Management by Coaching
How motivated and engaged are your people?
A high level of engagement is of prime importance for an agency's financial success
By Kimberly Paterson, CEC
It is 9:00 o'clock on a Monday morning—time for the staff
meeting. You are rolling out a new incentive geared to rev up the troops and
jumpstart lagging new business sales. You're looking for interest, energy and
enthusiasm. But all you see are some polite nods of agreement, several people
sneaking glances at their iPhones and others who look like they just want the
meeting to be over so they can get back to their offices and process the work
on their desks.
You wonder. Do you have the right people? Are you attracting the
best talent you can? Do you offer the right incentives? Are you giving people
the support they need to deliver the high level of performance you expect?
If you want a reality check on how effective you are at managing
the people component of your business, take a close look at your business's
level of employee engagement.
If you are like many professional insurance organizations, you
periodically measure employee satisfaction. Employee satisfaction doesn't
equate to employee engagement. Employee satisfaction surveys measure only the
employee's satisfaction in coming to work every day. Let's be honest: Many
employees are quite content to come to work and surf the Web, which is a far
cry from the level of engagement most leaders expect.
Employee engagement is your people's level of commitment to their
work, their team and your business. Engaged employees are easy to spot. They
consistently demonstrate three specific behaviors:
Praise—They are quick to tell
their friends and family and people they meet how great it is to work for your
business. As a result, they build your brand in the marketplace and bring you
new customers as well as potential employees.
Persist—They persist with their
work even when times are tough and the work is difficult.
Perform—They willingly and
consistently go above and beyond what is expected of them.
Employee engagement and the bottom line
If you think that employee engagement is a soft subject in tough
business times like these, think again. The financial impact of employee engagement
is significant. According to global research conducted by management guru Tom
Peters, 30% of an organization's performance is driven by employee
engagement—making it more important to your success than your strategy or
technology. According to the Gallup organization, which has been tracking
employee engagement for the past 30 years, research shows that companies with
the highest levels of engagement enjoy earnings per share that are 3.9 times
greater than companies with low levels.
Employee engagement is especially critical in a competitive and
mature industry like insurance where there is little product differentiation
from one company to another. The spirit, dedication and energy of your people
are likely your only sustainable competitive advantage.
Despite the importance of employee engagement, the most current
research shows that only one third of workers are engaged. Continued cost
cutting, staff reductions, economic uncertainty and the pressure to "do more
with less" are taking their toll on employee morale and loyalty. With the
current job market, disengaged people are inclined to stay in their jobs no
matter how dissatisfied they may be. They may be showing up for work most days,
but little heart or effort goes into the job.
The key to lighting the fire
Employee engagement is an outgrowth of motivation. The more
motivating employees' work environment is to them, the higher their level of
engagement will be. The key components in a motivating work environment are 1)
doing enough day-to-day activities that you enjoy, 2) working for a boss with a
leadership style you respond to, 3) being part of a team you like working with
and 4) being part of an organization you like working for.
What is important to understand is that one person's ideal
working environment is another person's nightmare. For example, some people
thrive in a fast-paced, demanding environment, while others crumble under the
pressure. Some people need freedom and flexibility to do their best work;
others want structure. When it comes to a motivating work environment, one size
does not fit all.
Consider the case of Carole, a seasoned manager in a large agency
in the Southwest. During coaching, Carole appeared to be a congenial,
experienced, and caring leader. Half of her team was performing well and the
other half was not meeting the agency's expectations. My one-on-one interviews
with her team quickly revealed that the good performers thought Carole was a
great leader and the under-performers believed she was a poor manager.
The good performers, who were longstanding members of the agency,
appreciated Carole's clear direction, well-defined departmental processes and
procedures and her high level of day-to-day interaction. The under-performers,
all under age 32, wanted more input on processes and procedures and more
flexibility in terms of how they got their work done. They perceived Carole as
too controlling, stifling their creativity and unwilling to respect their
abilities. As a result, they lost interest.
