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  • Writer's pictureMark Baker

If You Want to Increase Engagement, Develop Your Managers

Healthbox Tools for Wellbeing
If You Want to Increase Engagement, Develop Your Managers

Did you just run an engagement survey at your company? Are you wondering how to increase your scores?

Well, stop wondering.

If you really want to increase engagement in your company, one of the most powerful things you could do is to develop your managers.

Why focus on developing managers?

For today’s employees, learning and development, alignment, and leadership matter - especially if you want to retain them.

Culture Amp’s latest benchmark survey found that these 3 factors mattered most when it comes to keeping people for the long term, with leadership (33%), alignment (33%), and learning and development (31%) predicting commitment in a data set composed of employees in 1200+ companies.

In short, employees need managers who:

  • communicate a vision that is motivating,

  • keep them that informed about what’s happening, and

  • demonstrate that people are important.

They need to know how to be successful in their role and appropriately involved in decisions that affect their work. They also want opportunities to develop skills relevant to their interests and work in companies where there are good career opportunities.

All of these elements require well-trained managers who can inspire, inform, and grow their team members for the long-term.

What does it look like to develop managers well?

Let’s look at one company’s efforts to maximize the development potential of its young and ambitious management team.

Lever, a recruiting software company in San Francisco, is growing fast. Last year, the company hired dozens of new managers to develop and scale its technology for sourcing and recruiting new hires.

At that time, Mike Bailen, the VP of People, made a strategic decision to focus on developing it managers. Mike says:

Because many of these leaders were stepping into management for the very first time, it was critical to establish a philosophical alignment around what the role means. We needed to give managers the tools to think of themselves as people developers, not as somebody’s boss.

And, obviously, a big part of an employee’s engagement is a result of their relationship with their manager. More than ever, employees want to gain skills, learn new things, and be developed. If they can’t find it within your organization, they're going to go somewhere else. So that’s why we started with the management layer.

To equip these new managers, my company, Epic Teams, worked with Lever to take a customized approach to leadership development within their organization. The first part of the program focused on skills similar to those listed above - leadership, alignment, and L&D -  as they apply to developing individuals. The second part of the program focused on applying those skills to develop the team as a whole.

Lever runs its first engagement survey

As we began the second part of the program in July 2017, Lever ran its first employee engagement survey. Using Culture Amp, Lever learned that, on the whole, the company scored fairly high when benchmarked against other similar technology companies in the Bay Area.

That said, as a company committed to values such as “Raise the Bar” and “Don’t Trust Comfortable,” Lever wanted to see what its managers could do to increase its engagement score over the next six months. This is no easy feat, especially when one considers that the company also planned to expand its workforce by nearly 50% within the same timeframe.

How Lever’s managers increased engagement

Healthbox Tools for Wellbeing
Give managers ownership of their own pathways

Rather than take a top-down approach and prescribe initiatives, we developed the capabilities of managers and teams to come up with their own focus areas and solutions. This is in line with the collaborative, data-driven approach to leadership that we had been cultivating with managers in our program.

Here’s a high-level overview of our process:

  1. Assess the data: We first met with each management team to review the data and hypothesize which factors might make the biggest difference to business results.

  2. Create a psychologically safe team environment: The data itself is important, but what’s more important are the conversations that happen as a result. We coached managers on how to design a meeting where team members feel safeto share authentically about areas of improvement.

  3. Select growth areas and design experiments: Managers met with their teams to review key engagement dimensions and select one to two areas to focus on. As a team, members collaboratively designed month-long “sprints” where they experimented with new behaviors, processes, or projects to improve in those dimensions.

  4. Review progress and iterate: It was important for managers to see this as an iterative process with their team. Managers need to remind the team about the importance of proposed actions, as well as check-in regularly to assess progress and collaboratively refine solutions as needed. It also helps to make this process fun, as well as efficient (especially for a startup environment). We helped Lever’s managers design a way to check-in on engagement data in about 15 minutes each month.

The Results

When the company ran its second engagement survey in January 2018, Lever’s managers increased engagement on key indicators by an average of 20%, as well as increased overall engagement for the company by 2%.

Beyond these immediate results, there is a broader recognition within the organization that managers and teams have developed something with far greater implications - the ability to lead collaboratively.

Bailen explains:

It’s been really cool to see managers and teams diagnose areas of opportunity and then take action to drive up engagement together. Some went from 50% to 100%, which is just ridiculous over the course of 6 months. What has made this more powerful is that managers and teams worked together to make this happen - instead of the managers taking up the burden of having to come up with all the solutions themselves, especially when they don’t have all the answers or the full context to do so. It’s been really transformative because we actually produce better outcomes as a team as a result.”


This blog post originally appeared on Culture Amp's blog. You can find the original article here. Written by Dr. Shannon Arvizu, Founder of Epic Teams.


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