Monday, 16 June 2014

Engaging and equipping line managers

Sir Brendan Barber has written an interesting article on the increasing demands being placed on line managers in the workplace. He focuses on how to help them deal with conflict, but his argument has wider ramifications for the way organisations engage and equip managers to play the difficult role expected of them.

Sir Brendan’s contention is that the field of employment relations now centres on individual as opposed to collective rights, and that this places considerable pressure on line managers to focus more closely on the needs, issues and concerns of each team member. This adds to stress and workloads, and leads some managers to feel over-burdened and under-supported. In the face of falling line manager confidence, Sir Brendan believes it might be time to “call in the cavalry”.
You could raise similar concerns over the role managers play within employee engagement. Put simply, they are expected to be all things to all people. Leaders look to them to translate global strategy into local action, and hold them accountable for results. Front-line employees, meanwhile, expect their managers to be their inspiration, support and confidant, empathising with them rather than the company.  Line managers are therefore in a difficult yet pivotal position: they face contrasting (and sometimes competing) demands from employer and employee yet are expected to keep everyone united and pulling in the same direction.

But they are rarely given enough (if any) information and support to prepare them for this role.
As many commentators have observed, organisations don’t spend enough time training and equipping line managers to fulfil their challenging roles. We still tend to promote people based on technical excellence and expect them to immediately adjust to the different (and increasing) demands that come with a management position. In such circumstances, it’s hardly surprising that we see a fall in confidence and a drop in performance.

At the very least, prospective line managers must be trained in the basics of employee engagement before they take up their new role. After all, the way they inspire, challenge and support their new team(s) to perform will be one of the main differentiators from their previous, non-managerial position. From the principles of effective engagement to the skills needed to achieve its benefits in practice, such training can be focused, intense and very practical. But it is essential to give managers at least some guidance and initial experience as they take on their crucial new role. And if Sir Brendan’s call to action on workplace is heeded, this should form one part of a wider overhaul of management training and support...

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

It's not just about Generation Y...

I can’t help thinking that the recent LBS/Deloitte study on Gen Y is a case of the emperor’s new clothes.

The study “reveals” that 80% of those being classified under the Gen Y banner don’t intend to stay with any one company for more than five years. The report’s authors go on to suggest that employers must re-orientate their ‘employer value proposition’ (got to love that phrase…) and component practices to appeal more to the priorities of this particular group.

Is any of this really news? There has been plenty of research into Gen Y in recent years, and extensive debate over how to inspire, motivate and challenge these employees to play their part. There has been general acknowledgement that employers need to engage Gen Y in different ways. So it’s a fairly well-worn path that LBS and Deloitte have sought to follow, without having an awful lot new to say about the situation or the opportunities/imperatives involved.
I think the bigger question, on which it really would be interesting to have more in-depth research, is how employers can best balance the requirements of different demographic groups such as Gen Y and ‘baby boomers’ to forge a well-oiled, well-integrated workforce. In my view, there’s not enough analysis or insight on this, but it’s an issue that is only going to increase in importance as the balance between different groups within the workplace (however loosely they are defined) continues to shift. 

Creating a single employment proposition that can turn its face and to, and remain credible for, each group is going to be increasingly difficult, perhaps stretching the whole idea to breaking point. Instead, I can see employers articulating an increasing number of audience-specific employment offers, far more than they do today. We may be moving into an era when the employer ‘proposition’ becomes the employer ‘framework’, with a shift from cohesion (inherent in the current EVP concept) to co-ordination.

That’s the area in which employers of all types could benefit from more guidance and research. Focusing on Gen Y alone only tells part of the story. There’s a bigger issue on the road ahead.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Trust matters

The CIPD’s Employee Outlook report, published this week in association with Halogen, suggests that employee trust in senior managers has fallen to a two-year low. It’s the latest in a long line of such studies, stretching over many years, highlighting an erosion of trust that can undermine performance.  

The key factor in this research is that employees do not feel involved in important decisions. Without an opportunity to give input to the organisation they work for, employee confidence and trust fades away. Suspicion about instructions from ‘on high’ pervades.  

Hardly surprising, is it? We all feel more confident in, and committed to, an organisation if we feel we have some involvement in it, that our views and opinions matter. If we’re expected simply to do what we’re told, with no chance to explore or make suggestions, the whole relationship is very transactional. There’s no warmth, little engagement and no chance for ideas from the front-line. And if employees feel they are simply being ‘done to’, why should they give their best? Or bring energy, enthusiasm and discretionary effort to support an employer that sees them simply as a recipient for instruction?
Given this is hardly rocket science, it’s frustrating to see the same type of findings come up again and again. Senior managers in all industries have to grasp the benefits that a more engaging culture can deliver and start implementing simple systems to nurture stronger relationships with their people. There are many simple, practical ways to spark and sustain dialogue with employees, within teams and beyond, to help the organisation work more effectively. After all, you can hardly forge trust in an environment when communication is wholly one-way.  Unless leaders finally respond, they’ll simply see more trust drain from their organisations and leave vast vats of employee potential left untapped.