Today’s show is about Supporting Managers. Listen to the show on iTunes and Stitcher.

Don: [00:00:00] Hi, I’m Don Rheem, CEO of E3 Solutions and author of the book, “Thrive By Design.” I speak across North America on the neuroscience of engagement at work. I’m passionate about helping leaders at every level to create engaging workplace environments where employees feel safe, recognized and validated. Employees who feel safe at work are happier, healthier and more productive. Each week, my team and I take on topics impacting managers and offer solutions to your biggest workplace challenges.

Kelly: [00:00:02] Welcome to Thrive By Design, the podcast.

Kelly: [00:00:06] We created this show to give managers, CEOs and leaders the tips, strategies and tools you need to create a more engaged culture at work. I’m Kelly Burns, VP of Client Experiences at E3 Solutions and I’m here with Don Rheem, our CEO.

Kelly: [00:00:22] Today we’re talking about a topic we hear all the time when we’re working with senior leaders in an organization, C-Suite members leaders who lead teams of other managers and the big question they often ask us is: How do we support our managers? How do I take care of the people who are leading teams below me? And that’s something we’ve got some great insight on today right?

Don: [00:00:43] We do, Kelly.

Kelly: [00:00:44] Good morning.

Don: [00:00:44] Good morning.

Kelly: [00:00:45] Let’s talk about how you have this conversation regularly with senior leaders when you’re in a survey debriefs with them. What does that conversation often look like?

Don: [00:00:55] Sure. So when a client uses our survey, it’s a 28 question online survey that every employee takes, I typically will go to the company and do an onsite debrief with the senior leadership team. We take a look at what the numbers are for the company, then often look at it by function area, by department or location. But eventually, we get down to the conversation where we look at each individual workgroup. And by workgroup, I mean any manager that has at least five people reporting to them. We like to collect data at that granular level. So it’s not uncommon to have dozens of work groups within a company. And, when you have that granular data at a manager level. Let me back up for a second. You have, we think of culture for example, and you’ve got a culture across a whole organization then in different departments, functionaries or locations you have subcultures heavily impacted by whoever the leader is in that location. But under every manager, you have a micro-culture. And, so the data helps us get a better sense of what these micro-cultures are. And, it’s not uncommon in a company to have some work groups where the employees are 100 percent engaged and other work groups where there are 100 percent disengaged. And the conversation always turns to these managers that are clearly struggling in their leadership capacity.

Kelly: [00:02:20] So when you’re having these debriefs with the senior leadership team and you’re talking about these hundred percent engaged teams and their leader 100 percent disengaged teams and their leader, they’re likely looking for you to give them guidance and direction on: What does this mean? How do we move forward with these teams? How do we increase engagement where it needs to be and how do we celebrate and support the ones that are doing really well?

Kelly: [00:02:43] So let’s start with the ones that are doing really well. How do we help support managers who have 100 percent engagement on their team? They’re clearly doing a great job leading.

Don: [00:02:52] Well, this is a case where leaders at every level should be congratulating that manager for what they’ve done. It’s not easy, it takes a lot of energy. It takes a lot of dedication. And those managers are clearly very intentional around their leadership portfolio so they should be recognized. And the other thing that I like doing is to be 100 percent engaged, we’re still looking at the scores for 28 questions. You still have a rank ordering of the questions. So I can look at the 28 questions for that high performing leader and see the ones not only that are at the top of the list but to look at the absolute score they receive to find out where that manager is exceptional. And then what I do with the senior leaders I say: Does that does that work for you? Does that resonate for you? Does that does that sound like Rebecca as a manager? And they go, oh yeah she’s totally that. And so they start to see the connection with the data and the person’s behavior which helps to just solidify that whole importance of measuring. So we want to make sure we’re celebrating these high flyers but I want to do it at a level that specific. I don’t want to just say, “hey, way to go, Kate, you got a great score.” I want to say, “hey, Kate just outstanding job on trust and fairness in your team. You’ve got really high scores around those, just really well done.” And then maybe as the more senior leader, I want to find out some best practices. I want to find out what Kate is doing that creates those high scores so maybe I can try to train or incorporate some of that in my other managers. Maybe have her have a brown bag lunch for managers to share what she does and how she resolves issues.

