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As HR professionals we often hear managers discuss their desire to develop their leadership skills, and take on more senior roles within the organization. 

How can  managers expect to be the future leaders of your organization if they don’t recognize the importance of engaging and motivating employees to high performance – performance that helps the organization reach its goals?

Yet many people managers fail to see or understand their responsibility in one of the most critical leadership areas – communicating the organization’s vision to employees. Or, conveying how the work of the team supports the strategic objectives of the organization. They get lost in the tactical execution versus seeing themselves as coaches mentoring their team to success.

So how can these managers expect to be the future leaders of your organization if they don’t recognize the importance of engaging and motivating employees to high performance – performance that helps the organization reach its goals?

While there are a number of skills an effective leader must possess, there are certain foundational skills that are absolute. For a manager to develop into a leader it requires a shift in his or her mindset and behavior, where activities such as motivating and engaging employees become innate. Almost like breathing.

These are the behaviors effective leaders don’t have to think about because they know these activities deliver results:

Giving effective feedback on an ongoing basis, all year round not just at performance review timeAligning and managing employee goalsFocusing on employee development to help build organizational bench strengthRecognizing individual motivators to leverage stronger relationships with people

This transition to innate effective leadership behaviors doesn’t happen overnight. And it requires support from HR leaders in helping managers to stop focusing on the functional, and instead focus on helping your organization achieve its vision.

Here are four ways HR can support people managers develop these core skills and understand their role in motivating and engaging their teams.

Teach managers how to give regular, ongoing feedback

Ensuring managers are giving employees feedback on their performance all year round not only encourages high performance, it also increases employee engagement and retention. To be effective, feedback should ongoing, specific, timely, honest and helpful. Managers should be scheduling frequent formal and informal meetings with employees to discuss performance, check in on goals and development plans, provide coaching, etc.

If you have managers who don’t work closely enough with their employees to be able to provide this kind of regular, ongoing feedback, solicit 360 degree feedback from those who do (such as customer, peers, partners).

If your organization leverages a performance management framework, then your managers should be educated on on how to properly conduct performance reviews. Make sure they understand how to use rating scales, and the various levels of mastery to provide real differentiation in ratings and identify areas for development.

Give managers and employees annual training on how to write effective goals

Managers need to be clear about goals and expectations in support of the overriding organizational objectives. With this kind of goal alignment everyone knows exactly how they are contributing to the strategic corporate goals, and are engaged and accountable for the organization’s success.

If you want to help managers do a better job of writing and managing goals, give them the tools and resources to do so. Employees should have access to these tools and resources as well since they should participate in writing their own goals. Train them on how to write SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) and, provide examples.

Also important: managers should regularly communicate to employees the progress and status for high level organizational goals. Effective goal management ensures employees know what is expected of them and helps them find meaning and value in the work they do.

Get managers to focus on employee development

By investing in your employees’ development you communicate to them that they are valued by the organization. So tell your managers that if they want a motivated and productive team, they need to keep the team learning. Are your managers aware of the programs your organization has in place to support employee development and career progression? You may be surprised by how many managers don’t know, and therefore don’t use the tools, resources and programs at their disposal for development.

Also teach your managers the difference between training and development. Development can take many forms: mentoring, job shadowing, volunteer work, lunch and learn sessions, reading books/journals/blogs, coaching, cross-functional team assignments, etc.

Support managers in making better compensation decisions

To effectively manage compensation and rewards so they motivate high performance, managers need training on how pay affects motivation and engagement and how to use data to make informed compensation decisions. They also need to know other ways to reward high-performance all year round, and how to communicate compensation philosophy and practices of your organization.

Employees need to feel that their company rewards performance fairly and equitably so make the process consistent and transparent. That said, sometimes the recognition an employee is looking for is simply a ‘thank you’ or ‘job well done’. Verbal praise is after all, a strong motivator.

Effective employee coaching is a cornerstone of high performance

Managers need to understand they are the stewards of your organization’s talent management strategy, which doesn’t equate to a once-a-year activity, dreaded and rushed through as quickly as possible.


To help your managers develop the skills foundational to effective leadership:

Provide access to leadership training to develop your managers’ coaching skills.Provide your managers with the prerequisite tools, systems, policies, and best practices for managing feedback, evaluating employee performance, identifying potential skill, competency, and behavioral gaps that can be addressed through development planning.Give your managers resources on the link between employee engagement and improved performance.You might be interested in the Employee Engagement Center of Excellence our team just put together on this topic.

Photo credit: Halogen Software

About the author: Dominique Jones is VP of Human Resources at Halogen Software and has over 15 years experience in the talent management industry both in Europe and North America. Dominique holds an M.A. Honours degree from St. Andrews University in Scotland, as well as the Institute of Personnel and Development (IPD) certification from the United Kingdom. Through her writing, Dominique offers practical insights that help human resources professionals positively impact business performance.

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