New Research Reveals Managers Hold the Key to High-Performing Teams

Why can’t we crack the code on building high-performing cultures that employees love? Today’s decade-low employee engagement numbers signal we haven’t figured it out, which Gallup estimates is costing U.S. businesses $550 billion annually in lost productivity.

We’ve seen headlines like these for a while now, so Bonusly partnered with Lighthouse Research and Advisory to get to the bottom of why engagement numbers continue to remain dismal, and what to actively do about it.

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After surveying over 2,000 employees and employers, our findings showed that employee engagement hinges on managers. When armed with the right training, tools, and insights, managers can unlock employee engagement and performance, yielding tangible improvements to the bottom line. 

Here are some key stats:

  • Supportive managers can more than double employee retention
  • Employees who receive regular appreciation are 5x more likely to be highly engaged
  • Employees working in a functional, supportive culture are 3x more likely to be more productive and satisfied at work

The only problem? Gallup recently reported that 4 in 10 managers acknowledge they are not experts in engaging their teams and driving performance. So now we’re left with another question: how do we develop our managers?

Let’s take a closer look at the data from our survey to uncover where our managers are falling short, and how HR leaders can empower them to elevate employee engagement and performance. 

The Link Between Supportive Managers and Employee Engagement

The antidote for disengaged employees? Employees shared that these three practices had the biggest impact on improving their engagement and experience:

  • Manager one-on-ones and check-ins (28%)
  • Recognition and rewards (25%)
  • Performance management (24%)

These practices are directly linked to how managers connect, collaborate, and celebrate the successes of their people. Manager support is essential in determining whether people stay or leave a job. Moreover, the report uncovered that having a supportive manager also impacts:

 Workplace flexibility and work/life balance

  • Appreciation and recognition of a job well done
  • Clear goal-setting and communication
  • Creating an inclusive team environment

So, how can organizations empower managers to support employee engagement and performance?

Replacing the Traditional Approach to Performance Management

Traditional performance management relies on the annual review: an arduous, lengthy, and significant lift centered around process, not people. These highly subjective reviews can be stressful for employees, as they focus on past mistakes instead of future growth. They often lack clear objectives, leaving employees confused about how their work ties to the company’s goals. 

For managers, the annual review process is time-consuming and burdensome. Because it is not built organically into their days, it takes them away from other responsibilities, leading to rushed evaluations.

Recognizing that traditional performance management does more harm than good, savvy organizations are turning to a transformational approach that enables managers to do their best work and unleash their teams’ performance. Performance enablement solutions recognize employees’ accomplishments, align individuals to company goals, enable consistent feedback, and equip managers with tools and information to unlock the full potential of their teams. 

A data-driven practice focused on people, performance enablement involves delivering timely, constructive, and organic feedback from peers, direct reports, and cross-functional team members. Managers receive exclusive, real-time feedback on how their teams connect and collaborate, and can leverage this data to cultivate a vibrant, effective team culture. 

 Supporting Managers with Training and Tools to Enable Performance 

Managers who said their company didn’t use up-to-date tools and technology to support them on the job were nearly twice as likely to say the company’s culture prevents them from doing their best work. On the other hand, managers who said their company offered technology that supported their performance were 37% more likely to understand their job expectations and responsibilities.

Training is key to optimizing performance enablement solutions. Rather than throwing another tech tool at managers and employees, organizations need to build in time to train their workforce in how to leverage the tools efficiently and effectively. This also includes people skills, like how to give effective feedback and use radical candor when having difficult conversations. 

When managers are empowered to build meaningful relationships with their teams and enable— not manage—performance, the result is a high-performing organization, the key to business success. 

Developing Exceptional Managers

We know that engagement matters. When employees are engaged, they do better. This rolls up to increased retention, higher customer satisfaction, and improved company performance, with research showing that increased employee engagement leads to higher earnings per share

Effective managers drive engagement, and HR teams play a fundamental role in developing exceptional managers who can bring out the best in their organization’s greatest asset: their people.

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