The Seven Behaviors of Engaging Supervisors

We gathered our consultants together in this roundtable to discuss the power supervisors wield on the employee experience. Supervisors can either rally the troops for the cause of an organization or contribute to an all-out mutiny! This may be a touch dramatic, but you get the gravity of the issue. Our experts illustrate seven behaviors of engaging supervisors and some of the more nuanced ways supervisors influence their direct reports.

The Power of Consistency in Supervisor Behavior

Inconsistency among managers seems to be a very common pattern in many organizations that we advise. Some shining stars may foster engagement on their team while others succeed less in this area.

Principal Consultant, Dan Hoopes explains that in addressing the inconsistency of managers, we must address the impact of those inconsistencies. Organizations are starting to pinpoint the negative impact and drain that certain supervisors are having on their entire organization. We help clients visualize their path to maturity with this graphic.

“If an organization wants to move up the maturity curve, managing the disengaged and the disengaging are critical to be able to meet the next threshold of engagement.”

Dan Hoopes, Principal Consultant

Behavior 1: Provide Consistent Feedback

Principal Consultant, Beth Wilkins points out that many managers have a hard time giving performance feedback. We like to recognize people or give them positive feedback, but corrective feedback presents quite the challenge. We may fear this kind of interaction because we fear the possibility of discomfort or tension. And so, some supervisors may feel equipped to handle these crucial conversations while others avoid them altogether. It makes it very difficult to embed engagement across the board when one of those groups may be having a different quality of experience than others. Simply holding a bi-yearly workshop on how to give constructive feedback will help you make sure your managers are equally equipped for these conversations. Don’t let budget stand in your way – you’ve hired good people. Let your internal experts lead these sessions.

Pay Attention to Feedback Among Demographics

“BYU Professor, Taeya Howell has analyzed various kinds of manager feedback and uncovered that feedback to females is less direct. Dr. Howell has also learned that women receive feedback less frequently. The implications are that women lack a clear picture of how to improve and be more successful. Due to these descrepancies, I always try to highlight the responses of different demographics when debriefing survey results.”

Beth Wilkins, Principal Consultant

Behavior 2: Discuss Development with Direct Reports

Supervisors play an integral role in the development of their teams. Consultant, Stephen Mickelson illustrates this point with a story from his recent experience with a client.

“Earlier this year, we conducted focus groups for an organization that was interested in looking deeper into its employees’ perceptions of growth opportunities. We asked employees in those feedback sessions to tell us about one of their most pivotal career growth opportunities. It was really surprising to see how many employees related pivotal growth experiences connected to their supervisors. A lot of employees appreciated autonomy but also the knowledge that supervisors were also available to support them and show them how to do things that they didn’t understand.”

Supervisor and employee one-on-one

Behavior 3: Engage Your People

Our research shows that fully engaged managers are 213% more likely to have an engaged team. So, we strongly recommend companies engage managers and teach them how to engage others. Beth’s dissertation research focused on engaging leaders who successfully facilitated change. She found that these leaders all cared enough about their people to help them asses their current self and who they wanted to become.

“I call this process of helping people discover their potential and making the picture of it so palpable that they want to move toward it, identity coaching. In these sessions, managers create an environment of trust, ask their employees deep questions that help them reflect on who they’re becoming, and reinforce their strengths and potential. ”

Beth Wilkins, Principal Consultant

Behavior 4: Make Expectations Clear

On our employee engagement surveys, we ask the question, “Do I understand what my supervisor expects of me?” In other words, am I getting ongoing feedback about my performance? Are my supervisor and I in alignment with the work that I do so that I can quickly get more effective outcomes?

Dan Hoopes shares a moment where he found out too late, that he and his supervisor weren’t on the same page.

“My boss came to me and told me he was pulling the budget on one of my projects. Well, we got toward the end of the year and he said, “Hey, in preparation for your performance review, would you write down all of the things you’ve been working on and I’ll do the same?” When I compared his list to mine, there was one glaring difference – the project where funding was pulled. At the performance review I said, “I noticed this is on your list.” And he said, “Yes, I expected you to still complete the project.”

So, shame on me for never checking in with my manager, but shame on him for going eight months and never checking in with me either. This experience taught me I’m obligated to go and solicit feedback and to do everything that I can, to avoid being blindsided. It also taught me that if I give employees consistent feedback, this allows them to perform at their best.

Behavior 5: Foster Fairness, Respect, and Trust

Another way we measure supervisor favorability on our survey is to gauge how fair and respectful managers are. When respect and fairness don’t exist within a team, productivity lags. When we start to talk about diversity and inclusion, we consider this aspect carefully. Did everyone on the team feel trusted by their supervisor, especially people that looked different from the supervisor or came from a different background? In the survey data, we sometimes see that the answer is no. Sometimes trust is limited to a select few.

Stephen shares how his supervisor’s regular and specific feedback fostered a trusting relationship.

Because I received positive feedback from my supervisor, when she redirected me or told me where I could do things differently, I trusted everything she had to say. I knew that she had my best interests and the organization’s best interests at heart.”

Supervisor learning with employee

Behavior 6: Show Your Team You’re Willing to Learn

Consultant, Thomas Olsen shares how his supervisor earned his respect with his excellent example.

“I had a supervisor who would do a feedback session after client calls with me. We would each go over three positives and a negative. It was hard to come up with a negative for him, but it helped me realize that he thought he could still learn. I really respected his opinions and feedback, because he was still working on his own skillsets. This motivated me to become better and develop and grow in my role.”

Behavior 7: Share Your Energy with Your Team

Good leaders aren’t only energetic, they direct that positive energy toward other people. They energize other people positively and help them feel like they can reach goals they haven’t even considered. Beth tells us that when her supervisor gave her compliments, she didn’t really believe them. But, her supervisor said them enough that they changed the way she showed up. After a time, she started to feel more deserving of the praise. Effective supervisors also share energy by expressing gratitude and helping their direct reports see where they’re succeeding. They forgive mistakes and treat them as learning opportunities. They do everything they can to make their people more effective, with genuine care for their success and the success of the organization.

When I was at Oracle, I worked with a professor named Rob Cross, and he taught me a lot about organizational network analysis. There are lots of different kinds of influencers, but both he and Wayne Baker have found that energizers are the most important kind of influencer. In fact, their research shows that energizers are the most impactful influencers by a factor of four and that they influence people up to three degrees of separation. When I read that research, it motivated me to figure out how I could become an energizer, and how I could help other leaders do the same.

Beth Wilkins, Principal Consultant

We hope that lining up these seven behaviors helped you see that you don’t have to completely change who you are to lead others. Take the strengths you have and sprinkle in these behaviors to better engage employees. Your team will stick around longer, they’ll be more productive, and together you’ll be able to help each other reach the goals you’ve set.

5 Keys of Employee Engagement White Paper

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