3 strategies for helping managers improve employee engagement

Engagement & Motivation
May 3, 2019

I was recently speaking with an HR director exploring ways she could better equip her managers with tools to motivate her company’s staff. Her focus on managers was interesting. She understood what a growing number of HR professionals have come to realize: The importance managers play in attracting, motivating, and retaining talent within organizations.

According to Gallup, companies stand to increase revenue per employee by as much as 59% by employing four key human capital strategies. Having a great manager accounts for nearly 50% of this potential revenue increase. Great managers have the ability to develop employees’ strengths and get the best out of each person.Speaking with Marina Byezhavova, a human resources professional in our hometown of Montreal, only reinforced this perspective further:

“I conduct culture audits of companies and I see that most hiring managers and HR professionals who are interested in a happier workforce focus a lot on work conditions, social atmosphere and team building. However, studies show that 80% of employees leave because of their managers! Happiness is important but a long-term strategy ensuring employees are loyal and content should focus on leadership training instead of the bells and whistles.”

Marina’s comments ring true for me, not only because of the various conversations I’ve had with other HR professionals and business owners alike on employee motivation, but because I’ve managed people for years. And, I have to say I think she’s right.

With that in mind, here are 3 three strategies to help your managers develop their abilities and to improve their employees’ motivation.

Train your managers to be better leaders

As Marina puts it, “bells and whistles” are nice but on their own aren’t substantial enough to develop long-term employee engagement. Rather, companies should focus on leadership training. Developing your managers’ leadership skills provides your organization with a much more robust basis for attracting, motivating, and retaining talent.

When I was first promoted to a managerial position (many years ago), I got a hearty congratulations, some coaching, and then a nasty trial by fire.

Thankfully, I soon was able to get formal leadership training. So, it wasn’t too long before I began learning about performance reviews, setting goals for my employees, managing conflict, removing barriers for my staff, leading team discussions, how to listen and resolve issues, and so much more…

I also began to learn about creating a sense of urgency and rallying my team behind a vision. But it certainly didn’t come by magic. I was coached by a mentor and participated in as much leadership development training as I could.

And while many individuals are “naturally gifted” managers, the majority of people promoted into management or leadership positions (even those ‘naturals’) would benefit from formalized training to help them understand the ins and outs of managing others.

Key areas to consider include: communication, performance management, and managing conflict.

If your organization doesn’t have formal leadership training, consider informal or formal mentoring programs where more experienced leaders can help newly minted managers navigate their first year or so in their position.

Encourage managers to use SMART goals

When I was first introduced to “S.M.A.R.T.” goals, I remember thinking the acronym sounded too clever to actually be of any use.

As it turned out, the SMART methodology for goal-setting is critical for effective performance management and a key tool for managers of all stripes. Whether the acronym itself is explicitly mentioned isn’t relevant. Employees are more motivated when the goals they are working to achieve have the following “SMART” components to them:


The SMART approach encourages managers to set goals with their staff that include a specific target or destination.


For a goal to be SMART, it must be measurable in that it can be tracked and quantified.


The SMART methodology also requires that the goal be realistically attainable within the timeframe given to the employee.


Of particular interest to me (and my personal experience), is goal-relevancy. To me, this is about linking the goal to the broader mission and vision of the organization. It helps employees understand how they’re contributing to the bigger picture.


Finally, SMART goals always have a defined timeframe for their achievement.

No manager should be without this approach or, at least, a good understanding of it.

Empower managers to recognize their staff

Recognition done well can be the secret weapon of an all-star manager. Often, however, it is left to managers to figure out how to effectively use this incredibly powerful tool.

Recognition plays into performance management, feedback, employee development, and much more. And, I think organizations are increasingly aware of the power of recognition to improve employee morale, motivation, and performance.

According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, giving your employees feedback about their “performance improvement opportunities” is fraught with the potential for error and puts people in a negative state of mind not ideal for learning and improvement.

Instead, catching an employee doing something well and taking a moment to constructively praise their accomplishment is a much more effective alternative. Instead of shoving your opinion about what they need to improve down their throat, you’re shining the spotlight on a strength they can build on and further develop.

This helps employees better understand what they did well and to build on those strengths and repeat them in the future. In this way, recognition not only serves as a powerful tool for boosting morale, but also for employee development.

I’m a big believer in these three strategies for empowering managers, especially as it relates to attracting, motivating, and retaining talent.

Uncover more ways your organization can benefit from a recognition process - book a demo with Qarrot today!
Aaron Carr