Employee Engagement Hinges on “Thinking Managers”

Why employee engagement hinges on thinking managers

When it comes to bridging the engagement gap, are your managers part of the problem or part of the solution?

If you weren’t able to attend Ann Herrmann-Nehdi’s recent HRDQ-U webinar, “Developing ‘Thinking Managers’ to Bridge the Engagement Gap,” here’s a taste of what you missed:

  • Survey after survey shows that a large portion of the workforce is either only partially engaged or totally disengaged.
  • US businesses lose $11 billion annually as a result of employee turnover.
  • Managers account for as much as 70% of variance in employee engagement scores.
  • Everyone processes information differently based on how they prefer to think, and these preferences affect what will engage them, what will frustrate them, how they prefer to get work done, and what kinds of work will inspire them to give it their all.

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Are Your Leadership Development Efforts Paying Off?

$14 billion is a high price to pay when there’s very little to show for it in return, but that’s exactly what’s happening with many organizations’ leadership development programs, according to a new McKinsey article.

How can it be that so many companies are claiming leadership development is their number one concern and priority—and they’re investing literally billions of dollars a year into improving the capabilities of their leaders—yet a large majority of these programs are ultimately failing?

The article discusses the common mistakes that are sabotaging leadership development efforts—and many tie directly to what we know about the brain.

1.       These initiatives often “rest on the assumption that one size fits all and that the same group of skills or style of leadership is appropriate regardless of strategy, organizational culture, or CEO mandate.” In other words, they overlook context, and for the brain, context is everything.

Not only do different people have different learning and thinking preferences and therefore, different motivations, perceptions and approaches to work, different objectives and business requirements depend on different kinds of thinking. There has to be alignment at every level to connect people, strategy and development.

As we’ll be discussing in upcoming white papers, a foundation in thinking gives the brain the context it needs, and it also provides us with a common framework to build alignment.

2.       The article also notes that combining the opportunity for personal reflection and growth with real work experience can aid in training transfer. The challenge, though, when integrating leadership development into real-life, on-the-job projects is making sure leaders are mentally prepared for the stretch. Their thinking preferences, their stage within the leadership pipeline, and the requirements of the project itself all play a part. It’s up to those designing the initiative to recognize this and ensure the experience is energizing and confidence building rather than draining and confidence destroying. This may require additional tools and resources to help the leader grow outside his or her thinking comfort zones.

3.       “Underestimating mindsets” is a mistake we see all too often. Most training focuses primarily on behavior change, but mindsets get in the way of change and unless addressed correctly, will stop any change from ever taking place. Put simply, you can’t change behavior for long-term results without first understanding how people think and how to overcome the brain’s resistance to change.

4.       Finally, the article mentions several good ideas for overcoming the mistake of failing to measuring results. We would add that Return on Intelligence, which encompasses Return on Investment, Return on Initiative, Return on Interaction and Return on Innovation, is the ultimate ROI.

Because $14 billion is a big number, but it’s only part of the equation. In today’s world, we’re competing on knowledge, speed, execution, the ability to collaborate and generate new ideas… that’s what we need from our new and emerging leaders, and it all starts with their thinking.

“Thinking Managers” More Critical Than Ever


In his groundbreaking book, The Creative Brain, Ned Herrmann wrote about the important move to Whole Brain® management as a necessity for business survival and success. The primarily left-mode thinking (A and B quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model) prevalent in most organizations’ leadership teams would hold them back, he warned, because:

The right brain (especially D quadrant) is the only part of our brains that deals effectively with change. As essential as left-modes are to business success, they spell slow death for a company when used without the right-brain modes…If change is constant, in order to compete effectively in a world characterized by change, business managers must function in all four of the brain’s different modes, right as well as left, upper as well as lower.

 Today, we’re seeing this play out almost to the extreme. Managers at all levels are requiring increased agility to deal with a level and pace of change, complexity and uncertainty that’s even more intense than it was when Ned first wrote about it.

