a tool that gave managers their own real-time dashboard and insights into the engagement of their team.

Put yourself in your managers’ shoes. HR asked you to make sure your team answers the survey, then you have to wait several months before you hear anything back. During this time circumstances have changed, you never had the opportunity to interact with your feedback or ask follow-up questions, and then HR come back to you with a printout that says “This is where you’re failing, this is what you need to do, now go and fix it.”

It’s no wonder that this process left many managers that I’ve worked with feeling a little disillusioned.

How we took a manager-centric approach to employee feedback

Peakon actually came to the global LHH team via our CEO (so I guess this part of it was “top down”!). He had been using the platform in his previous role as VP of EMEA, and introduced it to the global team when he became our Chief Executive.

The manager reaction to Peakon was really exciting to see… It’s changed our employee engagement process from being an uphill battle into a partnership between managers and HR.

It was the first time I had seen anything like it: a tool that gave managers their own real-time dashboard and insights into the engagement of their team. I was intrigued but also cautious. We planned to gather employee feedback on a monthly basis, and I didn’t know what to expect. Would managers welcome the data? Would sending out a survey 12 times a year increase my team’s workload 12-fold? Would we actually see any improvement by doing things this way? The short answers are yes, no (thank goodness!), and yes.

Managers are taking ownership over their feedback

The manager reaction to Peakon was really exciting to see. I was surprised how quickly it was adopted by our teams; in my experience any new approach or software is usually met with reluctance. It also quickly rectified the engagement “event” issue and produced a significant shift in our culture. Put it this way: nowadays we actually have managers coming to the HR team and saying “I just got my data back, can you help me develop a plan?”.

In the past, it would’ve fallen on us to do all the legwork. The HR team would have done the majority of the number-crunching, produced action plans for each manager, and then had to convince them it was important to implement. Often our managers wouldn’t even trust the data because it had come out of the blue months after the survey was conducted.

We can now dedicate our time to building a tier of leadership across the business that can identify and react to any issues that are raised before they spiral out of control.

Now that they have live access to their feedback, which they can dissect and respond to as it comes in, they feel far more personally responsible for making improvements in their teams. It’s changed our employee engagement process from being an uphill battle into a partnership between managers and HR.

HR can focus on what we do best

Our HR team is now free to do what we do best: support our managers and help coach and develop them in their roles. Essentially we can now dedicate our time to building a tier of leadership across the business that can identify and react to any issues that are raised before they spiral out of control.

The more data our managers get, the more they learn about how to address issues effectively, and the better leaders they become. You get this feedback loop where managers keep on improving.

My team and I still have visibility of the data across the company, and if there’s anything that we feel our managers haven’t spotted, we can approach them and bring it to their attention. The difference is now we have interactive data that we can sift through and discuss together – and our managers are much more receptive to this than a printout!

Our managers are becoming better leaders

The biggest impact that this new approach has had is in the improvement in managers themselves – which I love. Who in an HR role doesn’t enjoy watching the people they work with learn and develop?

Our new process gives frontline leaders the autonomy, data – and the authority – to address feedback on their own, without relying on HR to step in and draw up a formal plan. This means that our managers are being self-directed in their learning at the same time as they’re solving actual issues in their teams.

The more data our managers get, the more they learn about how to address issues effectively, and the better leaders they become. You get this feedback loop where managers keep on improving.

[Our managers] have been taking actions of their own accord, and are now driving improvements in themselves, in the business, and in our culture, from the bottom up.

When we first piloted Peakon in our US teams, we had a case where one manager’s scores improved massively over the course of 3-4 months. In the first survey we did, this manager received some very challenging, but also very actionable feedback, and her scores ended up increasing by around 15 points (out of 100) very quickly because she got timely data and she was able to act on it right away.

Sometimes it’s not a case of a manager lacking the skills to lead their team effectively, but of not realising that they were doing anything wrong in the first place. You can’t expect people to be completely honest in a 1-on-1 meeting with their line manager, and you also can’t expect a manager to get everything right when they’re only given full data on their performance once a year.

We’ve created a culture of effective management and accountability

On top of all this, our managers have become increasingly aware that the business really cares about the way they manage, and wants to help them succeed. Now our HR team has a process in place that lets us monitor and nurture our manager performance fairly.

Our managers are so important to our culture and the overall performance of the business that our CEO stays on top of the data and is leading the conversation every month. You could argue that this aspect is still “top-down”, but it’s our managers who are now leading the charge. They have been taking actions of their own accord, and are now driving improvements in themselves, in the business, and in our culture, from the bottom up.

Share

Author

Get started now and receive a 30-day free trial.
No credit card required.

Icons/Features/Action_TitleIcons/Features/CS-Support_TitleIcons/Features/Feedback_TitleIcons/Features/Insight_TitleIcons/Features/Platform_Titlearrowarrowarrow-leftbackGroup 17contactIcons/Features/CS-Support_Titledrive changeelevatefacebook?bullet/notincludedlinkedinlogosleadershippeakon teampressQuote overQuote startsearch-icontwittervaluedwork at peakonyoutube