9 essential traits of effective managers (and how HR can help)
To roll out an employee experience (EX) initiative is to fully appreciate the impact people leaders have in your organization. Not only are managers the “boots on the ground” of any EX plan, but they’re shaping company culture every day as they interact with and coach their teams.
Unfortunately, many managers feel ill-equipped to be truly successful in their role. And as one of the most powerful pieces of the EX puzzle — and because they’re employees themselves — people leaders need HR’s support to enable and equip managers to lead and influence.
What should that support look like? Where should you focus? We’ve uncovered the manager qualities that have the biggest impact on employee experience. Cultivating these behaviors in your people leaders has a positive domino effect on the whole organization:
- it helps managers be more effective
- it helps employees feel valued and heard
- it helps leaders drive a better employee experience
- it helps company leadership drive business results
Here’s what to know.
Essential Behaviors of Effective Managers
The most successful leaders get high marks from employees in the following areas:
A manager’s ability to inspire collaboration within and across teams is critical. Not only does great collaboration lead to superior business results, it also enhances the employee experience. Improving collaboration in the workplace reduces employee turnover.
As remote, distributed workplaces become more common, communication has become an indispensable leadership skill. The best managers are pros at communication, which enables them to rally a team around a vision, while also connecting with employees individually to ensure they’re motivated and supported. On the flip side, poor communication from leadership puts the company at risk, and is a major area of self-handicapping in business.
3. Company Leadership
An employee’s experience at work is significantly impacted by their confidence in executive leadership. And while much of that trust is established by the senior leaders’ own actions, employees’ direct managers help shape these feelings too. The most effective bosses demonstrate alignment with company leadership through their decisions, voice, and actions, to inspire that confidence in their employees.
4. Customer Focus
Lots of companies pay lip service to customer focus, but top managers actively demonstrate their commitment to it, and empower their teams to proactively act on customer needs as well. This makes a big difference, as feeling part of a customer-centric company is a major driver of a positive employee experience.
5. Growth & Development
This is an obviously key quality in a manager, but certainly no less important. Great bosses invest in their employees’ careers, support their development, and offer growth opportunities — which boosts engagement, retention, and more.
Employees can only perform at their best when they feel fully welcomed, heard, and valued by their team and company. Managers play a major role in creating that sort of environment, and the most effective leaders make it a point to consistently reinforce inclusive behaviors.
7. Performance & Accountability
The best managers establish clear expectations with their employees, and ensure each knows how to meet their goals. They also demonstrate overall that the company is a place of accountability, which matters a lot to workers: In a Workplace Accountability Study, 91% of respondents ranked “improving the ability to hold others accountable in an effective way” as one of the biggest development needs for their organization’s leadership.
8. Strategic Alignment
When employees have a solid understanding of their company’s strategic direction and how their work connects to it, and to the work of other teams, performance jumps — on both an individual and business level. Today, only 7% of employees say they have that understanding; you can bet those employees have great managers.
9. Work Processes
Effective leaders work to implement efficient, well-coordinated processes for their teams to clear hurdles that might otherwise slow things down. They also invite employees to help create these workflows themselves and to experiment with new processes they feel might work better.
How HR Can Help
HR practitioners can help people leaders bolster these key leadership traits through an approach called Guided Action Planning. In the Guided Action Planning model, managers get a “double click” on their opportunity areas uncovered in employee feedback surveys. It goes beyond surfacing broad areas for improvement and offers specific actions leaders can take on the feedback they receive, and is a supportive resource along the way.
Here’s the basic idea:
- A manager learns they need to improve in one or more areas based on employee survey results
- HR partners help interpret results, identify patterns and surface the specific survey statements that got low rankings
- HR suggests specific actions — an action plan — based on the statements the manager can take to address the feedback (and improve)
For instance, here’s an example for Collaboration:
|Development Area||Statement That Got Low Rates||Best-Practice Tip|
|Collaboration||The people I work with cooperate to get the job done.||Review your team members' objectives. Think of a few ways that you can create more alignment in the goals/work of your employees.|
Guided Action Plans create a closed-loop system with employee feedback; they give every leader the intel and power to drive impact in areas employees care about most. (They also shift the dynamic from HR imposing accountability on managers — “here’s your feedback; please act on it accordingly” — to enabling that accountability.)(Don’t worry! It’s not as much work as it sounds. You just need the right tech and perhaps some best-practice content — all of which exist.)
Your managers hold so much potential to help create a better workplace, and they actively desire the backing to build and apply that potential. Focus on helping them boost these nine top leadership characteristics with guided action plans, and the whole company will feel the improvement.
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