 But what exactly is Whole Brain® management? Ned emphasizes that it’s not about de-emphasizing the left modes of thinking or putting the right modes into “exclusive ascendance.” It’s also not about mentally restructuring the corporation:

What I do mean is this: When designing and implementing responses to business issues and challenges, the human brain functions at its most innovative, productive best only when all four quadrants engage situationally and iteratively in the process.

 In mental terms, this means no organization that restricts its mental options to A and B quadrants alone can hope to prevail over the organization that uses A, B, C and D.

 For managers, in particular, that means realizing “that we function situationally—that we have equal access to all four [styles of thinking] so that when the situation calls for a given type of mental function, we can give it our best response.”

 Check out our recent white paper, Navigating in an Unpredictable and Complex World: Why Thinking Agility is Critical to a Manager’s Success, for tips and strategies to help today’s managers use their own—and others’— thinking in the most optimal way.

Because the more things change, the more we need Whole Brain® management!

Developing Managers? Start With Their Thinking.

“Agility” has become one of the hot buzzwords of the workplace today. As we settle in to a reality of rapid changes, continual uncertainty and new circumstances that have very little precedent and no clear-cut answers, everyone is feeling the pressure to adapt, to flex, to shift on a dime.

In many organizations, it’s the managers and emerging leaders who are on the front lines of this pressure. As Tom Davenport of Towers Watson put it, “Creating a resilient workplace that can deal with trauma and come out engaged on the other end is not a senior executive’s role. It’s a line manager’s job.”

Ultimately, managers are the ones responsible for bridging strategy and performance, for taking the organization from Point A to Point B faster and more effectively, even when it seems as though there’s always too much work and never enough time or resources to get it done.

A recent Forbes article describes agile leaders as those who can “handle any curve ball thrown their way. Leading through this new business environment requires the capability to sense and respond to changes in the business environment with actions that are focused, fast and flexible.”

The question is, are your managers up to the task? Between putting out fires and managing the daily workflow, getting people to bring their best thinking to work while optimizing communication time and managing relationships up, down and across the company, it takes a whole new level of intensity and skill to keep up.

Thinking is the catalyst for greater manager agility.

In essence, where agile managers outshine all the others is in their ability to successfully deconstruct today’s complexities to take advantage of the right resources for the job, and by doing so, get better results faster.

Our research has shown that the way people prefer to think impacts how they approach interactions, decisions, problems and every other aspect of work and management. By understanding and then optimizing their thinking for the situation, managers can increase their agility and overall effectiveness exponentially across the board.

Here are just a few questions to consider as you look at your management development activities in the context of building thinking agility.

  •  Do your managers know how to stretch beyond their thinking preferences when necessary to execute where you need to go?
  • Do they know how to leverage their own brainpower and the brainpower around them in the most efficient, optimal ways?
  • Do they understand how to best manage and allocate the thinking resources on a project or initiative?
  • Do they know how to optimize and shorten communication time, regardless of whom they are interacting with?
  • Can they quickly adapt to the communication needs of others?
  • Much of management’s focus in the past has been on individuals, but effective collaboration is becoming more important for better, faster and more innovative results. Do your managers know how to encourage collaboration, bring together the best cognitive resources for the task at hand, and participate in a collaborative way to make sure objectives are achieved?

To get the “Agile Leader’s Toolbox: 4 Key Areas to Increase Agility Through Better Thinking,” download our new white paper, Navigating in an Unpredictable and Complex World: Why Thinking Agility is Critical to a Manager’s Success.

What about you? Have you seen a need for greater agility in your own role? Is it impacting the way you approach the job?


Engage the Brains of Your High Potentials & Managers As If Your Business Depends On It (Because it Does)

High-potential leaders are critical to ensuring businesses can meet their goals now and in years to come, and that’s why one of the most pressing human resource challenges today is a lack of up-and-coming managerial talent to quickly and effectively execute on critical strategies and initiatives.

A recent PWC survey found that 50% of business leaders say their biggest challenge is recruiting and retaining high-potential middle managers. The impact, they report, is being felt across the business, from cancelled or delayed strategic initiatives to missed market opportunities and an inability to innovative effectively.

