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Help! My Boss is Not Engaged.

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“Help! My boss is not engaged.”
Engineer

Recently, we’ve asked the question: Who is the best person in your company to solve the employee engagement problem? And the short answer is—

The boss.

Each manager needs to be responsible for the engagement of every person on his staff. Because, as much as we all like to scream, “Bloody murder! Disengagement is killing my company!”, this is not a problem anyone can solve.

The real problem is specific and it varies person by person. It is the exact reason why employee X is not doing a good job on project Y. Is the engineer failing to release a new product because he needs more training? Or because he is not well matched to his job? Does the service rep have everything she needs to make the customer happy? Or is it an uphill battle?

It makes sense that the direct supervisor should be the first, and in some cases, the only person to know exactly what’s going on. Nine times out of ten, he is also the best person do something about it, without any further intervention. So why is this not happening in so many companies today? In your company?

Here’s a thought…

In order to catch disengagement in the act, so to speak, we cannot think of it as normal. We need to fully expect the opposite. Not just hope and bide our time until someone comes up with a magical employee engagement formula for the entire company. We need to take nothing less than consistent sincere effort and excellent results from everyone on the team, including—well, the boss.

To fully engage his team, the boss himself needs to be engaged in a couple of ways. First, as employee. The boss needs to show up for work physically and mentally to stay on top of projects and observe his people in action.

I’ve seen this every place I’ve worked: distant, unavailable management equals low engagement. I’ve even made this mistake myself. The first time Axero hired interns, I was too busy to shepherd them. The result was a complete waste of time on both sides, except that eventually I learned to be a better boss.

Second, the boss needs to engage himself as manager and coach. He needs to get things done through other people. Not by laying out every last detail for them—that would be micromanagement—but by empowering people to do what they are able to do on their own, and helping and guiding them when they reach their limits.

When managers fall short of this lofty ideal, people around them are likely to scour the Internet in search of employee engagement solutions. Just look at what I got when I asked people who were downloading 22 Ways to Boost Employee Engagement about their biggest challenge at work:

Job Title Working on Biggest challenge at Work
Setup Assistant   Overcoming micromanaging
Administration   Staff Disconnect (Managerial/ Subordinate/ Executive)
Internal Communications Manager A new intranet platform Getting managers onboard for intranet communication
PR Manager   Misused Leadership
Communications Coordinator Researching Enterprise Social Networks My boss, haha.
Internal Communications   Poor leadership
Consultant   Bad boss
Maintenance Coach   Leadership and accountability
Management Analyst   MANAGEMENT

Can you blame them?

Those who have been there know how hard it is to like your job when your boss doesn’t really care about his. Sometimes, we don’t even realize what’s wrong until we get a great boss, and the engagement issue solves itself.

So, what can you do?

Who the Hell Wants to Work for You?If you are a company, invest in training your front-line managers. Understand what makes a great boss for different kinds of employees. For example, engineers might respond to a different management style than salespeople. Two companies who seem to have done a thorough job of engaging front-line managers are Google and Motorola Solutions. I talk about both in my book, Who the Hell Wants to Work for You?.

If you are a boss, be open to the idea that you have blind spots. I cover seven most common ones in my book. I am certain that you have heard of some, if not all, common barriers to manager-employee relationships. For example, no one should be surprised to find out that employees want career support or that they do not like micromanagement.

However, well-publicized workplace issues can still be our blind spots until we learn to look back and say, “I micromanaged that project,” or “I just missed a chance to hear my employee’s dream job description.” I wrote the book, not just to point out the right and the wrong ways of managing people, but also to help managers build self-awareness.

A self-aware manager is the one people are most eager to work for. He is also the one most likely to learn from his staff and grow on the job. And the best part is that nothing engages your team like asking for their support in becoming a better boss.

Finally, if you are the one bearing the brunt of disengaged management on your shoulders, well… you are in a tough spot. That’s what all the dark office humor is for. My book has some boss-management advice for those who need it. Most importantly, learn from your boss’s mistakes and don’t repeat them when you yourself become a manager.

And then you may never need to read another piece of employee engagement advice ever again.

___

If your boss is out to lunch, then you might like my book, because it helps you boss yourself.

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Tim Eisenhauer
About Tim Eisenhauer
Tim is the author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Break Down the Invisible Barriers to Employee Engagement. He's also a co-founder and president of Axero, a technology company that makes intranet software for businesses. He's spilt insightful ink on the pages of Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur.com, and other top publications.

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