Kelly: [00:04:32] Yeah, those hundred percent engaged teams, those leaders who are doing really well, can easily become a model for the rest of the organization on how to lead a teams well. And, some of its personality, you can’t tap this personality into every other manager in an organization. But what are the practices you can tap into? What are their daily rituals? Or, their skill sets that are transferable regardless of personality or emotional intelligence level that other managers can learn from and take hold of and help increase engagement in their own teams?

Don: [00:05:05] So we hear these little stories from these managers because often I then get to meet with them individually and they’re usually very humble self-effacing and they say well I just make sure I get up once a day and go and check in with each of my people and see how they’re doing. They say, ‘It’s just no big deal I just check in with them once a day.’ And it’s a simple practice. But look at the results and then you get to compare that with the managers with low scores and what are they doing?

Kelly: [00:05:37] The closed doors, they don’t want to go down the hallways. It is a simple practice it’s not rocket science to get it out of your seat but it makes a big difference in terms of the engagement levels in your team how connected the team feels to you as a leader.

Don: [00:05:51] You know management by walking around is not a new concept, it’s been written about before. But what we didn’t know is why that works. There’s no magic to walking around anybody can do that, but it’s walking around and building these relationships, connecting with the relationships. The really great managers that managed by walking around aren’t just walking, they’re walking and talking they’re walking and connecting with their team. So the team feels like they’ve been seen and heard and valued.

Kelly: [00:06:25] Which is a stark contrast from walking around with hawk eyes to see what’s not going right, or who’s not pulling their weight.

Don: [00:06:31] Yes, exactly.

Kelly: [00:06:32] Which probably leads us to the managers who are leading highly disengaged teams. When you think about and you have these conversations with CEOs and senior leaders, how do you talk to them about how to support managers who are leading highly disengaged teams? What is it that they need to be aware of?

Don: [00:06:51] Yeah, it’s interesting because these managers that have low levels of engagement they’re not bad people. They’re often technically brilliant. They’re very experienced in what they do. The leading cause of someone being triggered into a management position is tenure in America. So they should know the drill because they probably were doing it longer than anyone else in that team. But the challenges, the part of their portfolio, I mean manager I think is a horrible name anyway, no one wakes up and saying I can hardly wait to be managed today. But we do want to be led. So the name has a problem but what we want to do is identify for these individuals you’re not just managing a process and people you’re leading them and leading a process means, for example, I want to make the process better in six months than it was when I started with it.

Don: [00:07:46] But the main thing, the context we use because it E3 Solutions we don’t advocate any negative framing. We don’t advocate any negative approach to working with anyone at any level, including employees. But for that lead, when we look for example, if there are 28 questions that we ask and we look at their scores and they’re all low, that’s why we know their team is disengaged. They still have some decent scores at the top of the list. So the way I frame it for senior leaders is, this manager has strengths, those are the things at the top of their list and then they have opportunities. And, those are the things at the bottom of the list. And the right approach is to go to those managers and say, hey we’ve we’ve identified some great opportunities for you. Let’s work together on making them happen. You can’t let metrics become the enemy of the manager. They have to actually and what they really do and the way we approach it is these metrics are giving us insights and what can be done. And, again this is the result of having measured if you don’t have data about a manager you often don’t know how awful things are. There are other proxies for a bad manager. Turnover, for example, drama, moral issues in the team, quality issues in the team. We have a lot of manufacturers as clients they’re worried about scrap and redos. So these things are typically happening in teams where disengagement is high.

