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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 leadership skills.

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 forward.

• 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 co-workers accomplish.

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.

The author

Kimberly Paterson is a Business and Certified Energy Leadership Coach. She is president of CIM ( where she works with insurance organizations to build the leadership skills to energize people and achieve outstanding results. She can be reached at


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