Fast New Manager Activation Can Transform Your Employee Engagement Initiatives

Research has long suggested the primacy of the manager to driving employee engagement. The manager mediates an employee’s relationship with the organization, their work, and their colleagues, strongly influencing their perceptions of the employment experience.

Gallup is in the process of releasing a new book – It’s the Manager – dedicated to this proposition. And there are common adages in the talent management discipline – e.g. “People leave managers, not companies”, which have some truth to it, although also some caveats (e.g. people leave failing companies even if they like their manager).

All of that said…the finding that managers are critical to employee engagement is very problematic if you actually want to improve employee engagement because there’s been relatively limited progress in improving manager performance over the years.

For example, “only 40% of employees believe their managers help them develop the skills they need for their current role”, according to research from Gartner.

Now, the job of managers has arguably become a lot tougher – managers face fast changing organizations from the get-go, as well as more remote and diverse teams than in the past.

But most organizations have not responded to this challenge with greater resource investment in manager development. Our research at ExecOnline suggests most companies are simply giving new managers a resource library – that they rarely utilize – or a half to a full day meeting to cover the basics within the first few months of onboarding.

Perhaps due to that lack of investment, organizations – increasingly desperate for good managers to help them execute strategy – are trying a couple of other tactics:

First, they are trying to recruit better managers. The problem with this approach is that, mathematically, there are only so many good managers. It’s an expensive approach for most organizations.

Second, they are attempting to identify and promote different in kind profiles – employees who spike on soft skills, instead of the hard skills that usually get people promoted.

Unfortunately, this is a difficult approach as well, given how many managers now are player-coaches. In building out our new manager program – Launch into Leadership – at ExecOnline, we heard that the rise in player-coaches had turned much of conventional wisdom about managers on its head.

Given that those options aren’t going to work for most organizations, our belief at ExecOnline is that the best recourse is development. But a different in kind, more revolutionary approach to development is required to ensure managers actually activate in 21st-century workplaces.

Beginning in February, we launched our new manager program to 250+ new managers. This immersive experience lasts 12 weeks and is designed to activate managers a lot faster than in the past.

If you are a business leader focused on a major change initiative, imagine the benefits of having an activated management corps just a few months after promotion who have aligned their teams to strategy, appropriately divided up responsibilities, are having tough conversations – and, most importantly, executing your vision. Sounds pretty good, right?

So what are we hearing from the new managers in our program halfway through the course?

Many things, but a couple stand out.

First, they have a better understanding of the emotional side of being a new manager.

Emotion is something that is often missing in our current approaches to upskilling new managers, which led us to Dorie Clark, who leads our new managers through the emotional journey to make the mindset shift from an individual contributor to a manager.

But, second, we also take pride in how the new managers in our program say they are learning to prioritize strategy, and aligning their teams to it. This can be difficult for even more experienced managers to do well, and yet our new managers are overcoming this challenge early on in their journey.

Let us know if you’d like to know more about our new manager program – Launch into Leadership – and how it can help your organization better execute on strategic initiatives.

Adam Brinegar

Senior Vice President & Head of Client Solutions at ExecOnline

Adam leads ExecOnline’s Client Solutions team where he is responsible for deepening and expanding relationships with our growing client base. Adam spent 10 years leading research and advising Fortune 500 CHROs for the Corporate Leadership Council at CEB, where he led the development of groundbreaking insights on nearly ever facet of talent management and leadership development. Connect with Adam at www.linkedin.com/in/talentinsight.

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