Gallup has released compelling evidence that the most important factor for employee engagement and productivity can be summed up in one simple word: managers.
In fact, writes Sam Walker in The Wall Street Journal, after a decade of data from nearly 2 million employees, Gallup has proven that managers don't just have a small influence on productivity; "they explained a full 70% of the variance. In other words, if it's a superior team you're after, hiring the right manager is nearly three-fourths of the battle."
Good news, maybe, unless your organization has spent the last decade or so making it more difficult for managers to succeed--eliminating managers' positions, making managers responsible for producing more work (instead of just leading people), cutting back on learning and/or promoting based on people's expertise instead of their ability to lead team members.
There is so much you can do to address these issues; for example, read Justin Bariso's piece on how Google identified core people-leading behaviors and then trained managers on how to develop those behaviors.
But I suggest you start by helping managers develop one core competency: the ability to communicate effectively with team members. In fact, out of the 10 attributes Google targets, seven are based on communication skills: is a good coach, empowers people, creates an inclusive team environment, listens and shares information, supports career development by discussing performance, has a clear/vision strategy for the team and collaborates across the company.
Despite the importance of communication, managers are often poorly prepared for their role as key communicator. They may not have the skills, the knowledge or the confidence to communicate effectively. And many managers think of communication as "something else I have to do" rather than an integral part of their job.
What should companies do to set managers up for success? Take these 5 steps:
1. Make sure you clearly articulate communication roles. Be specific about what and how leaders communicate--and what you expect managers to share. Ask your HR manager to include communication into managers' job descriptions so the expectation is baked into their role.
Of all the skills managers need, effective communication is perhaps the hardest to improve. This is because communication isn't a single skill. It's actually a complex set of skills that build upon one another. Through my firm's work with managers, we've identified these skills--25 in total--and organized them into a hierarchy of skill groups, starting with foundational skills and building to more advanced skills.
2. Hold managers accountable for engaging their team members by providing reinforcement in performance management and pay. You know the problem: Unless communication is part of the formula to give managers raises or bonuses, it won't be a priority. So make communicating essential to managers' success.
3. Invest time in making sure managers understand content. Especially if the topic is complex, a 20-minute presentation is not enough to make managers comfortable. To design sessions that give managers the confidence they need to present, try the following:
- When planning to brief managers, allocate at least 90 minutes for the meeting.
- If possible, get everyone together face to face. If your office is too distracting, consider taking managers off site.
- Of course you'll present content, but presentations should be the shortest part of the meeting. Allow at least 50 percent of the time for questions and dialogue.
4. Create tools to help managers share information. You might consider:
- A very short PowerPoint presentation. Managers won't give a detailed presentation, but they will use a short (5-8 slides) PPT to share highlights at staff meetings and during one-on-one discussions.
- A one-page guide that makes it easy for managers to have everything they need. This guide that contains all essential information: what is changing, when, why and how.
- FAQs. Compile Frequently Asked Questions in a document that provides the questions employees are likely to ask, along with the answers managers need. The key is to include the toughest questions so managers are ready any time team members approach them with a question.
5. Develop a microsite or a social network group
It's the perfect place to house resources and build skills. Make it social by including discussion threads, so colleagues can share challenges and solutions. Provide access to on-demand learning that can be accessed quickly when faced with a challenge.
Once you start providing managers with support, ask for feedback to determine which methods have the greatest impact.