A key to engaging and employees through difficult economic times are the frontline managers who interact with, support, supervise, and are charged with developing the largest number of associates in an organization. It is at this level that the employee value proposition either springs to life or falls apart.
Tom Davenport and Stephen Harding of Towers Watson have co-authored a terrific book on the subject of energizing managers to elevate corporate performance, Manager Redefined: The Competitive Advantage in the Middle of Your Organization (Jossey-Bass, 2010). It is widely understood that the number one reason an employee leaves a company is the (poor) relationship they have with their direct supervisor or manager. A positive relationship can also be leveraged to encourage retention and engagement.
Three best-practices identified by Davenport and Harding are: First, empowering managers and employees to jointly determine how best to do their job. This approach (versus micro-managing to an array of protocols and policies) articulates trust, a presumption of competence, and a shared understanding of cultural/managerial limits around judgment. Nordstroms, Zappos and other enlightened companies are legendary examples of how to drive productivity through empowerment.
A second characteristic cited is supporting the employee to help them do their job effectively (considerations such as equipment, skills, training and other resources) along with coaching and performance metrics. The best companies (in employee engagement and performance support) will outperform lesser companies by a margin of 4:1 in terms of profit margins.
The third issue is employee resilience, or the ability of the associate to adapt and thrive in a period of change. More than simply acknowledging that change is real, high performing companies focus on training to address shifting performance needs, communications to align employee understanding of how change is impacting the company, and a focus on building cooperation and a sense of community among employees.
We have witnessed that positive change occurs as a result of alignment (creating a consistent line of sight to the future), willingness to change (key driver to commitment) as well as the ability to change (an enabler that facilitates the change process) and a set of well-defined measures that serve as guideposts along the process of change.
The bottom line: Rather than targeting the wide, diverse needs of the rank-and-file from a centralized planning perspective, it will be more effective and efficient to improve the first level supervisors and managers. Make these changes, and you are well on your way to creating a high-performing, loyal workforce.