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Are Your Managers Feeling Overwhelmed and Underappreciated? Here’s How to Set Them Up For Success

5 ways to invest in managers to improve employee engagement.

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BY Alison Davis - 31 Aug 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

My firm is working with several companies undergoing significant change. And although each of these situations is quite different than the others, these companies have one thing in common: Managers are feeling stressed.

When change is called for, senior leaders have to move quickly. So they make fast decisions, then move on to the next issue. And managers are the ones who need to figure out how to implement the decision, explain it to their team members and deal with the consequences.

It's no wonder that managers feel like the filling in a panini: squeezed from both sides (leaders on top and employees below), under pressure and uncomfortably hot.

This is a problem for managers, of course, but what many companies overlook is how this affects employees. In my firm's research over the past few decades, we've found that employees consistently rate managers as their most trusted source for direction, feedback and support.

So if managers aren't set up for success, employees aren't either. They try to do their jobs, but aren't sure if they're focused on the right thing. And even when the manager creates a positive work environment for his or her team members, the work group is like an island in a hurricane: cut off from the mainland (the rest of the company), operating with only partial power and doing its best to ride out the storm.

What should companies do to set managers up for success? Take these 5 steps:

1. Recognize the importance of managers and make managers a priority. After one company kept getting negative feedback that managers weren't prepared and employees didn't know what was happening, senior leaders finally agreed to hold a manager briefing session once a month. The meeting didn't solve all problems, obviously, but it was a good start.

2. Make sure that managers' roles are defined properly. You need HR's help for this because it may very well be that managers' job description and performance goals are focused on accomplishing tasks, not supporting their teams. Especially during change, managers to produce less and focus their time and attention on being interpreters and coaches.

3. Help managers learn how to, yes, manage effectively. That means you can't assume that just because they've been promoted to managers, they know how to share information, hold meetings, and handle difficult situations. This is your opportunity to assess current manager training programs--and decide who needs to be trained.

4. Invest time in making sure managers understand content. Especially if the topic is complex, a 20-minute presentation is not enough to make managers comfortable. To design sessions that give managers the confidence they need to present, try the following:

  • When planning to brief managers, allocate at least 90 minutes for the meeting.
  • If possible, get everyone together face to face. If your office is too distracting, consider taking managers off site.
  • Of course you'll present content, but presentations should be the shortest part of the meeting. Allow at least 50 percent of the time for questions and dialogue.
  • If the topic is important enough, consider creating tools to help managers share information. Managers aren't big fans of PowerPoint presentations, but they do like receiving a one-page summary of key messages. And they appreciate FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions), documents that provide the questions employees are likely to ask, along with the answers managers need.

5. Hold managers accountable for engaging their employees by providing reinforcement in performance management and pay. Build accountability into performance management and other methods to evaluate managers. You know the problem: Unless change management is part of the formula to give managers raises or bonuses, it won't be a priority. So make communicating and supporting change essential to managers' success.

Set managers up for successful change by being clear about what they need to do, supporting their skills, providing knowledge and holding them accountable.


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