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How to Help Your Managers Engage Their Teams

How to Help Your Managers Engage Their Teams

by Adam Hickman

Story Highlights

  • Managers must be exceptional developers of talent
  • Some people have natural managerial talent
  • Shape managers into engagement experts

No one should be promoted casually to the position of manager. And one of the biggest mistakes leaders can make is promoting managers based on tenure.

Gallup's State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders report reveals that the two most frequent reasons U.S. workers are named manager are tenure with their company and success in a nonmanagerial role. But neither necessarily indicates that a person has the right talent to succeed as a manager.

In fact, Gallup estimates that organizations get it wrong 82% of the time. This finding isn't all that surprising given how rare highly talented managers are: Gallup finds that only about one in 10 people naturally possess high levels of managerial talent associated with excellence in the role.

No one should be promoted casually to the position of manager.

Those gifted managers engage, support and develop highly talented individuals on their teams. And they do it instinctively. It's just how they're wired. The challenge for leaders is to help managers with varying degrees of talent understand and embrace these supportive, developmental behaviors -- whether they come naturally or with practice. The key is holding all managers accountable for their role in team engagement and performance.

What's the right level of analysis? Your teams.

Organizations need to measure engagement at the local team level, not only as an overall corporate score. Studying and comparing scores at the team level can reveal best practices, success stories and sometimes areas that need differentiated kinds of support.

Managers should use team engagement scores to have constructive conversations about areas of workplace friction. Then, results should culminate in effective action plans so that employees feel heard and valued.

Managers also should apply engagement concepts when discussing performance with individuals. They can ask themselves: Do my employees know what is expected of them? Have they received recognition for excellent work lately? What materials and equipment are we missing?

Select, train and support managers as engagement experts.

Team engagement should be part of a manager's evaluation. Managers must be selected, trained and supported as exceptional developers of talent. And they should be evaluated on their ability to cultivate fresh talent, help employees develop new skills and improve their performance, and prepare employees for higher levels of leadership and achievement.

If low engagement persists, it's time for leaders to change their managers.

  1. Set clear expectations for leaders and managers that their job is to engage their teams -- there is no meaningful mission or purpose without clear expectations, ongoing conversations and accountability.
  2. Establish a minimum standard for engagement, and take specific actions when a team does not meet the standard. Consequences -- including changing managers -- should exist for ongoing patterns of low team engagement.
  3. Communicate engagement goals and targets throughout the organization.
  4. Create systems of recognition and support for high-performing leaders, managers and teams, sending a strong message about what the organization values.
  5. Communicate expectations for engagement, and watch for outliers where engagement and performance metrics do not align.
  6. Create high-value career paths for individuals -- no one should feel like their progress depends on getting promoted to manager.

In the end, engagement is about meeting employees' ongoing workplace needs by creating a culture that helps them produce their best work. It's not really about the numbers. It's more about the behaviors that drive the numbers. And nobody has the opportunity to affect those behaviors more than managers.

So choose them carefully based on the right reasons. Then, develop them and hold them accountable.

Keep your managers at the top of their game:

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