The Tip of the Engagement Spear

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BlessingWhite’s Employee Engagement Research Update has recently been released.  It’s an update to their massive research published in 2011. Measuring engagement is tricky – from gaining consensus on terms and definitions, to crafting survey questions that generate useful answers, to identifying key findings, to agreeing on recommendations – it’s all very tricky.

BlessingWhite does a good job managing the trickiness.  But truthfully, there’s not a lot of difference in engagement scores globally since their 2011 findings.

Here’s what caught my attention, though, as it did 2 years ago, as I read through the report:  a greater percentage of the workforce trust their managers more than they trust the executives in their organizations.

This makes sense, right? Managers have day-to-day interaction with their colleagues and can get to know them in personal ways. Executives, on the other hand, rarely have one-to-one interaction with the majority of the employees their organization. And the survey results show the difference in trust levels.

I trust my manager BW 2013

I trust senior leaders BW 2013

It’s a good thing that employees in North America trust their managers more than they trust their senior leaders because there’s a high correlation between engagement and trust in managers. Or maybe it’s the other way around.  Either way, BlessingWhite points out that while engaged employees have other factors that motivate them – like interesting work, a sense of contribution and career aspirations – less-engaged employees are far more dependent on knowing their manager personally to reach higher levels of engagement.

This makes managers the tip of the engagement spear. And why we spend so much time focused on managerial effectiveness in almost every category of performance.

Not so with senior leaders, which is understandable because they don’t have the ability to interact personally with every employee, as BlessingWhite points out.  But they do have the responsibility to set the direction of the culture, communicate that direction with a “clear line-of-sight” throughout the organization, and create a culture that fuels engagement and business results. In other words, set the managers up for success in engaging their teams in more personal ways.

The CASE model, reviewed briefly at the end of the report, focuses senior leaders to fulfill four key workforce needs in building and leading their cultures:

  • Community for a sense of belonging and purpose
  • Authenticity  as a basis for trust and inspiration
  • Significance to recognize individuals’ contributions
  • Excitement to constantly encourage – and raise the bar on – high performance

It’s a good message for executives. It’s a great message for managers. It’s a call-to-action message for HR to know how to help executives drive performance and grow their culture while supporting managers to make more personal connections.

Engagement isn’t the answer to every organizational challenge. But it does seem clear that highly engaged workplaces are more productive than less engaged workforces. And almost every organizational challenge I can think of gets solved more effectively and faster with an engaged workforce working the solution and being led by managers who are personally leading the way.



Filed under BlessingWhite, China Gorman, Connecting Dots, Data Point Tuesday, Engagement, HR Data, Managerial Effectiveness, Workforce Management

8 responses to “The Tip of the Engagement Spear

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  6. Great post China. One thing I would put out there for consideration and thought…

    I agree that managers are the “tip of the spear” when it comes to engagement since most employees judge their company by the quality of their manager and Gallup has been saying it for years – “people join companies and leave managers.”

    But here’s something to think about …. Senior leadership is someone’s manager. Line Managers are someone’s employee. Who is REALLY the tip of the spear? The line manager – the lowest level supervisor? Or the top manager (ie: CEO, CXO, etc.)?

    A fish stinks from the head down and if we’re going to place the responsibility (and the blame) for employee engagement let’s at least place it at the feet of the “first” manager in the cascade. Too often we give those folks a pass because they are too busy, too important, too absent to be managers. Senior leadership has a responsibility to worry about engagement as much as line managers do.

    That … IMHO is the real tip of the spear.

    • Hi Paul,

      You are absolutely right. Executives have an important role to play in building a culture of engagement across the enterprise. Their role is different from that of managers but equally important.
      At the same time, an Executive is both a manager to their direct reports and an individual who needs to understand what keeps them personally engaged. We often tell executives that “One dead battery can’t jumpstart another” – meaning that engagement cannot be delegated, not is it the accountability of front-line managers alone.
      If this is a topic of interest, there is a book that details the strategies for driving engagement at all three levels – it is a companion to the ongoing research reports we have publshed. See:



    • I couldn’t agree with you more. This is a topic for another post, though. Senior leaders should be the tip of the spear but they clearly are not. That’s a huge opportunity that most organizations miss.

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