In a recent WSJ article, business writer Sam Walker presents the challenge of growing our economy “back to the glory days of 7% growth.”
He writes: “Here’s a crazy idea: What if it’s something simple? What if companies could fix the problem by hiring better middle managers?”
When I read this article, I immediately knew he was onto something. As I researched my book, “ Bring Your Human to Work,” and spoke to employees across industries, I heard over and over again how much employees want to connect with their managers. Study afterstudy shows that better managers lead to less turnover, higher engagement, and a deeper feeling of connection, which is what talent demands.
And based on everything I was seeing, hearing and reading, I was getting a strong sense that by shining a light on managers, we’d be solving a big problem. But I wasn’t 100% sure.
Now I am. As Walker writes:
“Five years ago, the Gallup organization embarked on one of the most ambitious deep dives it has ever conducted; an analysis of the future of work based on a decade of input from nearly 2 million employees and more than 300,000 business units. The results confirmed something Gallup had seen before: a company’s productivity depends, to a high degree, on the quality of its managers.”
But there’s more — something that “no one saw coming.”
What Gallup found about managers is that they don’t “just influence the results their teams achieved, they explained a full 70% of the variance. In other words, if it’s a superior team you’re after, hiring the right manager is nearly three-fourths of the battle.”
Gallup calls this finding, about the sheer impact of a manager on a company, “‘the single most profound, distinct and clarifying finding’ in its 80-year history.” Wow!
As Walker writes, “No other single factor, from compensation levels to the perception of senior leadership, even came close.” This was such big news that it nearly “blew me out of my chair,” recounted Jim Clifton, Gallup’s CEO.
Okay. Let that sink in. The biggest thing (70%!) separating your company and its optimal productivity isn’t some big scary global trend outside of your control. It’s just people — managers — and they way they treat other people.
Managers who ‘get it’ do these 3 things
And even though we often think big, complicated, expensive problems require big, complicated, expensive solutions, re-orienting managers — helping them “get it” — does not have to break the bank.
As my hero, Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, says, “It’s a way of being.”
So here are three simple and bottom line-friendly ways to help managers become managers who get it.
1. Take the values off the walls and into the halls
Managers need to know and understand a company’s values. But that’s just the beginning in today’s workplace. According to Walker, “For most workers, the real company they work for is the team they’re on.The only way to make a culture stick is to install middle managers who transfer it to their teams.” In other words, these managers need to get the values off the walls and into the halls. Managers need to model the values and show employees what they look like, sound like, and feel like — and why it matters.
Fast-growing luggage startup Away set up a Slack channel called “Team Love” to share stories about their values. On Team Love, managers and employees at any level can recognize someone for living the Away values by sharing a story about how an employee brought one of their values to life. To scale the values even more, a survey goes out each week in advance of the company’s all-hands meeting, asking for examples of “core values in action,” and each week five or six examples are shared with the whole company. The result is a living repository of values at work.
2. Take professional development personally
It makes sense if professional development seems like a nice-to-have because that’s how so many of us were raised. But go ask any millennial employee and almost 90% of them will tell you they find career growth and development opportunities important, according to a 2016 Gallup poll. Quite simply put, millennials have shown us all how important it is to grow on the job. So it’s a manager’s job to get it, and to connect their employees with the right opportunities.
Aria Finger, the dynamic CEO of DoSomething.org, asks her employees thoughtful questions like, “What’s important to you? Do you want to become a better speaker? Do you want a byline? Do you want a fellowship?” By tuning into the individual development needs of her employees, they not only feel seen and heard, but they also build critical skills that are both important to the employee and boost the bottom line. Everyone wins through Finger’s commitment, including the company. And while not everyone is born “getting it,” like I think Finger was, we can all watch and learn how to tune in and offer people on our team meaningful opportunities.
And if you’re still on the fence, consider this: LinkedIn’s 2018 Workforce Learning Report found that 93% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers.
3. Curate connection
Managers who get it see that (excuse the cheesy pun) left to our own “devices,” we just aren’t connecting. The days of company happy hours where everyone hangs out are pretty much over. Even if people show up to our scheduled bonding session, so many are in the corner on their phones that relationships aren’t built or deepened. Managers who get it know better than to leave connections to chance.
At Zendesk, a successful company that builds customer service software for giants such as Slack, they change up their happy hour by getting their execs behind the bar mixing drinks. Curating connection by “turning the tables” gets employees’ attention, and it’s a creative way to encourage employees to be present. A law firm I visited invited a reporter to come and interview the top brass to add some content to the experience of getting together.
The now-famous best friend study by Gallup didn’t find that being in proximity with others (though that’s important, too) boosted productivity at work; instead, people have to feel personally invested in their relationships to thrive.
As another of my heroes, Priya Parker, puts it, when it comes to gathering, “a category is not a purpose.” In other words, managers need to keep in mind what they’re bringing people together for, and it’s definitely not milling around together in the same room. It’s genuine connection.
I’ve seen it with my own eyes: Managers who get it will make the employee experience better, which will make them happy.
All well and good, you may say. Values, professional development, curating connections…but what’s the impact on the bottom line? “According to Gallup, the top 10% of companies, ranked by engagement, posted profit gains of 26% through the last recession compared with a 14% skid at comparable employers.
I tell audiences all over the country, from companies big and small, that becoming a human leader isn’t rocket science, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. But what have you got to lose? Managers who get it bring their human to work, which is good for people, great for business, and just might change the world.
This article first appeared on Businessinsider.com
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