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Tom Monahan

Tom Monahan

Thomas L. Monahan III is the Chairman and CEO of Corporate Executive Board, a leading provider of best-practices research, data, and tools to more than 120,000 executives and organizations, including 80% of the Fortune 500 and 70% of the FT 100.

Direct managers are still key to productivity

Q: One of the key findings the 2010 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government survey is that worker satisfaction is more profoundly affected by perceptions of top management than by their immediate supervisor. What lessons can top leaders in the public and private sector glean from this?

Socrates reportedly said that the beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms, and this question begs for that clarity. "Satisfaction" - whether in customer analysis or employee analysis, simply doesn't correlate with any meaningful outcome that a manager or leader is trying to achieve.

The first question any leader should ask is "what am I trying to get done?" Generally with regard to human capital, there are three basic objectives: recruiting terrific people to the organization, getting the highest contribution out of the people I have, and engaging and retaining the high performers.

Leaders have different levers to pull, or investments to make, to achieve of these outcomes. (Which make intuitive sense, based on other human behavior, the things that motivate you to try a product are very different than those which motivate you to continue to purchase it.)

The Corporate Executive Board's vast databases on employee analytics shed a little light on what levers a leader should reach for to accomplish each of these objectives, and generally place the direct manager at the center of the equation:

As you'd guess, people first are attracted to work for a company/agency not because of their manager per se, but because the combination of firm reputation, pay, etc. create a compelling offer.

With regard to both productivity and retention, the role of the direct manager - rather than "senior leadership" per se - is paramount. The relative importance of the direct/middle manager is very consistent across both corporate and U.S. government workplaces - with one notable exception - it is considerably harder to change the engagement, retention, and productivity of federal workers.

The "so what" for leaders is to a) select managers with great care - they are your primary communication channel and connective tissue to your employees, b) teach them to lead and manage (a disproportionate percentage of employees are managed by poor, or first time managers) and c) remove other burdens from you management team. Across the organizations we sample, managers are working 10% more and spending 20% less time coaching and developing employees. That's a problem worth fixing.

By Tom Monahan

 |  September 1, 2010; 2:27 PM ET
Category:  A leader's team , Accomplishing Goals , Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Don't underestimate the employee-supervisor bond | Next: Are Women's Colleges Still Needed?


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Great post. Employee satisfaction, as you say, is very much one of those "so what" metrics. Employees can be quite satisfied with their job (and still do little productive or worthwhile) but not engaged in their work or aligned with company goals -- and that is a very significant difference indeed. Unfortunately, many companies still do not differentiate, surveying and measuring for satisfaction, but not engagement.

As I wrote elsewhere (http://globoforce.blogspot.com/2010/03/understanding-difference-between.html):

Why does this matter? Employees can be quite satisfied with their job, your company and their place in it without ever engaging in the work. Think about it. Have you ever had an employee or colleague who was perfectly satisfied to come to work every day where they could happily surf the web, Facebook with their friends or play computer games? Perhaps that’s a bit extreme, but we all know employees who are satisfied with being left alone in their mediocrity.

Engaged employees, on the other hand, are passionate and alive with the desire to perform well and do so in alignment with your strategic objectives. These are the employees you need to be focused on. These are the employees for whom you need to be creating an environment in which they want to engage for the long-term. Measuring employee engagement with a goal for improving that environment is always worthwhile.

And training managers to help employees become engaged in their work (removing obstacles, making clear company objectives and how the employee can contribute to achieving them in their daily tasks, praising employees for progress and not just results) is the critical component to achieving the measurable results companies need.

Posted by: DerekIrvineGloboforce | September 13, 2010 9:58 AM
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