Engagement as a Competency

by: Christian Nielson and David Long

Employee Engagement is an outcome of a complex array of contributing factors. While some factors are influenced only at the organizational level, many elements are under the direct control of individual managers. A skilled manager, therefore, can greatly improve the engagement of his/her team. Employee Engagement competencies represent the key skills a manager must master to create an engaging landscape for the employees they serve.

You’re Missing Something

Despite your best efforts (and the advice of your employee survey vendor) your plan to engage your employees is missing a critical element. You most likely ran a solid survey, carefully analyzed the results, and took meaningful action, but the success of your engagement efforts will always be limited until you properly leverage one of your organization’s key resources – your managers.

Managers play a vital role in creating the engagement landscape in your organization. They shape the employee experience in ways that can’t be touched by HR, senior leaders, or the even CEO. They are closer to the employees’ unique successes, their development needs, and the details of their individual lives. In short, managers are well positioned to help build your organization’s engagement proposition.

Business people crowd

Leverage Your Managers

What is the best way to leverage your managers in the fight for engaged employees? Many organizations try the cascading-results approach—have each manager create an action plan based on his or her survey results. Can this be effective? It can be.

When the organization is ready for that level of accountability, an organization can deploy managers in action planning. But action plans based on survey results are reactive in nature, and they often lead to only marginal improvement in the chosen areas of focus. To create truly transformational change, an organization must go beyond simply reacting to survey data. They must also incorporate a pro-active approach and address employee engagement at its headwaters.

Engagement as a Competency

After collecting millions of employee engagement survey responses, we’ve learned something very important: creating an engaging work environment requires a key set of leadership behaviors. In other words, the ability to create engagement is a competency. This is a significant mind shift from the traditional “measure & react” approach to employee engagement.

Leadership competencies can be measured and developed. You can improve employee engagement by helping your managers develop the skills they need to create the right environment for their teams.

Managers play a critical role in the engagement of team members. Efforts around an engagement survey rarely address directly the competence of managers. Occasionally, the survey will point to something within the purview of managers (usually something about feedback from managers), but addressing the problem usually requires widespread training and development for managers, and organizations rarely have the appetite to address it. A proactive approach is by definition not reactive to the survey.

While the survey still provides valuable information, the proactive approach will move away from low-scoring survey questions and into behaviors and competencies that create engagement. This effort begins with leaders.

Interactive meetings work best for their business

Choosing the Right Competencies

Part of understanding what competencies or managerial behaviors will create an engaging environment is understanding how engagement is created. In our research, we have found universal factors that lead people to engage in their work. These factors—meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection—should be the focus in a competency model designed to create engagement.

For example, we know that a major factor in employee engagement is the degree to which employees feel like they are growing. There are of course many factors that will influence this—it doesn’t all fall on the manager. But we have found that a manager’s ability to provide feedback on current performance, create continual dialogue around employee development, and appropriately manage ambition are all skills that can be learned that will have significant impact on employees’ perceptions of growth. Improved perceptions of growth lead to improved engagement.

Of course, the idea of developing managers is nothing new. Most organizations have some form of management development. We are advocating strategic development of skills that will help managers improve the employee experience in specific areas that lead to engagement. This will help make engagement a central and continual focus in your organization—not just when it’s time to react to the annual survey.

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