Managers have the pivotal role in fostering safe communication, in developing a coaching management style, and in aligning employee work with company values and the mission statement. The successful manager brings empathy and recognition, assists employees in developing a good culture fit and is key to providing the community support and relationships that many workers hope for from a workplace. Innovative ideas and best practices for nurturing employee engagement can be considered in these areas: communication, values alignment, coaching and continuous quality improvement.
Communication techniques can foster and encourage employee engagement. Safe-space communication strategies include more than an open door policy or “permission to speak freely, Captain.” Issues related to safety, harassment, regulatory compliance, or criminality should always, when of concern, be brought to a manager. Whistleblowers almost always have tried to talk to people in the workplace first. Leadership should consider their managers as a first line of defense and an opportunity to respond quickly and safely to serious workplace issues. Encouraging these difficult conversations doesn’t mean they will start happening with regularity; a serious problem almost always has come up on radar, allowing rapid response. Employees need to know that their manager wants to be the first stop when a serious problem such as workplace safety becomes evident. Employees also need to know that bringing up these complex and costly issues will not put them at risk.
Communication will be the primary tool of these managers in implementing innovative approaches to employee engagement. Especially for a remote or geographically distant workforce, electronic communication can keep employee or contract workers engaged; with more than just sending out newsletters and updates, a personal check-in is critical. If a manager is seen to engage in two-way communication, rather than just sending bad news from upstairs down the line and ensuring compliance with requirements, that manager will be more likely to encounter engagement. Too often, the only time an employee gets any significant amount of communication with a manager is when there is a screw-up.
Regular, in-person communication is critical, if this option is available. The check-in will be from person to person, from mentor to mentee, from manager to employee, from fellow passenger on the ship that is, hopefully, not sinking. A manager can engage an employee within a number of roles they have in common, without affecting positional authority. With significant life events, employees may feel the ground under their feet is shaky. A marriage, a death, a birth, a divorce–these life events impact both a person and their community. For many, that community includes the workplace. These impacts can echo across the workplace if not allowed time to settle. Manager communication is the key to easing the strain and allowing an employee to understand the empathy and concern the management has for his or her situation.
One of the benefits of increased communication is the understanding of the values of the employee, and the way their values align with business values and the mission statement. Leadership has a critical role in detailing the values of the business. For many in the workplace, values relating to transparency, social justice, and environmental stewardship are as important as other characteristics of the work, such as opportunities for growth. For an employee with outstanding work performance and a strong work ethic, rewards such as giving them a seat at the table for planning and participating in values-based work will be a significantly better reward than money or positional authority.
Coaching and Continuous Quality Improvement
Coaching is the new watchword for managers working on employee engagement. Rather than a focus on deficits, manager-coaches focus on improving strengths, allowing two-way communication, encouraging opportunities for growth. This method is very like an older model of continuous quality improvement, in which businesses focused on how to continuously improve, rather than concentrating on putting out fires and solving problems. Manger-coaches will try to assist employees toward continuous improvement, and to some degree allow them to identify and develop solutions for their own deficits.
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