When times are tough, staff look to their managers "for direction and support." Writing for the Harvard Business Review, workplace strategist Erica Keswin shares three ways companies should invest in managers so they can play their part in boosting employee retention.
According to Georgetown University professor Ella Washington, companies need to make it clear that connecting with employees is "essential."
At General Mills, leaders have taken steps to prioritize that connection through the Engaging Leader (EL) program. According to global Chief Human Resources Officer Jacqueline Williams-Roll, the company launched the program in 2018 after asking managers: "What would it take for you to be a great leader? What do you need?" Ultimately, the managers' feedback led to the creation of the EL program.
For the program, managers learn about the company's four core values, which are:
Then, managers reflect on the values and are given "actionable steps" to implement them, Keswin writes. Managers are asked to answer the question, "How well am I doing on each of these?" In addition, they receive feedback from their direct reports.
By establishing a formal feedback relationship, the EL program improves managers' experiences and strengthens their connections with their direct reports.
"Eighty-eight percent of our people feel like they're supported by their manager," Williams-Roll said. "And it has a direct correlation with not only engagement, but retention."
Even experienced managers have struggled to manage their teams "during these chaotic times," Keswin writes. "And because employees are often promoted into managerial positions because they're good at their day jobs — not necessarily because they have the skills to coach or mentor — it's imperative that they're given the opportunity to develop those skills."
According to Joe Whittinghill, Microsoft's corporate VP of talent, learning, and insights, all of the company's roughly 220,000 employees are currently participating in a "three-hour culture conversation" in groups with the goal of re-onboarding employees into its culture.
"The key to these important conversations is that they're led by managers — not by HR — in order to create more direct, personal connections throughout the organization and provide a growth opportunity for managers," Keswin writes.
For Microsoft's "culture conversation," managers receive a facilitator's guide that highlights the importance of sharing personal stories with team members. In addition, Whittinghill has made himself available to help managers individually prepare for these conversations.
"Placing managers in the middle of these high-touch, valuable conversations allows managers at all levels to grow and develop," Keswin writes.
No matter how experienced or well-trained a manager is, they are still going to have a significant workload. "Ongoing support is essential as they keep up with continued uncertainty," Keswin writes.
Hayden Brown, CEO of Upwork, is passionate about "re-engaging and activating the managers in the business," especially with so many remote employees.
Every month, Upwork holds a Zoom meeting called One Upwork Forum. During the meeting, managers can share information about change and innovation, diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, or any struggles they are facing. The meeting is a candid, peer-to-peer gathering, but it is sponsored by a rotating company executive, "who's willing to kind of nurture and be the voice and the champion" according to Brown.
"I think that's been a really great way to drive that engagement and have that group kind of helping each other as they've gone through so much change," Brown said.
"Peer support, as opposed to top-down feedback, offers a number of benefits, including 'insight into diverse perspectives,' 'opportunities to practice new skills in a safe space,' and an 'enduring support network,'" Keswin writes. "Having managers practice their skills together is also another opportunity for professional development." (Keswin, Harvard Business Review, 12/1)
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