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Navigating the manager-engagement cycle

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“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t—you’re right.” – Henry Ford

When one thinks of Henry Ford, employee engagement and talent optimization are probably not the first things to come to mind. Instead, you probably think of assembly lines, factories, and crank engine cars.

While Ford was definitely a pioneer in developing low-cost, highly efficient ways to work, he was also on the progressive end of people practices for his time.

He believed in paying workers well to encourage them to stay with the company, and he was among the first employers to implement a standard five-day, 40-hour workweek. His quote represents a cornerstone of what managers need in order to be successful in taking action: belief in one’s self.

I recently read a study from the Journal of Management Development as part of a class I’m taking. The study sought to understand how manager effectiveness and self-efficacy—or belief in one’s ability to do something—were impacted by employee engagement.  The researchers theorized that the more engaged a manager’s team was, the more belief a manager would have in themselves. They believed this would also increase their effectiveness as a manager.

What they actually found was an almost a cyclical relationship. While it’s true that higher employee engagement led to higher management effectiveness, it’s also true that higher manager effectiveness led to higher engagement. The more a manager believes they have the power to make their team’s work experience as good as it can be, the more they’re rated as a highly effective manager, which consequently drives up team engagement levels.  

Here are some tips to help you feel confident in your ability to drive change:

1. Start with small, achievable goals.

One of the best ways to strengthen belief in your own skills is to accomplish something. Start with one small step towards a goal you’re working on. For example, if you need to work on communication, put a weekly team meeting on the books. Do you need to work on recognition? Work with each person on your team to understand the type of recognition that is most meaningful to them. Starting small will open the door to start having more conversations with your team – an activity that can also have a positive impact on their engagement.

2. Find a role model or mentor.

You aren’t in this alone. Any manager who’s been involved in a successful initiative within an organization has had to create plans for action at some point in their career. If you aren’t sure where to start, or if you find that a tactic you were sure would have an impact just isn’t hitting the mark, ask for some advice. Talk to your manager about things they’ve done that you found effective. Reach out to your peers to brainstorm effective actions. Draw upon your team members’ experiences, as well. Identifying another manager who was successful in implementing a similar initiative is likely to  help increase belief in yourself that you can facilitate the same kind of change.

3. Seek encouragement.

Sometimes, all you need is for someone to tell you they believe in you. Call up that person who is always in your corner. Run your ideas by them. Share your concerns. Then let them give you a pep talk. They’ve got your back, and you’ve got this.

4. Know yourself.

We all react a little differently to uncomfortable scenarios and change.  Some of us procrastinate, while others barrel ahead full throttle. Having self-awareness about how you react to potentially stressful situations plays a key role in how you execute change. Knowing yourself can help you create a plan of action you’re confident in executing, instead of adopting a plan that leverages someone else’s strengths.

Remember, your belief in yourself will help your effectiveness as a manager and make your team’s work experience the best it can be. You have the power to drive change. Whether you think you can, or think you can’t—you’re right; so best believe you can!


Lisa is the lead scientist at PI. At the 2010 Border Collie National Specialty, she and her first-ever border collie won the obedience master competition.

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