Better managers are the key to employee engagement
January 26, 2024

Better managers are the key to employee engagement

Is “survival mode” management madness coming to an end? We don’t have a choice but to place a premium on developing quality managers.

Have you seen the news? Humu, an HR-tech platform that uses nudge technology to improve manager performance and drive employee engagement, recently raised $60m. It appears that capital markets and enterprise leadership are finally coming to terms with a sticky (and costly) subject that middle managers and employees have known to be true for eons - the world crucially needs more empathetic, well-resourced and just all-around better people managers.

“How crucially?” you ask. Bad management costs US businesses $360 billion annually in lost productivity from employees.

Why now? Another good question. After all, the need for better managers didn't just crop up in the wake of the first COVID-19 lockdown (although it has been exacerbated tremendously). The art of management has been a much discussed, much debated, much studied yet much neglected subject of corporate hallways and boardrooms for decades.

Partly due to pandemic working exhaustion, partly due to our expectation that technology will improve our lives and the world, partly due to job markets that have been mega hot as of late - we’ve stumbled into a perfect storm of urgency (and opportunity). We've hit a wall. Employees and managers are tired; retaining them has gotten harder. And we’re seeing this play out in the form of “the Great Resignation”.

Employee retention is not just an HR problem.

In building Piper, we are developing technology-driven tools for managers to support and inspire their teams to achieve their full potential. As you can imagine, we've talked to a lot of managers. A lot. Especially in start-ups and SMEs. We've heard what they love about their jobs, what they hate, what's gotten more difficult, where they need help (desperately), where their confusions lay, and how their insecurities as people managers are playing out. And from our perch, here are the top three detriments to employee retention in 2022 (yes, quality of management and employee retention go hand in hand):

1. Being satisfied with dated employee engagement metrics to tell the full story.

What does an anonymous employee engagement survey really reveal? It's super tempting to point to an engagement score, compare that to the industry or sector average, feel satisfied with beating said average, and draw some dangerous conclusions. Is a 75% engagement rate good? In the tech sector, yes! But go talk to any middle manager whose four-person team is only 75% engaged and you'll get the real picture. Good grief!

If not a survey, then what? Move up the chain and address employee engagement at the most impactful touch point - that is to say the employee-manager relationship. It's time to rethink the dashboard of employee engagement metrics and the real role that managers play in retention and engagement across the board.

2. Leaving your managers to fend for themselves.

People management is damn hard. Managers don't magically become good with a title change or a bump of salary or more responsibilities. Management of others requires a brand new and specific set of skills decidedly different to those of an individual contributor or a subject matter expert. Yet companies spend shocking little time upskilling or supporting managers in their journey.

How does your company define a manager? Hint: a stellar individual contributor does not (necessarily) a good manager make. What does it mean in your organisation to “become” a manager? Hint: a one-off training on how to set SMART objectives is not enough. How do you support the ongoing development of your managers? Hint: find ways to embed manager improvement tools into everyday work. Don’t rely on once-in-a-while trainings that remove managers from “real” life scenarios.

3. Expecting old ways of doing things to produce new results.

Oh what does it mean to be a manager in today’s world? We’ve heard many a burnt-out, confused and lost manager pose this very question since early 2020. And it isn’t hard to see why. The world is changing, the workforce is evolving, the job of manager has gotten harder, and support has not kept pace.

Managing in a totally virtual world (even a hybrid-working world) is new and needs new tools. Managing such a multi-generational workforce requires new methods and more emotional intelligence. Managing teams that expect participatory leadership (i.e. bottom up innovation rather than top-down directives) is, frankly, exhausting but can produce game-changing results. This, too, is new in our collective history of work and demands a new type of manager.

So to answer our own question - yes, “survival mode” management madness must end. For any company fighting to retain employees (or more difficult still, trying to hire in this climate), look first at how to build, develop, support and nurture your managers - not as a job perk but rather as an operational principle designed to attract, retain and engage employees and, ultimately, affect the bottom line.

While you’re here, give us a follow. At Piper, we’re on a mission to empower managers with powerful yet practical tools.