The Importance of Being Known: the positive impact that managers can have by becoming better known as a person.

By BlessingWhite , a Division of GP Strategies

One of the interesting aspects of employee engagement is that there are no single-shot solutions. If you really want to move the needle on engagement it takes a concerted effort and attention to detail on several fronts. It’s not just about managers coaching employees, it’s not just about rewards and recognition, and it’s not just about inspirational leadership from up-above.

 

And these different channels all work a bit differently. Take managers and executives for example.

 

Managers vs. Executives

 

In this context we define an executive as a senior manager with broad span-of-control who is two or more levels of management above those they aspire to engage. Managers, on the other hand, have direct working relationships and daily (or at least frequent) interactions with those they aspire to help get engaged.

 

Senior executives need to inspire the workforce despite few (if any) direct interactions. They face the challenge of having few opportunities to communicate yet are subject to a high level of scrutiny and cynicism – especially from those who are less engaged. A key focus for executives as a consequence is to build trust – through their words but most importantly through their actions.

 

Managers have the option of going beyond trust-at-a-distance and becoming known to their direct reports as a person. Yet many managers elect not to do this, hiding behind their title and remaining aloof. This is a missed opportunity because becoming known as a person to your team is one of the biggest facilitators of engagement.

 

As part of our ongoing research, we have focused increasingly on the relationship between the individual and their immediate manager. We have found compelling correlations between an employee knowing their manager well as a person and key working dynamics such as effective use of talents, rewards and recognition, providing regular feedback etc.

 

So who benefits the most from getting to know their manager as a person?

 

We asked respondents to rank their manager on a number of important aspects of their working relationship such as delegating tasks and utilizing talents. We also asked them how well they knew their manager as a person. By cross-referencing the two we can see clear patterns of who most benefits from better knowing their boss.

 

Naturally this correlation between knowing your manager as a person and working effectively day-to-day is closely correlated to engagement. For instance 85% of European Engaged employees report having that positive working relationship, but only 35% for Disengaged. In North America 87% Engaged employees report having that positive working relationship, but only 30% for Disengaged.

 

While they do benefit greatly, Engaged employees appear much more tolerant of not knowing their manager as a person: when it comes to scoring their direct manager on these 8 critical items, the gap between engaged employees who know their manager well and those who don’t is not nearly as large as the gap for the other 4 less-engaged segments. So while engaged employees have other factors to hold onto (interesting work, a sense of contribution, career hopes), less-engaged employees are far more dependent on knowing their manager as a person to reach higher levels of engagement. This becomes apparent if we look at the average gap over all 8 of the factors in our most recent study, by engagement level:

 

Average gap on favorable responses to 8 manager items between employees who report knowing their manager well as a person and those who don’t.
Engagement Level*

Europe

North America

Engaged

28%

42%

Almost Engaged

49%

50%

Crash and Burners

51%

57%

Honeymooners and Hamsters

59%

60%

Disengaged

54%

63%

 

*For an explanation of the 5 levels of engagement, please see our video on the X-Model of Employee Engagement.

 

So what does this mean in practice? While companies focus on equipping managers with tactical skills such as delegation or matching individual talents to tasks, engagement is driven more effectively through leadership and connection skills. Particularly difficult for a manager is the challenge of authenticity – because typically they are being taught how to behave, how to ‘play a role’. In actual fact, it’s becoming better known as a person to their direct reports – not being the person they think they ought to be – that will build the relationship needed to increase engagement.

 

Where’s the data?

 

As the following tables show, items such as a ‘great working relationship with one’s manager’ are contingent upon knowing that manager as a person. Here we have ranked the items based on the gap size between those who know their manager well and those who don’t. It quickly reveals (as we would expect) that manager tasks that require strong connection skills become more difficult if the manager has not built that relationship based on being known as a person.

 

In the tables below, we are looking at all employees – from Engaged to Disengaged and all levels in between.

 

Tables 1 & 2: Impact of being known as a person on a manager’s effectiveness (in the eyes of his or her direct report)

 

ITEM – Europe

Overall

Favorable

response

Know manager well as a person

Gap size

Do not know manager well as a person

 

‘Soft’ / connection skills
I have a great working relationship with my manager.

64%

82%

70%

25%

My manager has built a sense of belonging in our department or team.

45%

61%

69%

19%

My manager treats me like an individual with unique interests and needs.

63%

77%

57%

33%

My manager recognizes and rewards my achievements.

57%

72%

53%

34%

 

Tactical Management Skills
My manager provides me with regular, specific feedback on my performance.

46%

55%

53%

26%

My manager encourages me to use my talents as much as possible.

60%

72%

47%

38%

My manager asks for and acts on my input.

68%

79%

41%

47%

My manager delegates assignments effectively without micromanaging me.

73%

80%

30%

56%

ITEM – North America

Overall favorable

response

Know manager well as a person

Gap
size

Do not know manager well as a person

Soft Skill My manager has built a sense of belonging in our department or team.

50%

66%

73%

18%

Soft Skill My manager recognizes and rewards my achievements.

58%

73%

66%

25%

Tactical Skill My manager provides me with regular, specific feedback on my performance.

48%

59%

64%

21%

Soft Skill I have a great working relationship with my manager.

68%

83%

63%

31%

Tactical Skill My manager encourages me to use my talents as much as possible.

67%

79%

56%

35%

Soft Skill My manager treats me like an individual with unique interests and needs.

69%

82%

55%

37%

Tactical Skill My manager asks for and acts on my input.

69%

81%

54%

37%

Tactical Skill My manager delegates assignments effectively without micromanaging me.

70%

78%

40%

47%

 

Percentages indicate favorable responses based on a 5-point Likert scale. Percentages include responses ‘strongly agree’ or ‘agree’ to each statement.