What Impact do First-Line Leaders have on Employee Engagement?

Throughout the years, one theme has remained constant across all industries: employee engagement resonates. In fact, the results are alarming – 53% of respondents in our recent survey indicated this was a top concern.

AchieveForum’s research shows there are five key motivational factors that drive a workforce, and most people have one or two dominant needs. The five needs are:

  • Accomplishment – “I am productive”
  • Recognition – “I am valued”
  • Enjoyment – “I enjoy my work”
  • Belonging – “I belong here”
  • Advancement – “I’m getting ahead”

It should come as no surprise that first-line leaders (overseeing  approximately 80% of the workforce) play a significant part in employing these motivators to get the most out of their people. This insight has led many of our clients to pose the following question: where do first-line leaders play their part?

One possible solution lies in AchieveForum’s research on this subject, alongside key findings in Jim Collins’ recent work Good to Great. In the latter work, Jim Collins shares key data that highlights how truly great companies embrace challenge by fostering an entrepreneurial, ‘go-getter’ attitude within the workplace. In one example, Kimberly Clark was able to thrive not because its people feared P&G, but rather because they welcomed the opportunity to challenge such a market leader.

Supporting this insight, it is clear that first-line leaders are instrumental in channeling such spirit in their people. Moreover, they are most effective when able to manage the tension between organizational climate and the aforementioned motivators.

This is not an easy task. It is important for first-line leaders to know when and how to challenge thought and action. It is equally important for them to know when it’s best to support an employee’s ideas and suggestions for moving forward. First-line leaders must become expert in the art of coaching. Today’s reality dictates that it may no longer be enough to serve as a teacher or mentor: in-depth questioning to uncover each employee’s feelings and personal motivators is the only tried and true method for driving behavioral change and sustaining engagement.

Coming Full Circle

I encourage every stakeholder I connect with to consider how effective their first-line leaders are in 1) motivating employees on a personal level and 2) helping them assimilate into their organization’s climate. Is there enough clarity present internally? Is there clear commitment communicated from the organization to each individual and from the employee to the organization? What standards for performance are in place? What responsibility do employees have in their own future success and is there recognition for such efforts and successes? Finally, what role does teamwork have in the workforce? Such questions have helped our clients define how effective their first-line leaders are, and concurrently represent characteristics typically present in high performing cultures. Managing the tension between these disparate forces, albeit challenging, may not be as abstract as we once thought it to be.

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