Employee Engagement Solutions that Work!
© 2018 CMC Today and Dwight W. Mihalicz, MBA FCMC
 

Engaged employees make a difference – but driving engagement can be elusive.

As executives and managers in organizations, we don’t need research to tell us that engaged employees are better performers. We all know how important it is to have engaged employees. The research evidence is overwhelming. 
If you are skeptical about employee engagement surveys, there is a reason. Traditional engagement surveys measure the outcomes of engagement. 
Think of your body’s health. There are lots of things a health practitioner can measure to determine good health. Body temperature, blood pressure, pain. These are indicators of the state of health.
Engagement surveys measure the indicators of employee engagement. It isn’t possible to directly treat the indicator to solve the root cause. If I have a fever or a headache, I might take Tylenol to relieve the symptom. I’ll feel better for a while, but the underlying cause had not be treated. In the same way, if I try to improve an indicator of poor employee engagement, I may get temporary results, but the root cause will not have been dealt with. Employee engagement scores may go up a bit, but they will not improve for the longer term.
Poor Communication?
Most Engagement Surveys have “Poor Communication” as a result that “needs improvement”. But will improving communication improve engagement, or is poor communication an indicator of poor engagement?
When an employee expresses concern about a lack of communication in the office, they’re often reflecting water cooler conversation that goes something like this:
“Senior Management made this decision last week and I only found out about it to-day – I wasted a whole week of my time. We sure have poor communication here!”
“I have my performance management review tomorrow and I have no idea what my boss is going to say; he never gives me any feedback. We sure have poor communication here!”

 


These are real issues. They are flagged as poor communication because that is the best language the employees have to describe the situation. When the executive management team sees “poor communication” in the results of an employee engagement survey, the correct course of action is not to publish more newsletters or send more memos, or hold town halls. 
Poor communication is a symptom of a deeper root cause problem: the absence of a formal accountability and authority framework. The employees may express a lack of communication, but the real issue lies in the managers who have failed to establish and maintain open and working channels with their employees. 
The information, through context setting and delegation, needs to be provided in the right size and at the right time to be meaningful to an employee. Only a manager can do this – it cannot possibly be done centrally.
This is a manager effectiveness issue – certainly it is about communication – but it cannot be improved by tackling communication. It requires different behaviour by managers.

Silos?
Poor Workplace Collaboration usually ranks high in engagement surveys. Why?
When employees experience problems with how work flows across the organization, it is often labelled as “poor collaboration”. Someone in another department missed a deadline so the employee couldn’t do his or her work. Unreasonable sounding demands are made by peers in other departments, handoffs are missed, work is duplicated. One often hears comments like these:

“I worked on a project for two weeks before I found out it was also assigned to someone else.”
“I am so upset – my boss is angry and I can’t finish the work until Finance gives me that report – they are already 2 weeks late.”

 

 

Again, the root cause is not poor collaboration. There isn’t a lack of willingness for colleagues to support each other; there is no innate desire to sabotage co-workers. 
Each employee in each department is receiving direction from her or his boss on what is important.  Cross functional work is almost always treated as a “nice to do” or a favour, instead of real work. 
When the executive team sees “poor collaboration” appearing on employee engagement surveys, the root cause lies in the systems for doing work – not necessarily in the employees themselves. The intuitive reaction to these findings is to create team-building exercises for management. But this isn’t about team building across functions… it is about the absence of an accountability and authority framework for delegating the flow of work across the organization.
An effective manager supports others in the organization, monitors workflow, and ensures that the day-to-day work of his or her staff is improved by working together, rather than by working in silos. This can only happen within a framework that is set by the CEO and within common context throughout the organization.

After Nearly Two Decades of Engagement Measurement – Are We Making a Difference?

Look at this figure published by Gallup’s State of the American Workplace 2010-2012. Since the Year 2000 employee engagement has hovered around 30%. I don’t have access to the original data to be certain, but as a researcher my eye tells me this is a remarkably flat trend line.

About 30% of the American workforce have been engaged throughout this period of time. That means that 5 out of every 10 workers is coasting and 2 out of 10 are actually working against the organization that employs them. And it has not changed significantly since the turn of the century!

