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Characteristics Of Engaging Managers

November 21 2009 - Research by the Institute for Employment Studies indicates that engaging managers are made, not born - they learn from their own and other people's mistakes and modify their behaviour accordingly.

The report, The Engaging Manager by Dilys Robinson and Sue Hayday (IES Report 470, November 2009) is based on interviews with 25 'engaging managers' (identified as having high engagement scores of teams in their last employee survey), 22 'senior managers' (people managing the engaging managers), and focus groups with 25 teams managed by the engaging managers (a total of 154 people). The seven organisations involved were:

  • The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
  • Centrica
  • Corus
  • Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
  • London Borough of Merton
  • Rolls-Royce
  • Sainsbury’s

The report concludes that great managers are focused on performance, taking the 'good bits' of other managers they have observed and avoiding the 'bad bits' of behaviour. They were effective communicators and showed improvement over time, according to senior managers. They were ready to show honesty and openness when breaking bad news and gave frequent individual feedback to staff. The features of engaging and non-engaging managers included the following:

Characteristics of engaging managers

  • high performers
  • communicators
  • visionary
  • empathisers
  • developers
  • enthusiasts
  • protectors
  • networkers
  • rocks
  • brave
  • jugglers
  • mavericks

Characteristics of disengaging and poor managers

  • micro managers
  • muddlers
  • blamers
  • egoistical
  • pessimists

According to Dilys Robinson, Principal Research Fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies:

"The excellent and engaging managers we spoke to have very varied jobs, different spans of control and seniority. But one thing they have in common is how very focused they are on performance. They all manage teams that are known to be high-performing within their organisations, which underlines how important engagement is in difficult times.

"We asked team members to draw pictures of how they see their managers. Interestingly, several people drew smiling devils, indicating that not all engaging managers toe the company line. The most popular picture of all was of a sun or a smiling face.

"The drawings gave us insight into engaging managers' characteristics. The teams value their managers' strategic vision, interest in them as individuals and fostering of positive team culture. Our engaging managers are challenging and approachable, and have good skills in communicating and listening. Their teams also expect them to be honest and development-focused. But engaging behaviours can be learnt and that's good news for aspiring managers."

Other key findings were:

  • Engaging managers, senior managers and teams all had clear views about disengaging behaviours to be avoided
  • Disengaging behaviours included: lack of empathy, poor communication and listening skills, being self-centred, failing to inspire, blaming others, aggression, poor delivery record, lack of approachability, lack of integrity, and micro-managing
  • Engaging managers were seen to be active internal networkers who did not necessarily feel a need to network externally
  • Two-way communication was viewed as an essential feature of engaging management
  • Engaging managers had in-depth knowledge of their organisation, how their role fitted into the bigger picture, and were able to communicate this effectively to their teams

UK Workers Have Little Trust in Bosses

The attitudes of British employees towards senior managers are significantly more negative than those of their counterparts in the USA, with fewer than a third expressing trust and confidence in their leaders, according to a Watson Wyatt study reported in 2005.

Watson Wyatt's WorkUK and WorkUSA surveys - involving a representative sample of more than 15,000 private sector workers in the US and UK - showed that while a half (51%) of workers in the USA had trust and confidence in the job being done by their organisation's leaders, just under a third (31%) of UK employees felt the same. The surveys were part of Watson Wyatt's global benchmarking studies of employee opinions, communications, pay and benefits, performance management, HR effectiveness and work-life balance.

"Clearly there may be cultural factors at play here when we compare the UK and US," said Andrew Cocks, European head of employee research at Watson Wyatt. "But nevertheless, UK business leaders can take little comfort from these results. There is a clear need for a better dialogue between management and employees and the development of a real climate of openness and trust, especially if we are going to compete effectively with the US in the new ‘cheap dollar' world."

Whereas Watson Wyatt found that workers' ratings of senior managers in the US had risen from a low of 44% in 2002 (following Enron and other high profile corporate scandals) there was no evidence for a similar upward trend in the UK survey.

"Lack of confidence in senior management does not just make for a difficult atmosphere at work," said Andrew Cocks. "Our research shows that it can hit the bottom line hard. In an employee survey we recently conducted for a major European company, belief in senior management proved to be the strongest leading indicator of new product sales and was their top business performance indicator."

According to Watson Wyatt, effective communication is a key way in which leaders can build trust with employees. But months before the implementation of the new EU Directive on Informing and Consulting Employees, a mere 30% of British employees believe that management explains the reasons behind major decisions and just 18% feel that management successfully involves employees in decision making.

"Greater mutual understanding has to be key to the future success of business in the UK," said Andrew Cocks. "In order to play an active part in taking any organisation forward, employees need to understand and support any vision leaders have for the future and know how they can contribute to the process in their day to day work. Our research has consistently shown a link between factors such as employee alignment and commitment and enhanced business and financial performance."



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