In its 2012 Talent Shortage Survey report, Manpower points out that organizations need to make some changes to turn this tide:

This lack of talent will force organizations to adopt a new mindset regarding talent development, where upskilling their existing employees and developing candidates with potential becomes the norm rather than the exception.

The question is, what’s the best way to do it, particularly when time and resources are limited?

Start with thinking.

Our research shows that thinking preferences impact the way people approach communications, problems, decisions, projects and tasks. When you align management and high-potential development with what we know about thinking and the brain, you can accelerate and optimize the performance of the “bench,” helping this essential group accomplish more today and lead the way tomorrow.

Here are just a couple of areas where a framework of thinking can help your up-and-coming leaders meet the challenges of today’s business environment:

Execution: Leaders need to quickly and efficiently move the organization from Point A to Point B, and that means knowing when and how to get work done through others and manage the thinking resources on a project. Your leaders — whether they have the title or not — need to effectively leverage their own thinking and the thinking around them to successfully execute on critical strategies.

Innovation and Problem Solving: Quickly coming up with breakthrough ideas and solutions requires leaders who can bring together and manage diverse thinking and put it to work to solve problems that may not have clear-cut answers. The most effective leaders are encouraging everyone around them to bring their best thinking to work. And they understand how to lead an effective problem-solving process so even the most complex issues are addressed quickly.

These two examples are just the tip of the iceberg. In her November 29th webinar, Building Brainpower on the Bench: Motivate and Engage the Brains of High Potentials and New Leaders, Ann Herrmann-Nehdi will show you how to incorporate a Whole Brain® Thinking framework into your HR, talent management and learning & development strategies so you can develop a strong bench with the thinking capacity to lead effectively in any situation.

What do you think? Is the leadership skills gap impacting your organization?

Manager Agility, Speed and Adaptability: The New Differentiators

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We’re living in an environment in which there always seems to be too much work and not enough time. That’s one of the reasons why agility, speed and adaptability are being touted as the new competitive advantages for organizations.

 At the level of execution in particular, agility has never been more critical to organizational success, and the responsibilities are lying squarely on the shoulders of today’s managers. Being able to move the organization from Point A to Point B quickly and effectively requires managers who can optimize communications, workflows, problem solving and performance.

Here are just a few of the areas that are requiring managers to be faster and more agile, and the potential implications for your management development plans:

Communication: Whether working across functions or with teams, direct reports, customers, colleagues or supervisors, to avoid misunderstandings that can slow down progress, managers need to be able to quickly adapt communication to the needs of others.

  • Do your new and emerging leaders know how to optimize and shorten communication time, regardless of whom they are interacting with?

Getting Things Done: Leaders need to learn how to quickly and efficiently execute on organizational initiatives, and that means knowing when and how to get work done through others and manage the thinking resources on a project.

  • Do you have the managerial talent to execute where you need to go? Do they know how to leverage their own brainpower and the brainpower around them in the most efficient, optimal ways?

Innovation and Problem Solving: Quickly coming up with breakthrough ideas and solutions requires leaders who can bring together and manage diverse thinking and put it to work to solve problems efficiently and permanently.

  • Do your emerging managers know how to encourage innovative thinking from everyone, and lead an effective problem-solving process so issues are addressed quickly and permanently?

Getting to Application Fast: Leading, whether it’s part of a person’s title or not, requires a new level of thinking agility and skill. High-potentials and emerging leaders need to expand their thinking capacity through more business-focused application of learning, and they need tools to readily apply what they learn to daily business issues.

  • Do your new and emerging managers understand the mental demands of the job and how to practically apply learning to quickly grow into leadership responsibilities? Do you have a consistent, actionable framework to enable you to align their development with overarching business strategies and initiatives?

Many companies are concerned the “bench” isn’t ready to step up to the challenge. A Right Management study found that the lack of potential leaders is the most pressing human resource challenge organizations expect to face.

Are you seeing a need for greater agility in your organization? What are you doing to make sure your new and emerging leaders are ready to take the organization where it needs to go? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Hiring Is Up, But Will Your New Hires Stay?

