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Employee engagement: how to avoid getting stuck in the middle

We’ve seen a major shift in the perception of employee engagement from what was once an HR ‘nice-to-have’ to a fundamental driver of business success.

But engaging with a modern workforce, with its new cultural values, diverse experiences and shifting expectations is a major challenge for any organisation.

No matter how cool the technology, how bold the campaign or how revolutionary the HR process, sustainable engagement only happens when a business delivers on the three key elements of the employee experience: a great story compellingly told; inspired leadership; and memorable moments that reinforce the promise made to the team.

Leadership is fundamental to success. As new business models and technologies transform the world of work, the old alpha male, command-and-control model of leadership is being consigned to history (with a few notable exceptions).

Today’s best line managers are leaders and coaches. They are active and empathetic listeners who can challenge bureaucracy and democratise ideas so their teams can perform at their best. However, the adage that people join an organisation but leave a manager has never been truer. Arguably, line managers have a greater impact on performance and culture than any other part of the organisation. Yet all too often they are left to their own devices, frozen in the middle without the skills, confidence and support they need to thrive.

While there’s no substitute for investing in a robust learning and development program that equips your leaders with the capabilities they need, there are a few simple actions that can make a big difference:

Listen and learn

One of the biggest frustrations managers have is that they don’t get their voices heard at a more senior level. They need opportunities beyond the annual employee survey to share their thoughts and ideas. New collaboration technologies such as Workplace or ThinkTank can be powerful tools to break

through the day to day frustrations, helping to unlock their collective intelligence and stimulate the fresh thinking and real-world insights senior leaders need.

Enable effective communications

Managers should not be stuck with a one-size-fits-all approach (“here’s the deck, go and use it”) when it comes to communicating ideas, issues and tasks with their teams. Offer them a communications toolkit, from simple animations and graphics to talk starters and weekly challenges, that leaders can make their own.

Rethink your workplace

Make sure the workplace environment is as stimulating as possible and promotes your values as well as enabling conversations. For example, if your company values agility and innovation, you could create themed meeting rooms with wipe-clean walls that can be used as whiteboards. Also, make sure your internal social network and real-time video conference technology is up to scratch.

Make your strategy accessible

All too often, line managers think they need to toe the corporate line when it comes to messaging and strategy. Encourage them to take ownership of the corporate manifesto by working with their teams to create a charter that explains the contribution they will make to the overall business strategy clearly and simply. This will empower every member of the team and connect them more closely with the overarching business goals of your organisation.

Say thank you

Successes must be celebrated. Make sure everyone in your organisation feels appreciated for what they do. Your line managers should feel like everyday heroes so thank them early and often for their efforts and encourage them to do the same with the individuals on the teams they work with.

Remember, a middle manager who feels appreciated and is committed to engaging their teams is crucial. Without it, your organisation will fail to create the experience your workforce needs to drive business performance and growth.

Richard Burton is head of employee engagement at The Creative Engagement Group.