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Engagement + performance increase with service-oriented leadership

Jeff Jokerst | Feb 27, 2018 Jeff Jokerst 02/27/18

Every manager hopes to have hard-working, passionate employees who go above and beyond expectations. That’s the dream, right? Engaged associates make a manager’s job much easier. But simply closing your eyes and making a wish for dedicated team members doesn’t cut it. Good managers know they have to actively foster clear performance expectations, step up when it matters most, work toward positive relationships with employees, and be consistent in their leadership approach. Or another way to look at it: managers who go all in get employees who go all in.

In a previous blog post, we highlighted the first step in how to be a great manager: create clarity. Now we’ll dive into step 2: serve. The serve principle is all about being aware that you are meant to assist your employees as much as possible, and understanding how to use your influence as a leader to help your employees get more done.

Here are 3 ways to incorporate service in your leadership approach, and how to create engaged employees in the process:


Conduct helpful one-on-ones

A regularly scheduled one-on-one meeting with employees is a good rule of practice and one many managers follow. But there’s more to it than simply checking in and regurgitating numbers from a scorecard. While it’s important to show data as a tangible source for areas of success and opportunities for growth, it’s the dialogue that’s most helpful. And that should start with one simple question from the manager:

“How can I help?”

Not only does this demonstrate respect, it shows employees that their manager is invested in creating a partnership. Incorporate these best practices into your one-on-ones for a more productive meeting:

  • Avoid using the meeting as an opportunity to data dump from a scorecard or system report
  • Be ready to review direct observations with the employee—something that was done well and one opportunity area
  • Focus on how you can help by asking the employee to attend the meeting with a specific topic in mind

Adopting the service mindset will help you stay focused and use the one-on-one as a chance to accelerate your team’s performance by identifying and removing barriers. Establishing this open dialogue with your employees will help them feel empowered to work with you, and proactively find ways to continue making the workplace—and themselves—better.


Get in the trenches

Picture this: it’s 8 PM on Friday at one of the most popular restaurants in the city. The place is packed—every table sat, hungry patrons on the waitlist, servers and back-of-house staff working their tails off. With the dining room and kitchen buzzing, the shift manager decides this is a fine time to head up to the office and finish some paperwork.

Sounds crazy, right? Well, this behavior is unfortunately all too common.

Good mangers are in the trenches with their employees—not hiding out in the back office. They roll up their sleeves and get to work when they’re needed most. There isn’t an “I’m above this” mentality. It’s all about the team.

SMG’s research reveals that a manager who chooses to be on the floor during the busiest times promotes higher levels of engagement. Conversely, the manager who is nowhere to be found during peak hours creates disengaged employees. SMG asked more than 40,000 associates (from restaurant and retail clients) what they value most about their leadership team, and guess what? Almost a third of the employees’ comments reveal they appreciate a manager who is “Supportive/helps out.”

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Stay positive

Let’s face it—it’s easier to point out what someone is doing wrong instead of celebrating what they are doing right. You can blame that on our hard wiring. But constant negativity takes a toll on employees, and it won’t take long for them to lose confidence, which will ultimately have an even more adverse effect on job performance.

Break the cycle by incorporating more recognition of the positive, and point out clear examples of what success looks and sounds like. In fact, make that the primary focus. A simple exercise you can do as a manager is taking a few minutes (10–15 each week), to observe the “floor” for positive behaviors—and make a point to share your positive observations with them immediately.

Harvard Business Review conducted a study and found the highest-performing work teams had more than 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction. While pointing out areas for improvement is a vital part of performance evaluation, a little goes a long way. Pepper these in, but make the main message a positive one. If you don’t believe the impact this can have, watch Steve Kerr use this best practice with one of the NBA’s star players.

Whether they know it or not, top-performing managers can be observed actively practicing a behavior change technique called Differential Reinforcement. These managers are masters at frequently and freely recognizing their team members when they have performed well, and jumping quickly (but privately) on opportunities to correctively address key poor performance issues.


A final note

It’s pretty easy to be a manager by doing the bare minimum—you could just run your reports, complete your checklist, and move on with your day without making an attempt to serve the employees who report to you. What I have outlined above is not rocket science, but it does take considerable skill and investment from managers to think of themselves as more than a “report reader.”

As a manager, you play a major role in society—studies show that an employee’s workplace perception plays a pivotal role in how they interact with their families and communities. Managers should remember they are catalysts who can have a positive impact through simple actions every day—so get to work and start serving those you lead.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post where we’ll look into the third part of the manager mantra: invest.

If you’re eager to start using some of the tactics we’ve discussed here, our workbook can help guide your efforts: “A manager’s guide to employee engagement.”


Jeff Jokerst | VP, Client Insights