The Rant: Employee engagement needs managerial engagement

By Scot Herrick | Cube Rules Commentary

Aug 31

What’s a manager to do?

As it relates to Cubicle Warriors, it seems to me the answers are straightforward:

  • Understand the Cubicle Warrior’s strengths when it comes to the job
  • Assign tasks and projects to the Cubicle Warrior that uses those strengths
  • Support the Cubicle Warrior by removing roadblocks
  • Provide organizational guidance to the Cubicle Warrior so that he or she understands the corporate culture and understands the direction of the department/company.

Yes, the manager is to know all regarding policies, procedures, HR — bomb threats — but at the essence, a manager should know his or her people and how to support them.

Why is this so hard?

I was talking to a friend of mine and I made some comment about managers and you know what the response was? “At least you have a manager. I have one and I haven’t talked to (the manager) for two months.”

Two months.

Think about that.

Have we gotten so organizational flattened that we don’t have a manager talk to their direct report for two months?

Have we given managers so many front-line tasks that there is no time or energy to actually manage employees?

Do managers think that because Cubicle Warriors are usually self-managing that they don’t need to even talk with them about what they are doing?

There are plenty of complaints about managers talking with you — but not listening, of course. But not even bothering to talk with you?

Engagement needs…Engagement

Rather than just bitch about this, it’s useful to understand an example of what a good manager does to actually support the employee.

We all talk about onboarding — but most onboarding is simply figuring out benefits, going down a checklist…and never engaging the employee about the checklist.

But check out this onboarding:

  • The manager takes you in the office (or conference room) and starts to work the white board.
  • The manager covers the department being managed.
  • The manager goes through each of the people in the department and explains what that person does — and also what that person is really good at doing.
  • The manager talks through what the department does, what the goals are for the year, how you can help meet those goals.
  • The manager then talks about where the department fits in the organization.
  • The manager explains what the other departments under the common VP do in relation to what your department does.
  • The manager then covers what the other divisions in the company do and generally what their goals are to achieve.
  • The manager explains how your department supports other departments and how others support your department (who are your customers and suppliers).

A spiel that takes about four hours. And you take furious notes, don’t understand most of it, but now you have a baseline in which you can go back and talk to the manager until it makes sense. And you do go back and talk about those notes and relationships and pretty soon you have a pretty good understanding of how things work in the company and the rules of the road (culture) to get things done.

In the meantime, the manager is figuring out your strengths based on the conversations you’re having. Then starts giving you tasks and see what you do with them. Then starts focusing on certain areas and fewer other areas until you bring your unique set of skills to help achieve the department goals with the rest of the team.

This is a real example — the manager who did this was my manager. The sad news is this: it’s never happened since.

The high price of self-management and management neglect

Just as consumers have had to grow accustomed to self-service (try and get ahold of support at Google, LOL), we’ve had to become self-service learners of our company, the culture, the departments. We don’t get much guidance in our jobs any more — and that’s experience talking, not stats, so it’s not like I can point to links.

But I think it is fair to say that for people working in cubicles, management’s pretty far away. Managers may understand our jobs, may understand demand management, and may be plugged into a lot. But engaged with you?

If not, you can believe your employee is not engaged with the manager, the department, or the company.

For all the corporate speak about the importance of people doing the work, my friend’s manager not talking to employees for two months betrays that corporate value on every level. There is a lot of risk there for great employees leaving for the lack of engagement and showing they don’t care about the person who is doing work to meet the manager’s goals.

Cubicle Warriors – just like everyone else — need the feedback, the guidance, and the assurance that what they are doing matters.

And don’t even get me started on how a manager like that can even think to write a performance review that involves salary, bonus or promotion. Just don’t even go there.

No manager is perfect

There are great managers and crappy managers. Just like there are great employees — Cubicle Warriors — and crappy employees. No one is perfect, including Cubicle Warriors.

But if your manager isn’t paying any attention to you or the rest of the people in your department, then I’d posit that manager doesn’t care about your work. Doesn’t appreciate your schedule. Can’t possibly rate and rank you on a performance review. And if you’re a Cubicle Warrior, is betting on your willingness to stay based on everything else but the manager.

I have this thing about knowing how long a job will last — and periodically reviewing that to ensure nothing has changed. (Also, it is a bonus item when you sign up for my newsletter – the questions to ask yourself and track over time to see if you need to change positions).

If you have a manager ignoring you and your work, you need to be looking at how long the job will last. You can quickly lose your job skills, get assigned the wrong kind of work, and have performance reviews that impact your family’s income and security.

Cubicle Warriors figure this out. And leave.

Follow

About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.