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Earlier this year, we talked about the challenges new hires often face when joining a company, and how organizations and their leaders can “teach culture” to ease the onboarding process.

Another new survey of 500 human resource professionals shows just how important the onboarding and employee engagement processes are — in real financial terms.

According to Allied Van Lines’ 2012 Allied Workforce Mobility Survey, employers are losing nearly a quarter of their new hires within the first year. Of those that remain, one-third fail to achieve productivity targets.

Citing an average cost of $10,731 to fill one position, and another $21,033 per new hire for relocation, the study shows how this retention and productivity problem is more than just an HR issue; it’s a bottom-line issue.

Why are new hires leaving? According to the respondents, the top three reasons are managerial relationships, job performance and career advancement opportunities.

As the economy turns around and hiring picks up, your organization may need to take a fresh look at the onboarding and employee engagement processes. So much has changed in the workplace and business environment over the past few years, yet many of our internal systems and processes haven’t kept up.

Here’s an innovative approach a pharmaceutical company we’ve worked with has taken.

While training and a strong coaching culture already existed, the company worked with its sales managers to help them better understand the mental demands of the sales rep positions they were filling as well as their own and their employees’ thinking preferences.

By mapping the job responsibilities against the thinking processes involved, and then looking at their own thinking preferences as well as the preferences of the new hires, they could not only put together a more focused, targeted development plan, they could better align their coaching to the individual.

Many of the new hires were recent college graduates. This approach didn’t just give them a faster way to learn the ropes and achieve productivity goals — although it did, reducing the average ramp-up time from two years to just seven months — it also brought them into the culture in a more significant way. They appreciated the insights they learned about thinking preferences, many commenting that they’d wished they’d known this information when they were in school.

What onboarding or retention challenges have you seen since hiring has picked back up? Have you used any Whole Brain® Thinking approaches to make the process easier and more effective?

Sales Growth: The Thought That Counts

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When it comes to sales effectiveness, are you paying attention to what really matters?

If you’re not focusing on the thinking that drives sales growth, you won’t get the best from your people and processes. It’s that simple.

How we think impacts everything we do—and the results we get. Our newest white paper will be filled with proven tips and tools based on what we know about thinking and performance to help you sell more, waste less and set your team up for success:

“We don’t have to throw out everything we’ve been doing in our sales organizations. Instead, we need to take a closer look at the engine that  drives our sales results: the brains of those who make it happen and the systems they engage to achieve those results. Too many of us are wasting time, energy and effort and risking revenue because we’ve haven’t paid attention to the core—the thinking that produces results.”

You can get your copy by attending our upcoming free webinar, Optimizing Your Sales Organization for Long-Term Growth.

Join us on September 28th for an exploration of how to apply agile thinking and a Whole Brain® approach to drive sales results, and get priority access to this new paper.

Reserve your spot today!

High-Performing Employees Are Leaving

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Are Your Managers Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?

The latest survey from Right Management reveals that three out of four organizations lost high-performing employees they did not want to lose during the past year.

 Good people will find good opportunities, even in a slow job market. The question is, what’s making them leave?

While many factors can come into play, study after study shows that one of the main reasons people leave a job is their boss. If your managers aren’t able to communicate effectively and build connections with employees, they’re helping push those top performers out the door. 

 A few questions to consider:

  • What are you doing to avoid being part of the 75% of companies that have lost top talent in the past year?
  • How are you taking care of your top people?
  • Do your managers communicate effectively with each of their direct reports? Do they have the tools and skills to engage employees in a meaningful way?
  • How are you equipping people to be better leaders and managers?

A number of leading organizations are using the Whole Brain® system to give managers an easy-to-apply, practical framework for understanding what different employees pay attention to and how they prefer to think and approach their work. Whole Brain® Thinking skills not only help managers better communicate with their employees, but they also ensure the organization is fully capitalizing on the potential of high performers.

And when top talent is engaged and able to contribute, they’re more likely to stick around than take up the next offer from the competition.

Check out our case studies to see how organizations like Cirque du Soleil, IBM, Integ and Cookie Time are making it work for them.