Engagement Stalled? Don’t Forget the Manager

Employee Engagement survey results are in…and let’s just say, the results are underwhelming.

The alarm bells sound – managers get signed up for training – action plans are set and targets are created. And when all is said and done, we give the front-line managers a shot in the arm before sending them out to engage the masses. 

Fast forward one year later, and the employee engagement results are the same. 

Wash, rinse repeat.

What’s the problem? Are these employees un-engageable? What went wrong?

Despite the analysis, action planning, training and target setting, we often overlook one critical fact: no one focuses on engaging the manager.

We naturally assume managers are engaged, because they’re managers. But, is that a fair assumption to make? Front-line managers often have the toughest jobs in any company:

  • They’re accountable to senior management to deliver results on time and on target, using processes and programs that are rarely well explained, documented or trained (that 15-minute webinar and a “toolkit” doesn’t count). These same processes and programs are usually created without any input from the managers responsible for delivering them.
  • They are accountable to the customer, often ending up front and center when Head Office’s processes and programs  don’t land quite as planned.
  • They’re accountable for – and to – your employees: Recruiting, on-boarding and leading them to deliver the customer experience – as well as developing talent, managing performance, leading never-ending business change and the all of challenges that come with leading teams of people. Easy peasy.
  • They often feel isolated. Front-line managers often work different shifts from their peers and their boss – sometimes in different locations. Fewer opportunities to connect mean communication breakdowns are more likely. And, with less or infrequent access to the company’s leadership, they often feel unsupported and left to the wolves.

In short, these good soldiers get it from every angle, every day.

Here’s one fact to never forget: your employees will never be more engaged than their manager.


And, if front-line managers aren’t engaged, how can they be expected to engage others?

6 Ways to Engage Your Managers.

1.  Share the big picture.

Context makes the difference. Help managers understand the “why” behind the decisions they’re being asked to carry out. Explain where the business is going, and the challenges it’s facing, and you’ll find a team of engaged managers ready, willing and able to support.

2.  Lead them through change first.

Poorly implemented business change is one of the quickest ways to disengage a workforce.

Airline safety videos advise passengers to “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others” – this analogy rings true with change. You can’t lead others through change when you’re struggling with it yourself. 

Start every change process with your managers. Help them through their individual change path before asking them to implement and lead their teams through it.

3.  Show them their path, and how they fit.

The linear job ladder is no more. Today, experiences gathered through different roles and challenges, projects and accomplishments are more valuable than someone’s past titles. Talking about how these experiences are positioning them for their next opportunity – and showing them what ones they still need to get – brings clarity and purpose to front-line managers working in the trenches day after day.

4.  Involve them in big decisions.

Front-line managers are the ones tasked with implementing decisions from above. Despite this, we often do a miserable job of involving them and gathering their feedback before making decisions. There are only upsides to involving front-line managers in the decision making process. They’re closest to customers and employees and have the best, first-hand insight one can get. Involving them gives them ownership and a vested interest in ensuring new decisions succeed.

5.  Support them through the tough stuff.

The front-line and all of the pressures and demands that come with it – can be a challenging and isolating place to be.

Show empathy and seek opportunities to support them. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard the comment “I pay managers to manage these things…” But, we all know that when something goes wrong on the front-line, the phone rings pretty quickly for an explanation. Be just as quick to provide coaching and support for the challenges the team is asking you for help with. It’s critical to keeping spirits high, and your team engaged – even during the most challenging times.

6.  Appreciate them.

Managers are human too. Like everyone else, they want to know that they contribute to the success of the business, their hard work does not go unnoticed, and that they are appreciated. Carefully chosen, well-crafted words of praise are invaluable to building their engagement, and in turn, that of your team.

Front-line managers are the most important link between the company’s vision and your customer’s experience. Before giving them that next shot in the arm as they’re sent out to “engage the masses” make sure you’ve modelled the behaviour you expect of them, with them.

How have you built management engagement?

Leave your thoughts and comments below.


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