Kelly: [00:09:11] What’s great about this conversation is that it helps senior leaders laser in on how to fix team-based issues by looking at the manager themselves because it can feel overwhelming to look at his team and say, nobody, no other department ever wants to work with this team. There’s a problem we have to fix it and instead of having to swoop in and figure out all of the issues going on in the team specifically start at the top start with the manager and see how that impacts the rest of the team as time goes on.

Don: [00:09:43] You’ve identified one of the big myths in management today that our data tells us and that is that we have this team that’s a hundred percent disengaged for over 200 years. Management blames the employees. Oh, these slackers we need to we need to fire them and let them go because they’re underperforming, when in fact our data is really clear. The majority of disengagement, the majority of disengaged behaviors in the workplace are the result of leaders. So for example, let’s say you have 100 employees in your company we do an engagement survey and you discover you have 15 that are what we call actively disengaged, sort of the bottom of the behavioral barrel, if you will, performance barrel. You might say well if they’re actively disengaged let’s go fire those 15, and I would say well hold on their senior leader. Let’s take a look at the data first and you discover that nine of the 15 reports to three managers. So if you fire those nine, disengaged employees: what will you have next year when you measure again?

Kelly: [00:10:45] A whole new crop.

Don: [00:10:45] A whole new crop.

Kelly: [00:10:47] Which is expensive for them to go through the firing hiring process, and in this era of talent shortage it’s going to be extremely hard for them to sustain that level of turnover, when they really should be looking at the top of that team to see what they can do to make changes.

Don: [00:11:03] That’s absolutely true. We were talking about proxies if you don’t have a tool, we’re talking about drama and waste, scrap and reduce. Check with H.R. H.R. often knows which work groups are in trouble because they’re getting so many calls. Employees are coming to see them and they’re complaining. So H.R. could be another source.

Kelly: [00:11:23] So if you’re if you’re working with a manager who is leading a disengaged team and you’re trying to identify key ways in which you can help them grow what you are essentially doing is asking them to add more things to their plate to perform, differently, to act differently, to maybe meet with you more regularly as you support them. How do we help managers who already feel busy and overwhelmed prioritize that kind of engagement that kind of shift in their behavior?

Don: [00:11:50] Senior leaders have to let managers know that this employee engagement part of their portfolio is just as critical as production targets.

Don: [00:11:58] And, what’s often misunderstood or underappreciated is how much the two correlate. If you have a disengaged team you’re much more likely to be missing production targets and deadlines. The highly engaged teams are much more likely to be doing things on time and at a very high level. There’s simply more profitable. So this isn’t something that’s external or shouldn’t be viewed as extra, it should be viewed as absolutely crucial and essential for a manager.

Don: [00:12:28] The one thing in business, what we’ve been working on for the last 30 years, things like lean, going lean and six sigma that is, looking at processes and winnowing them down to their bare minimum. We’ve done all the cognitive process related things that we can possibly do to make the organization more productive and profitable. The untapped area, and it has huge potential, is human behavior. And the level of effort that employees bring when they come to work and that is virtually untapped in business today. And there’s all kinds of latent profitability in that operation.

Kelly: [00:13:10] So if you are working with a manager strategically to help them improve engagement in their team by giving them better behavioral skills to lead, when are they going to start seeing the impact of that effort?

Don: [00:13:23] Well it’s interesting, employees will sense the change immediately, they just won’t trust it right away. So, I think it was in our previous podcast we were talking about authenticity and how are new and changed behaviors of a leader going to be seen as authentic. It really comes down to being predictable and consistent. So if a leader does something and takes a different approach, as we would advocate, employees will sense it right away. They may not believe it’s the new leader for six, 12 or even 18 months depending on how deeply embedded the cynicism or the challenge was before him.

Kelly: [00:14:03] If we’re thinking about senior leaders as the role models for how this plays out that they are the ones who have to lead highly engaged teams as their direct reports, how do we work with those senior leaders in terms of recognition, validation, feedback as they’re giving it to their direct managers so those managers can then pass that along?