Research shows that a boss accounts for 53% of a person's level
of engagement. The problem is that most frontline managers have little training
in how to manage. In fact, many people at the supervisory level have no
management training at all. Often the most technically competent or hardworking
people are chosen to be supervisors without any meaningful assessment of their
It can be tough for agency principals to provide the on-the-job
training that frontline managers need in order to be effective in their jobs.
That's because the characteristics required to be an effective agency CEO are
very different. CEOs tend to be skilled at organizing, initiating and setting
direction. Good frontline managers need to be people-centric. That means being
highly sensitive to the needs of others, supportive and helpful to their people
and more of a coach than a director.
Supervisors promoted from the agency ranks often face conflicting
demands and loyalties. Before being promoted they were one of the group. They
typically socialized with their co-workers off the job. Their group gave them a
sense of identity and belonging. When they are promoted, they can no longer
enjoy that same relationship with co-workers. They are stuck in the
middle—no longer one of the group and not part of senior
management/agency ownership. In a small business they lack the peer group and role
models they would have in a larger organization.
What you can do to increase employee engagement
Start by assessing your employees' current
level of engagement. Relying on your gut instinct, place each of your
employees in one of the following categories:
• Engaged—Employee works with passion, feels a profound
connection to the company, drives innovation and moves the organization
• Nearly engaged—Employee works diligently to get things
done and do what is expected. May put extra time and energy into things when
necessary, but not willingly or with passion.
• Not engaged—Employee is essentially "checked out,"
sleepwalking through the workday, putting time but not energy or passion into
his or her work. Getting the employee to go above and beyond is difficult.
• Actively disengaged—Employee isn't happy at work and is
busy acting out that unhappiness. Each day this worker undermines what engaged
Are enough of your people in the engaged column? Can you achieve
the results you want with your current level of employee engagement? If you
have any doubts, consider an employee engagement survey. There are inexpensive
tools available to help you do this.
Conduct "stay interviews." Many
companies hold exit interviews when employees leave the organization. Instead,
I recommend focusing on what will make employees stay in the job and achieve
their full potential. As part of annual performance reviews, take the time to
talk about what motivates your employees. For example, what would they like to
do "more of" and "less of" in their jobs? In terms of leadership style, what
would they like to see "more of" and "less of" from their boss? The more you
can align the work responsibilities and the managers' leadership styles with
the individual employees', the more engaged they will become. Keep in mind that
research consistently shows that money is not the universal motivator business
thinks it is. There are tools available to help you assess what personally
motivates individuals on your staff.
Make sure your frontline managers get the
feedback and coaching they need to be effective leaders. 360-degree
feedback assessments can be an extremely effective tool in helping managers
understand how they are viewed by their people and what they need to do to be
more effective in leading. Coaching plays a critical role in helping managers
to make needed improvements and perform up to their potential.
Give careful consideration to "fit" when you
hire. Will a potential candidate fit within your environment? Will he or
she be a good fit with the department manager? A candidate may have the right
skills and experience and yet be a bad fit for your organization. For example,
if you are a perfectionist with a tendency to micro-manage, a producer who is a
free spirit and lax on paperwork will be a constant source of friction, no
matter how stellar a salesperson he is. In the search for great talent, people
often minimize the importance of compatibility, and in the end it usually comes
back to haunt them.
Engaging employees isn't rocket science. It comes down to
something that we intuitively know is true. People perform at their best when
they are in an environment that reflects their values and style, doing work
they enjoy with people they like and respect. Knowing what that looks like for
each individual and consistently delivering it is the key to effective
motivation. Motivated employees are engaged employees. That high level of
engagement will translate to increased growth and profitability.
Kimberly Paterson is a Business and Certified Energy
Leadership Coach. She is president of CIM (www.cim-co.com) where she works with
insurance organizations to build the leadership skills to energize people and
achieve outstanding results. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.