Leaders Can Make or Break Engagement: Moving from Managing to Coaching

In Gallup’s most recent State of American Workplace Report, they indicate that only one-third of the American workforce is actively engaged in the organization that employs them.  An even more alarming result of the study found that 51% of employees are actively looking for a new job.  This means that in the average company, a significant proportion of the workforce is not only underperforming, but they are looking to leave the organization for better opportunities.  People might be quick to assume that generational differences or a lack of buy-in is to blame for the results of this report but they would be wrong. 

From a behavioral science perspective, organizations are perfect systems for producing the exact results they achieve.  This is true for business metrics and equally true for the company culture.  The processes, systems, and management practices organizations have either purposefully designed or defaulted into, create what the company culture looks, sounds and feels like.  So, why do some companies have a highly engaged workforce and others find a workforce that is unmotivated and ready to leave? The answer is in how the company attempts to motivate employee behavior.  People respond (or behave) according to the systems within which they are placed.

One important finding in the survey is that how leaders manage performance is tightly linked to how engaged the workforce will be.  The potential problem with this is that many companies fail to teach leaders how to properly influence behavior.  In some cases, people promoted to leadership positions are left with performance gaps and a reliance on how they were managed in the past, which may or may not be what motivates others to be fully engaged.  Instead, companies that want to purposefully create an engaged culture must provide leaders with the knowledge, tools and resources to be effective coaches

What does it mean to be an effective coach? Coaches are held accountable for the success of their team and therefore look to align company success with employee success.  Here are nine things leaders at all levels can do to move from managing to coaching employees:

  • Provide clear expectations of desired performance and connect that performance to organizational success
  • Ensure that organizational systems and processes are aligned with and support desired levels of performance
  • Ensure employees have the necessary tools and resources to do the job well
  • Meet employees at their current performance level and help them find ways to be successful in improving
  • Provide meaningful feedback and reinforcement for desired behaviors, daily
  • Provide helpful constructive feedback for behaviors that are getting in the way of desired behaviors
  • Create reinforcers out of natural consequences from what employees say and how they talk about things they have done
  • Ask for help in designing improvement ideas, goal setting, and identifying best practices
  • Request feedback on their coaching and help them to adjust their behavior accordingly

If organizations want an engaged workforce, leaders must be trained in understanding and applying the principles of behavioral science. Organizations must also hold them accountable for producing results the right way.  America’s workforce is telling companies what they are looking for out of their leaders.  The question is; is your organization willing to listen and do something to support its leaders in earning the trust and engagement of their employees?

Posted by Bryan Shelton

Bryan applies his knowledge and expertise in strategic planning to help organizations align employee performance with company goals. Bryan helps clients create improvement across a variety of business metrics including company growth, profitability, customer service, vision alignment, leadership development, and culture change. He also helps clients implement process improvement initiatives, improve sales results and using performance-pay systems to help drive company results. His behavior-based approaches and applications have supported clients’ improvement initiatives, leadership development, and the design and implementation of performance pay systems.