Leadership and Engagement

Leadership and its Impact on Employee Engagement

Professional Learning & Development Consultant
Course facilitator for:

Essential Management Skills
Building Better Relationships at Work using DiSC®
Think on your Feet®
Attracting, Managing & Retaining a Multi-Generational Workforce

Developing leaders for the rapidly evolving work environment
Whether your title is manager or leader, if you have direct reports then you wear both hats. While the terms are often used interchangeably there is a vast difference between management and leadership. Simply put we manage schedules, projects, tasks and activities. We lead people.

Generally speaking, an effective leader will have an engaged workforce. There is a direct correlation between the two. Engagement is a key focus for most organizations today. More than ever before managers are being held accountable for engagement.

Why is engagement so important?
A Gallup study has shown that a highly engaged workforce results in reduced turnover, increased sales, improved customer engagement and less absenteeism. Creating a motivating environment is the responsibility of every manager. It is not one size fits all and it is critical for a manager to determine what works best for the individual and their team to create the right environment for people to contribute, develop and thrive.

If engagement is so important then why are engagement numbers so low?
Another Gallup study estimates that managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement across business units. The same study showed about one in ten people possess high talent to manage, and organizations name the wrong person as manager about 80% of the time. When asked, managers said that they were promoted because of a) their technical expertise, b) success in their non-management role or, c) their tenure in the field.

To make the role of a leader even more challenging, leadership skills, practices and development have to evolve. The workforce is both younger and older. More millennials are moving into leadership positions, and boomers are taking on new roles as coaches and mentors, often as subordinates to junior colleagues.

In a study conducted by Deloitte that included surveys and interviews with 7,000+ businesses and HR leaders from 130 countries, more than half of the executives (56%) reported their companies are not ready to meet leadership needs.

The leader of today and tomorrow has to behave and think differently. Traditional leadership competencies and positional power is being replaced. Leaders are managing multi-generational teams, have full-time and part-time workers, contract employees and staff that work onsite, from home and remotely. Today’s leaders need to inspire team loyalty, attract and retain talent, and create an environment to engage their workforce.

At the core, individual contributors are rarely trained on how to lead people before they are promoted into a management position. This results in a disengaged workforce and frustrated managers. One of the top reasons an employee leaves an organization is to get away from their manager.

So what can be done?
In an ideal world we would start preparing our high potential candidates for leadership positions before promoting them into a management role.

Here are some ways organizations can help with career planning:

1. Focus on career management early. Organizations have much to gain by providing their workforce with career planning resources and tools.
2. Identify high potential candidates for leadership positions as soon as possible and build on their strengths.
3. Offer opportunities for high potential candidates to lead initiatives before they move into a formal management position.
4. Provide coaching, guidance and mentoring to emerging leaders. Engage seasoned leaders to help mentor, guide and develop the next generation of leaders.
5. Offer soft skill training in addition to business and technical skills training.
6. Create a rigorous leadership development process that incorporates training, assessment, assignments, opportunities and feedback.
7. Evaluate leadership programs on their impact and hold employees accountable for implementing and applying new skills and approaches on the job.

The Insurance Institute has recently launched mycareer to enable individuals in the industry to be able to better understand their career trajectories. The mycareer website provides career maps, education pathways, career exploration tips and assessment tools to help individuals discover career possibilities and plan for the future. As well, the Institute's CIP Society has a mentoring ADVANTAGE website of resources to support effective mentoring relationships. All good resources for both potential candidates / mentees and seasoned leaders/mentors.

Leadership models
When it comes to leadership there are hundreds of books on the subject and a wide variety of leadership models to choose from. What really counts is ensuring that a model addresses the common attributes of today’s leader, namely, being able to communicate and connect with a dynamic and diverse workforce. This helps create an environment where employees are motivated, engaged, passionate about their work and feel appreciated by the organization.

Let’s take a brief look at two well established leadership models that are well documented, researched and used extensively by many global organizations.

Situational Leadership II®- Ken Blanchard

“To be a leader others want to follow, managers need to set clear and attainable goals, provide the matching leadership style, and give appropriate feedback. The goal of a Situational Leader is to help others develop competence, motivation, and confidence.”

With Situational Leadership there are four basic leadership styles: Delegating, Coaching, Supporting and Directing. Each of these leadership styles corresponds to one of four development styles. Development styles are defined by the competence and commitment level of the individual employee relative to a specific task or goal.

A Situational Leader effectively diagnoses the development level of their employee on a specific task and is flexible and skilled in adapting their conversation and leadership style accordingly. Diagnoses and alignment of the Leadership Style with the Development Style are crucial.

This leadership model is highly effective by opening up communication between the leader and the direct report. It demonstrates respect by ensuring the frequency and quality of conversation is appropriate to the situation.

According to Blanchard, “the focus on leading at a higher level is on long-term results and human satisfaction. It is a process that can be defined as achieving worthwhile results while acting with respect, care and fairness for the well-being of all involved.”

Strengths-Based Leadership- Tom Rath and Barry Conchie

Bestselling author Tom Rath and renowned leadership consultant Barry Conchie studied more than one million work teams, conducted more than 20,000 in-depth interviews with leaders, and interviewed more than 10,000 followers around the world to ask exactly why they followed the most important leader in their life.

Based on their discoveries, they identified three keys to being a more effective leader:
1. Knowing your strengths and investing in others' strengths;
2. Getting people with the right strengths on your team; and
3. Understanding and meeting the basic needs of those who look to you for leadership.

Through performance management and feedback, most managers tend to have staff focused on trying to enhance their weaker areas rather than developing their strengths. Strengths-based leaders develop employees based on their strengths. They help each member of their team grow and they use strengths in performance development conversations. The basis for strengths-based leadership is for managers to develop individuals based on what is ‘right’ with them. Holding frequent meetings, discussing strengths, providing opportunities for staff to use their strengths and establishing goals based on strengths has shown to increase employee engagement.

Next steps: enhancing employee engagement through leadership
If engagement is a top priority for your organization, here are a few things you can do to get started. This takes time, commitment and perseverance but the ROI is worth the effort.

1. Evaluate where you are at today with respect to employee engagement. Don’t wait until someone is leaving to ask why. Meet with employees and ask them:
a. why they are staying,
b. what motivates them,
c. what they like and value about working for the organization, and
d. what could be done to make it an even better place to work.
2. Carefully consider changes you need to make to create purpose, commitment, loyalty and passion among the employees.
3. Hold managers / leaders at all levels in the organization accountable for engagement. Involve HR to identify tools, develop resources and means to tracking engagement and its impact.
4. Transition from making employee engagement a once a year event to an everyday occurrence.
5. Link compensation to employee engagement.
6. Prepare emerging managers for leadership responsibilities.
7. Look beyond technical skills when identifying future leaders. Include people skills, collaboration and communication skills when evaluating emerging potential managers / leaders.
8. Invest in developing new leaders on the skills required to lead today and tomorrow’s workforce.

The Insurance Institute of Canada has numerous resources to help with career planning, mentoring and professional development.