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Managers are the key to unlocking engagement

25 Mar 2019 By Jeremy Lazarus

By understanding employees’ values and motivations, bosses can have a revelatory effect on their teams, says Jeremy Lazarus

According to the influential MacLeod report on employee engagement (published in 2008 but still highly relevant today), people join organisations but leave managers. In other words, line managers play a key role in employee engagement.

But how can HR support managers to deepen the engagement they have with their team? One approach that I have seen used effectively is for HR to support managers to find out from each of their team members what is important to them, what they want or look for in their career and then do whatever they can (within the constraints of factors such as organisational budgets, the law, and being fair to everyone in the team) to help each person have as much of what is important to them as possible.

In essence, this means managers finding out each team member's values. As we know, values are key factors in determining our motivation, because generally we want to do things that meet or align with our values. Conversely, if we cannot see how something fits in with our values, we will become less motivated to do it.

That process begins with asking the right questions. By posing a series of key questions, and listening carefully to the answers (without suggesting replies or interrupting), the line manager will get a wealth of useful information about their team member. Here’s what this might look like in practice:

  • Ask the team member what is important to them about their work, what they want from their work and what they looks for in their work (you will typically get 4-8 values – make a note of them in their words).
  • Ask them to think of a specific time at work when they felt really motivated. What was it about that situation that motivated them? (Add any values not previously mentioned to the list).
  • Show them the list, and ask them if they had work that encompassed all of these values, would she enjoy it, or is there anything she would like to add.
  • Ask them to rank the values either A, B and C, where A is absolutely essential, B is important but not essential, and C is nice to have.
  • Check that nothing important has been missed by asking them whether they would want work that gave them all the A and B values. You would expect a very clear ‘yes’, both verbally and non-verbally.

The steps above typically take between five and 10 minutes. After this, it is really useful to drill down a little to find out what they mean by each of their values, and what the line manager should do and avoid doing so the values are met. The whole process typically takes an hour, at the end of which the line manager should have a huge amount of useful information about how to motivate – and avoid de-motivating – their employee.

Having done that with all their direct reports, the manager’s role is simple – do whatever they can to help all team members have their values met. If the manager does this, they will feel really valued and engaged. Employees report that if their manager adopts this approach, they feel far more motivated and have a higher opinion of their line manager.

Occasionally this process highlights that a person is not suited to their role. If this happens, at least it’s in the open and an appropriate conversation can take place (with HR guidance) about next steps, which may include finding a more suitable role for the person and recruiting a more suitable replacement, usually leading to a win-win scenario.

Jeremy Lazarus is an executive coach, NLP master trainer and author

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