Don: [00:14:27] Well, what you’ve identified is the need and the benefit of modeling. So, we’re asking managers to do something new that they often that they haven’t done before. So where are they going to get that experience? Where are they going to build that neurological muscle memory of having it done? And that’s going to be when the senior leadership team does it to their direct reports. This should start at the top. The CEO needs to do it with the senior leadership team the senior leadership team needs to start modeling it for the people that report to them. Very difficult to ask managers to do things below them that aren’t done above them.

Kelly: [00:15:04] So I know this has happened in the past. Talk about what you do or how you work with leaders who have managers that are just not improving. They’re just not getting better and changes need to be made. How do you have that conversation?

Don: [00:15:19] Well, it’s often a tough conversation and it’s often when you discover that someone shouldn’t be a manager. There are many people that have the title that have really have no background and capability to do it well. One of the places we start is we talk about their impact on the team and team performance. They’re often very focused on team performance. They’re often very transactional, they’re watching the numbers and the throughput and they’re even micromanaging to make sure that everything gets done every day. We start to make the connection between when you do this do you realize that this is the impact on the team. And when they don’t care about that, when they say, for example, well, yeah I don’t know what their problem is, they need to realize this is work. This isn’t a playground. They need to get here and they need to get these things done. In other words, the manager doesn’t care about them as people or the quality of the culture of the team interaction. That’s someone that’s probably not ever going to be successful as a manager at least not in the future of work that we’re inventing right now, where when employees have toxic managers that are unrelational and don’t connect with them, they move on.

Kelly: [00:16:31] Right. So many of our managers as you have said before and today do move into that role because they have been there the longest. They know that job the best. How do we help promote the new managers that are going to fill those, now no longer managers, roles in a way that gives us the kind of leader who is going to lead a team in a really relational way?

Kelly: [00:16:58] What are we looking for and new leaders instead of tenure?

Don: [00:17:01] Yeah, well we should look at their capacity to interact with other people with healthy relationships and healthy relational ways. Most of the employee engagement survey tools that are out there are actually employee satisfaction tools, and they ask employees how satisfied or happy they are with this multitude of things. We don’t ask any of those questions because we want to know what is your felt experience of coming to work every day especially for this person you report to. And it’s that experience that determines whether or not they will be happy and satisfied over the long term. So we don’t ask employees to self-report on an attitude. We’re asking employees what are the quality of the relationships around you with your manager with your co-workers with the culture as a whole? That’s far more important.

Kelly: [00:17:56] It feels to me like there’s no one that needs more support in an organization than those essentially those middle managers those people who are not quite at the top setting the strategy and the vision but they’re leading a team of people and they need senior leaders to walk alongside of them to support them and help them lead highly engaged teams every day. The work that you’re doing with our CEOs and C-Suite numbers all across America is so important. I’m really grateful for what you’re doing for them.

Don: [00:18:24] You raise an interesting point because when we talk a lot about the need for validation, recognition and feedback it’s typically when we look at our global data the lowest scores. But you’re absolutely right. Sometimes the most isolated and employees in an organization are leaders and this middle management area because there aren’t enough literally there aren’t enough seats above them people to give them the kind of recognition that they deserve for everything they do every day. And one of the things we encourage managers to do, in our bootcamp for managers, is we need to start giving recognition peer-to-peer. We need to start doing this for each other because there just aren’t enough people above us to rain down on us the kind of recognition and validation that we deserve.

Kelly: [00:19:09] And as that becomes the cultural norm in the organization, the culture improves. Managers lives improve and thus their team lives improve.

Don: [00:19:17] When managers feel less alone and less isolated in their work they perform better and they perform better specifically in relationship to their team.

Kelly: [00:19:26] Great take care of our managers. Absolutely. Thank you, Don.

Don: [00:19:29] You’re welcome Kelly.

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