Why not? The answer is simple. Employee Engagement Surveys are measuring symptoms in organizations. They are actually doing a pretty good job at measuring these symptoms. We know higher engagement is related to better performance, so we are measuring something that matters. But just as giving an aspirin to treat a fever provides symptomatic relief, organizations are treating the symptoms of poor engagement. Certainly, they get some immediate relief, but the underlying disease, the root cause, is not being addressed. Just as the fever will come back if you don’t treat the infection, the symptoms of poor engagement come back when you stop the interventions.

We know engagement is good. Organizations with higher levels of engagement are higher performing. We have the ability to measure engagement factors. Surely those thousands of organizations doing the measuring are taking action to change things? And yet there is no significant overall improvement – no significant increase in engagement; no significant decrease in active disengagement. No wonder there is disillusionment in the executive offices!

Only about 30% of the American workforce have been engaged throughout this entire period of time. That means that 5 out of every 10 workers is coasting and 2 out of 10 are actually working against the organization that employs them. And it has not changed significantly since the turn of the century!

We know engagement is good. Organizations with higher levels of engagement are higher performing. We have the ability to measure engagement factors. Surely those thousands of organizations doing the measuring are taking action to change things? And yet there is no significant overall improvement – no significant increase in engagement; no significant decrease in active disengagement. No wonder there is disillusionment in the executive offices!

What is Happening?
Employee Engagement Surveys are measuring symptoms in organizations.

They are actually doing a pretty good job at measuring these symptoms. We know higher engagement is related to better performance, so we are measuring something that matters.

 But just as giving an aspirin to treat a fever provides symptomatic relief, organizations are treating the symptoms of poor engagement. Certainly, they get some immediate relief, but the underlying disease, the root cause, is not being addressed. Just as the fever will come back if you don’t treat the infection, the symptoms of poor engagement come back when you stop the interventions.

Now you can measure the underlying causes, so you can deal with root cause issues. How? By measuring manager effectiveness. Are the managers in your organization focuses on the right things? Are they doing their managerial leadership work?

There is only one way to attack the symptoms of employee disengagement in an organization. In most circumstances, the problems staff identify are caused by problems at the management level. For employees to be engaged, managers need to manage! And this requires an accountability and authority framework that is clear and implemented down and across the entire organization.

What Does This Mean for You?

Our research, in partnership with the Telfer School of Business, has developed a deeper understanding of the effectiveness of managers. Our research shows that managers in a cross section of various sized organizations report spending only 55% of their time on value-added work. Almost half of their time is consumed doing work that is not adding value in the way it should and could. We also found that while 98% of managers agree that they are held to account for their work, only 46% believed that they are delegated

clear objectives with statements of quantity, quality and timeliness.

This matters. Organizations in general fail to execute their strategies 70% of the time. In spite of a clear vision and strategy, as work flows down and across the organization efforts become diffused and confused. Most managers and employees are working hard, but they fail to give sufficient attention to the right work. 

What Are the Symptoms of Ineffective Management?
What are some of the symptoms of managers not doing their managerial work?

  • Poor communication – the right information is not getting to the right people at the right time
  • Silos – departments decide to “do it themselves” because they can’t trust their peers to deliver what was promised on item 
  • Conflict – people in different parts of the organization disagree on how and when they need to work together
  • Meetings – There are too many meetings and they tend to revisit the same issues instead of the accountable executive deciding.
  • Drift – the executive team decisions are not implemented consistently throughout the organization
  • Indecision – people that should be The research is quite clear that managerial leadership practices drive employee engagement, which in turn drives customer satisfaction and ultimately overall organizational performance. This was first published in 1994 in Harvard Business Review by James L. Heskett et al in the article: Putting the Profit Chain to work. In non-profits, organizational results are not measured by profit, but overall performance is improved. This is demonstrated in the following figure:making decision are not, resulting in delays , missed opportunities and duplicated work

These all contribute to managers not being effective. Their “piece of the puzzle” to support strategy execution feels overwhelming because they are not able to focus on their most important, value-added work.  

Does Manager Effectiveness Really Drive Engagement?

