by Mark Marone  |  April 29, 2020  |  10 min Read

As a manager you know that people depend on you — and you’re working hard. But do you ever feel like you could — or should — be doing a better job of engaging your teams? If so, read on because this blog provides:
• Insight into one of three key management skills that fuels employee engagement: relationship-centered leadership
• Six specific ways to become an effective relationship-centered leader

Too Many Managers Fail to Fully Engage their Teams

The truth is that many managers could be doing a better job — at least when it comes to the aspects involving relationships.

That’s not just one person’s opinion; it’s a view shared by employees as well as those who hire managers. Only 46% of respondents in a survey by Willis Towers’ say their managers have enough time to handle the people aspects of their jobs.

Equally concerning, only 39% of employers say managers are effective at identifying development opportunities for their employees. Even fewer — only 30% — think managers conduct career development discussions effectively.

Bottom line? Both their subordinates and their superiors think managers are missing the mark in a critical area of their job.

What Makes This So Challenging?

No doubt you’re busy with budgets and expenses, work plans, clients and an administrative load that’s overwhelming. And that’s in addition to your own work projects. Sometimes it can seem as if you just don’t have enough time left over to spend with your employees.

But a bigger obstacle is that many managers aren’t even thinking about the interpersonal aspects of dealing with their direct reports, and they admit as much. Only 26% of managers we surveyed say that engaging employees is an important part of what they think about, plan and do every day. If having engaged employees matters (and it does), that’s disheartening.

“Manager” is Among the Most Critical Jobs in Your Organization

Many people think that being promoted to management is just a first step on their career ladders. And maybe it is. In many ways, though, being someone’s manager is the most important job you’ll ever hold.

For starters, you hold the fate, happiness and engagement of each one of your employees in your hands. How you treat them impacts their well-being significantly, both on and off the job.

And secondly, your employees’ engagement makes a difference. Through them, for better or worse, you impact your organization’s results.

Through YOU, the Manager, Organizations Flourish

Keep in mind: immediate managers account for 70% of the variability in employee engagement. What you do is critical.

While it may not be the most urgent thing on your to-do list, working on your employees’ engagement may be the most important thing you can do every day, whether your goal is to increase profit, increase productivity, drive higher customer satisfaction, improve retention, improve safety, or reduce shrinkage.

Across industries, across nationalities, despite company size and regardless of good economic times or bad, engaged employees produce better results than other employees do. Companies that rank in the top quartile of employee engagement enjoy double the success of those in the bottom quartile. That’s no small triumph.

6 Ways Managers Can Kick Start Engagement by Building Working Relationships

So as a manager, what should you be doing?

Here’s a tip: Your employees want the same thing from you that you want from your supervisor .

  • Employees want acknowledgment and recognition from you, their manager.
  • They want understanding and appreciation of their individuality.
  • They want your guidance in navigating their journey at work.

Here’s what your guidance looks like:

  1. Providing employees with growth and development opportunities.
  2. Mentoring and coaching employees.
  3. Helping employees build networks.
  4. Removing obstacles and providing resources.
  5. Holding employees accountable to high performance.
  6. Showing employees that you care about them.

1.Provide employees with growth and development opportunities. Did you know that 40% of employees think they need to leave their organization to advance their careers? All too often it’s because no one at their current job is helping them advance internally.

When you think of it that way, consider what’s really more important — something written on your “to do list” right now? Or engaging your employees?

The feeling is especially frustrating for Millennials and Generation Z employees , who rank growth and development high on their list of must-haves

If your initial excuse is that the development options you have to offer your employees are limited, look beyond your organization’s online course catalog or tuition reimbursement program. Think about certifications or badge systems, stretch assignments, staff swaps to broaden skill sets, mentors or short sabbaticals to enable employees to pursue development opportunities on their own.

Consider brainstorming employee development opportunities with your peers. They’re in the same boat you are. Your direct reports might have ideas, too.

As a manager, you’re likely to hear about organizational initiatives and opportunities before your employees do. Ask yourself this one question every time you hear about a new undertaking: Is there something in this that could help develop someone on my team? If so, make it happen.

2.Mentor and coach your employees. Look beyond the performance review, because it’s what happens day-to-day that really matters.

What would happen if your tennis coach left your performance assessment to the end of the season? You’d probably never improve your backhand. Or learn to charge the net. Or figure out game strategy. Progress would be pretty slow, wouldn’t it?

Millennials, who now make up the largest segment of the US workforce, don’t have the patience for that. And neither do their Gen Z counterparts.

In fact, 79% of Millennials want a boss who serves as a coach and mentor. They expect continuous coaching and regular feedback.

What’s interesting, though, is both Millennials’ and Gen Z’s 2:1 preference for face-to-face communication, given their proficiency in digital interaction. While a quick email, text or instant message — or the ever-popular employee engagement survey — might be a good way to check in on occasion, as a manager you can’t rely solely on these channels.

3. Help your employees build networks. This is about helping employees enjoy the job they have now by enabling them to develop trusting ties with colleagues. It will help your employees feel valued, confident and connected.

When employees feel isolated, they disengage, resulting in higher absenteeism, more accidents and lower productivity and performance. Connectedness, on the other hand, has been shown to result in less anxiety and depression, longer lives and better immune systems. That’s why when managers foster relationships, they support employee engagement.

Find ways to build connections for your people, both on the job and off. Divvy up the work into smaller project teams. Look for opportunities to lend your people to onboarding or supervisor advisory committees or apps user groups. Find activities outside of the office that create shared purpose. Even team meetings — good ones, that is — can build solidarity.

4.Remove obstacles and provide resources. Of course your employees will be more effective if they have the tools to do the job. But that’s not always a device or a computer. Sometimes it’s information, clear instructions or more workable processes.

Removing obstacles can be as simple as getting a new printer that doesn’t jam or more complex like running interference with your boss or reassigning someone who could do a better job elsewhere.

How do you know what’s needed? Ask them — and really listen. Then, make it happen.

5. Hold employees accountable to high performance. Here’s where lots of managers get anxiety: They don’t like confrontation. They don’t want to be perceived as criticizing. They’re uncomfortable delivering bad news. So they don’t. Which just frustrates employees who genuinely want to improve and gives underperforming employees the wrong impression.

The reality is, talented, dedicated employees want to be held accountable for their performance and coached toward excellence. But Gallup reports that only 40% of employees strongly agree that their manager holds them accountable for their performance .Worth noting: These 40% are 2.5 times more likely than other employees to be fully engaged.

The lesson: Don’t be afraid to hold your employees accountable to a high standard for performance. But do it the right way. As Dale Carnegie once said, give others a fine reputation to live up to.

6.Show employees that you care about them. Too many managers steer clear of “caring”, and it shows. Our research indicates that 66% of employees believe that their managers don’t care about their personal lives.

But caring can make all the difference in the world. In fact, Google teaches their managers to care and the trust that develops from being approachable matters.

Gallup reports that when employees believe they can approach their manager with any type of question, 54% are fully engaged. If not, only 2% are engaged…and a whopping 65% are actively disengaged.

Emotions count, too. Whether it’s empathy for someone with a difficult personal situation or showing compassion to someone grieving, it conveys a humanity that employees appreciate. You’re showing you care, which opens the door for others to do likewise.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, start small. The key is to make it a habit. You may be surprised at how easy — and how rewarding — it is.

Written By

Mark Marone
Mark Marone, PhD. is the director of research and thought leadership for Dale Carnegie and Associates where he is responsible for ongoing research into current issues facing leaders, employees and organizations world-wide. He publishes frequently on various topics including leadership, the employee/customer experience and sales. Mark can be reached at

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