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Developing Managers Is Key to Employee Engagement

Research from the Association for Talent Development (ATD), as well as other sources, shows that managers are the primary levers organizations can pull if they want to increase employee engagement. This point is underscored by recent research from Gallup, which finds that managers account for “an astounding 70 percent of the variance in their team’s engagement.”

Clearly, a focused effort on developing managers’ skills is a strategic use of talent development resources.

What makes an engaged employee

Engaged employees are those who are mentally and emotionally invested in their work and in contributing to their employer’s success. Engagement is evidenced through employees who are willing to go the extra mile, speak well of their company, and make sure that customers are satisfied. 

The discrepancy between the perceived importance of engagement and the level of engagement that exists in organizations is an opportunity to understand how talent development efforts—and those focused on the development of managers—will yield greater engagement.

The quality and quantity of learning opportunities significantly affect employee engagement. Two specific manager-focused strategies found to raise engagement levels are training supervisors how to coach their employees and training managers in the skills they need to engage employees, like communicating effectively and identifying skillsets that employees have and need to do their jobs well.

Missing the mark

Lack of accountability and skills causes managers and leaders to lose sight of engagement and fail to develop the skills required to enhance it. Some leadership behaviors, such as viewing workers as expendable in the face of economic challenges and failing to recognize employee contributions to the organization, can have a negative effect on engagement. 

Leaders and managers must be held accountable for engagement, which can be achieved by integrating it into performance management and rewards systems. Unless managers are measured by their ability to boost engagement, engagement is not likely to stay on their minds, and they won’t seek the skills they need to enhance it.

Going above and beyond

Beyond making a concerted effort to develop manager capabilities that impact engagement, there are other talent development practices that drive positive results. These include fostering a learning culture, improving onboarding and orientation practices, designing learning with engagement in mind, linking learning and performance management, encouraging more informal learning opportunities such as peer coaching, and learning through stretch assignments. Employees want to feel that they have opportunities to learn new skills, apply them, and ultimately advance in their careers. Managers should afford them these opportunities.

Tony Bingham, President and CEO, Association for Talent Development, [email protected]

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