One would therefore expect that if managerial leadership practices are improving, then employee engagement should also be improving. The following figure compares the overall mean of a client organization that has repeated booth the Manager Effectiveness Assessment and Employee Engagement surveys two year apart.  As can be seen below the increase in overall manager effectiveness leads to increased employee engagement.

This was reflected over and over again at the measure level of both surveys.
The effectiveness of your managers is directly tied to increased productivity and profitability. The most important relationship that employees have at work is with their immediate manager. The importance of these roles cannot be understated, but too often, management practices are not supported or structured in a way that allows for optimal results.

How is Manager Effectiveness Assessment Different?
So what is really going on inside organizations that make it so difficult for managers to be effective in their jobs? Effective Managers™ and the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa partnered to fill this void in the management sciences literature. The research focus was to understand and, more importantly, identify those dynamics that impact on managers being effective in their work. As a result, we hoped to help CEOs understand how they can improve productivity in their organizations.  

We realized from a review of the literature that a variety of factors are at play that obstruct manager effectiveness. For our research purposes, we identified the key dimension: accountability. In an organizational context, accountability is “an obligation for which one can be held to account for one’s results and actions by a specified other.” The phrase specified other is important. To be accountable, there must be someone else involved to hold the manager to account. Thus, a self-held belief cannot be accountability, but is rather a responsibility.

The results are startling: organizations with higher accountability are more effective. The correlation is very high at .74 and high significance.

What is Measured?
The research shows that Accountability is very highly correlated with manager effectiveness. Accountability is at the heart of managerial leadership. It is important that employees have a clear understanding of what they are being held accountable for and how their outcomes will contribute to the success of their organization. Accountability is also correlated with team and organization effectiveness.

Accountability has two dimensions:

  1. Clarity of Accountability – the degree to which managers are clear about the accountability and authority that has been delegated to them. As an organizational measure, this means thinking about how well the organization can translate accountability for output from the strategic plan through the CEO down to each individual manager in the organization. This measure correlates highly with a managers’ perceived self-effectiveness.
  2. Felt Accountability – the degree to which managers feel they are accountable. Felt accountabilities can be related to being accountable to a manager for work, or it could be other things that are not real accountabilities, but feel like accountabilities, such as responsibilities to customers, to stakeholders, to peers, and so on.

Effective Managers™ has developed a survey-based on research conducted with the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa. This survey provides a means of assessing the effectiveness of managers on dimensions such as:

  • What percentage of time are your managers spending on value-added work (our benchmark tells us it is 55%)?
  • How much accountability do managers feel they are carrying? (99% of managers feel they are accountable for producing an expected quality of work.)
  • How clear are managers about their accountability – for delivering objectives and for managing subordinates? (Only 46% of managers feel that employees are delegated clear objectives).

Why is Accountability Important?
The most significant finding is that Accountability is very highly correlated with manager effectiveness. 

Accountability is at the heart of managerial leadership. It is important that employees have a clear understanding of what they are being held accountable for and how their outcomes will contribute to the success of their organization. If they are not aware of this, how do they determine what their most value added work should be, and where they should focus their efforts? When they need to make decisions, how can they be assured that they are making decisions that are consistent with what their managers would want?

Accountability actually has two dimensions. Both need to be understood in order to positively impact manager effectiveness.

To understand the disconnect, and how organizations have gone so wrong, it is important to realize that Accountability actually has two dimensions. First, what is the clarity of the accountability and authority that has been delegated to managers? For instance, if I am a manager, am I clear about not only what my manager is holding me accountable for, but also the authority I have for doing my work?

We call this the Clarity of Accountability dimension. As an organizational measure, this means thinking about how well the organization can translate accountability for output from the strategic plan, through the CEO, down to each individual manager in the organization. This measure correlates highly with a managers’ perceived self-effectiveness.

The second dimension of accountability is Felt Accountability. This concept has been written about in management sciences literature. It refers to the degree to which an individual feels he or she is accountable. It could be related to being accountable to a manager for work, or it could be other things that are not real accountabilities, but feel like accountabilities. Examples of Felt Accountability include:

  • relationships with customers 
  • relationships with peers
  • project work
  • self-held beliefs

In all of these examples, these are not real accountabilities because managers are not held to account by a specified other that has the authority to hold them to account. Nevertheless, they can be quite distracting if the managers of managers do not take them into account when setting the context for doing work. Felt Accountability, interestingly, scores much higher than Clarity of Accountability.

