the ceo magazine, employee engagement,
William Dann, Founder & President, Professional Growth Systems, LLC,

Popular organizational development literature is filled with articles about how the millennial generation is compelling managers and theorists to re-examine management practices. 

Annual Gallup surveys have consistently shown that only one-third of workers are “engaged in their jobs.”  Gallup defines engaged employees as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace.” The same surveys find that 20% of workers are highly committed and 60% are somewhat committed.

Millennials tend to be highly committed if their work has a sense of purpose that benefits society and if they are granted the opportunity to achieve mastery.  Research by The Intelligence Group found that 72% of millennials want to be their own bosses and 79% want their bosses to be mentors and coaches.

As millennials populate organizations, the need to shift how we manage mounts.  Gallup found that “managers account for 70% of variance in employee engagement”.

From Overseer to Partner

Supervision was originally conceived as fulfilling a role of director, overseer, and judge.  But these roles not only lack value for most of today’s workforce – they can also erode performance.  We need to re-define the purpose of supervision from overseer to that of partner in performance.  Gallup found that “employees who feel as though their manager is invested in them as people are more likely to be engaged.” The research seems clear that this shift will lead to moving the 60% somewhat committed into the highly committed group.

Needed Shifts

1. Abandon the Annual Performance Review

The most important change is to abandon the annual evaluation as it is practiced.  Gallup found that this practice feels “forced and superficial” to many. This is especially the case when expectations are not crystal clear.  Recently, Deloitte, Accenture, GE, and Adobe have all abandoned the annual performance review.

2. Set Clear Expectations

In the Gallup Q12 survey, it was “discovered that clarity of expectations is perhaps the most basic of employee needs and is vital to performance”.  This means that supervisors clarify their own definition of desired results and the standards for those results.  This information is rarely found in a job description and even when it is, the supervisor’s priorities and concerns remain unknown.

3. Set Performance Goals

Work with employees to help them set performance goals that are the basis for future conversations about performance. These goals replace the arbitrary questions/categories of performance that are applied to all employees in the annual performance review.

4. Ongoing Communications

Gallup found that engagement is highest among employees who “have some form (face to face, phone, or digital) of daily communication with managers”.  Ken Blanchard, author of the One Minute Manager, now recommends 15 minute conversations on any topic of the employee’s choosing on a monthly basis. I recommend a formal conversation on a quarterly basis that focuses on 90-day goal setting, 7 questions regarding performance of supervisor, and a series of questions regarding whether conditions are in place to motivate employees to “stay”.

5. Evaluate Your Performance with Employee

Effective partnerships in life are built on periodic evaluations of whether each partner is doing their part and meeting the needs of the other.  In this new role as partner vs. overseer, supervisors must periodically check in on how they are performing.  I’ve developed a process for how to introduce and to execute such a conversation.  It centers on a 7 Question checklist on supervision performance.  The checklist arose out of a realization early in my career that it was my failure to deliver what was needed that resulted in underperformance/failure of some that I supervised.  The checklist became my insurance that I not repeat those lapses. 

Making These Changes

Implementing these changes will not be easy.  Existing supervisors may feel uncomfortable, and even vulnerable.  The same will be true for employees who fear being truthful about the shortcomings of their supervisors.

Such a fundamental culture shift must be planned and include training as well as support for all engaged in the change.   But evidence is overwhelming regarding the potential positive impact upon performance.

About the Author

William Dann is founder and president of Professional Growth Systems, LLC, (Anchorage, AK) and author of CREATING HIGH PERFORMERS:  7 Questions To Ask Your Direct Reports

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