Management behaviours closely linked to engagement: Study

11 key competencies include feedback and praise, autonomy and empowerment, guidance
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/25/2011

The extent to which managers provide guidance, feedback and autonomy for employees has a significant impact on engagement levels, according to a study from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in the United Kingdom.

“The central role of managers in boosting individual and organizational performance is well-recognized,” said Ben Willmott, senior public policy adviser at CIPD in London. “But managers need more specific, tried-and-tested guidance on what they can do on a day-to-day basis to fulfill this key role well.”

Fifty employees in an emergency call centre at a large global energy provider participated in the research for the study Management Competencies for Enhancing Employee Engagement. Through one-on-one interviews, participants were asked a series of questions surrounding management behaviours and how they affected engagement. From these interviews, 11 key competencies were identified by CIPD.

Feedback, praise and recognition was the most referred-to competency, with 92 per cent of participants mentioning it during interviews.

“The extent to which employees feel they receive adequate feedback is a particular problem,” said Willmott. “If it’s inadequate, you sometimes feel like you’re in a bit of a vacuum and don’t know if you’re manager is happy with your performance or not.”

Feedback and praise should be linked to the outcomes of specific tasks, such as at the end of a project, said Merril Mascarenhas, managing partner at Arcus Consulting Group in Toronto. However, managers should use praise wisely.

“Too much praise devalues the recognition associated with it — it has to be meaningful,” he said. “If you have a weekly meeting around feedback and the manager makes a point to give praise and it’s not linked to an event, it goes downhill from there and the manager loses credibility.”

Reviewing and guiding was the second most commonly mentioned competency. Participants identified meeting targets, overcoming barriers and improving quality of work as key areas for guidance.

“It should be predictable and on a fixed schedule, so once a month or once a week, because there’s a lot of comfort around predictability of guidance,” said Mascarenhas. “There’s a tight correlation between frequency of interaction and communication and employee engagement.”

Continuous interactions that are not event-based will lead to faster problem solving and increased productivity because an employee won’t waste time with little frustrations or second-guessing himself, said David Zinger, founder of employee engagement consulting firm David Zinger and Associates in Winnipeg.

Without this type of regular guidance and reviewing, the employee is also more likely to drift away from his individual or team objectives because he is not being coached or given any pointers on how to improve, said Willmott.

Another commonly mentioned competency was autonomy and empowerment. Participants said involvement in decision-making, having some control over how to carry out job tasks and being believed in by their managers were effective in increasing autonomy.

“Autonomy has significant impact on stress in the workplace,” said Willmott. “If people are feeling their ability to have some form of control is curtailed, then that can add to the pressure they are under, increase stress levels and lead to absences and other health conditions.”

Feedback gives HR full picture

To make sure managers are exhibiting these competencies, HR must start with a 360-degree appraisal of each manager’s performance, said Willmott. They should get feedback “from below and from above” to attain the full picture of a manager’s behaviour and focus on these key competencies, he said.

“Part of it is employers need to review how they are appraising and developing their managers so they can begin to imbed these sorts of behaviours within the organization,” said Willmott.

HR should hold a meeting with all the managers and discuss these key competencies, said Mascarenhas. It’s important to ask open-ended questions to foster a discussion surrounding what competencies are the most important for the organization. It will also allow HR to identify potential issues and gaps in skills among the management team, he said.

“No two organizations are the same and no two individuals or management styles are the same,” said Mascarenhas. “Bringing this team together adds more visibility around expectations and outcomes and also leads to more success and buy-in.”

When recruiting new managers, HR should ask questions to determine if recruits have these competencies or not, said Zinger, such as asking them to describe situations where they provided praise or feedback, autonomy and guidance to an employee.

These competencies will be the most effective if they are embedded in the overall strategic business plan and linked to business outcomes, said Mascarenhas.

“It needs to be another pillar in the plan,” he said. “It’s not just about deploying a set of expectations but about having a road map of how it works really well and then cascading that process throughout the organization. It’s all a means to an end.”

Top management competencies

Management tactics that boost engagement

Here are 11 competencies a manager should have to increase employee engagement:

Autonomy and empowerment: Has trust in employee capabilities, involving them in problem solving and decision-making.

Development: Helps employees in their career development and progression.

Feedback, praise and recognition: Gives positive and constructive feedback, offers praise and rewards good work.

Individual interest: Shows genuine care and concern for employees.

Availability: Holds regular one-on-one meetings with employees and is available when needed.

Personal manner: Demonstrates a positive approach to work, leading by example.

Ethics: Respects confidentiality and treats employees fairly.

Reviewing and guiding: Offers help and advice to employees, responding effectively to employee requests for guidance.

Clarifying expectations: Sets clear goals and objectives, giving clear explanations of what is expected.

Managing time and resources: Is aware of team’s workload, arranges for extra resources or redistributes workload when necessary.

Following processes and procedures: Effectively understands, explains and follows work processes and procedures.

Source: Management Competencies for Enhancing Employee Engagement, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

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