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High performance cultures - Case study

The leadership challenge of this government agency was to reverse the strong negative perceptions of ‘employee engagement’ pervading across all levels of the organisation after the annual survey results showed a decline in engagement levels for the second year running.

It became clear during OB Consulting’s initial conversation with the organisation’s leaders that they had adopted a ‘shotgun approach’ to employee engagement and viewed employee engagement as something to be delegated to middle managers. Indeed, they had only just held all middle managers to account for this further decline in engagement during a one day engagement workshop.

For OB Consulting, not only had the leaders clearly failed to take personal responsibility for engagement, they also assumed middle managers as part of their job description were always engaged and would always implement or communicate enthusiastically whatever the leaders wanted.

This silent group of middle managers were arguably the most disengaged group in the organisation and so it came as no surprise that team leaders and employees viewed engagement as just another management fad doing the rounds.

OB Consulting suggested the organisation needed a more targeted approach to employee engagement, one which tailored its engagement activities to different employee groups. To kick start a ‘positive spiral of engagement’ (a phrase coined by Schaufeli, Bakker and Van Rhenen in 2009), OB Consulting focused initially on the roles of and relationship between leaders and middle managers by:

  • Designing a set of open questions for some qualitative research to establish team manager and employee views of middle managers and leaders. Importantly, the research, a series of interviews and workshops, and subsequent analysis was carried out by a highly-respected team manager supported as required by OB Consulting.
  • Group coaching of the leadership team to clarify their role in supporting managers through this process and to explore personal effectiveness (do’s and don’ts) for a number of likely scenarios during and after the forthcoming workshops.
  • Facilitating a series of workshops attended by leaders and middle managers which targeted the antecedents of middle manager engagement as established by recent academic research and the findings of the internal qualitative research i.e. the workshops needed to establish an increased sense of job control, peer and leadership support and self-efficacy in order to create a renewed climate of engagement amongst the middle manager group. To achieve this, the workshop focused on two main areas:
  • Managers first identified aspects of their job that felt within and also beyond their control, then explored how they could support each other, and finally identified the support they needed from their leaders. Leaders were available to confirm this support would be given and provided responses to issues raised by managers, in particular by clarifying how the issues related to the organisation’s mission, vision and values and setting performance and behavioural expectations of managers, supervisors and employees alike.
  • Discussions then focused on how to manage self when faced with negativity from supervisors and staff and the importance of adopting transformational leadership behaviours to enhance a state of engagement initially in self and then in others.

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