This reinforces the perspective that people care about their work and want to do well.

The question is not whether managers feel accountable. They do.

The question is whether they feel accountable for the right things. This is the manager’s job – to be clear about those things for which they will hold their subordinates to account.

How is the Manager Effectiveness Assessment Different?
What is going on inside organizations that make it so difficult for managers to be effective in their jobs?

Effective Managers and the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa partnered to fill the void in the management sciences literature surrounding that very question. The research study closed at the end of 2013 with nearly 200 managers representing approximately 2,000 manager-subordinate relationships from eight organizations in participation. The research focus was to understand and, more importantly, identify those dynamics that impact a manager’s effectiveness at work.

In order to help organizations understand how they can improve productivity in their organizations, we developed the Effective Managers Manager Effectiveness Assessment. It is a survey-based approach to assess the current state of your organization’s management effectiveness. The results are consolidated and analyzed to provide precise recommendations that you can adopt in your leadership.

The web-based survey can be administered to every manager in your organization; other non-manager individuals may also be included if their specialized knowledge or tenure with the organization warrants their inclusion.

Respondents of the survey are assured confidentiality, and results are presented to you in a consolidated way so that individual responses cannot be identified.

Our research revealed that over 1/3 of managers are not clear about that for which their managers hold them to account. We developed the Effective Managers Manager Effectiveness Assessment to help CEOs recognize if there is a disconnect in accountability with their managers. This will help the executive leadership gain clarity and a better understanding of the actual state of the managerial effectiveness in their organizations.

A series of seven additional measures are correlated with Accountability in organizations. These are important to understand, as they provide the insight into root causes that can constrain or improve accountability in the workplace.

  • Workflow – The extent to which managers perceive work flowing smoothly across the organization.
  • Organizational Learning – The extent to which individuals in the organization learn from others, share, experiment and transfer knowledge.
  • Role Conflict  – The degree of conflict that managers experience in their day to day work.
  • Corporate Systems – Providing support to managers for doing their work.
  • Manager’s Manager Capability – The extent to which managers feel that their manager is capable.
  • Team and Organizational Effectiveness – The effectiveness of both teams and the organization as a whole.
  • Interdependence – How much managers depend on other managers in parts of the organization to do their work.

Click HERE for more information about this research

How Can we Help Organizations Tackle Root Cause Issues?
As management consultants, our role is to help ensure that organizations can make changes that will have a fundamental impact on their performance. Part of the issue is helping them understand that the symptoms they see with employee engagement do not necessarily tie directly to overall performance.

Our research shows quite clearly that the root cause of disengagement has to do with managerial leadership. To overcome this organizations must ensure that managers are doing their managerial leadership work. Without this, it will not be possible to significantly improve employee engagement, and thereby create the dynamic of improving performance over time.

Effective Managers™ has worked with a number of organizations to measure manager effectiveness, and to implement programs, using The Effective Point of Accountability® to provide a systematic means of clearly delegating accountability throughout the organization. This applies both to managerial work and cross functional work. We have also developed a global Partner Firm program to make this methodology available anywhere in the world.

As a gift for readers who have made it all the way through this extensive article, here is a free, no-obligation copy of the White Paper – The Effective Point of Accountability®. Download Here.
Readers can also browse an infographic of this information HERE.

About the Author
Dwight Mihalicz helps organisations improve performance. He focuses on manger effectiveness… ensuring that all managers, from the CEO to the front line, are focused on their key strategic priorities and have the accountability and authority required for success. 

Dwight has founded and is President of Effective Managers™, a management consulting firm based in Canada, providing services globally. The firm uses the Effective Managers™ Survey to assess manager effectiveness, and The Effective Point of Accountability® to help organizations focus managers on the right work while breaking down silos.

He is currently on the board of CMC-Global, and CMC-Canada is one of its 48 members. To learn more about Dwight's work, visit: http://www.effectivemanagers.com/ 

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