Climate change is good for us

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Written by David Robertson on 1 July 2013 in Features

Managers’ behaviour is crucial to maintaining an engaging and productive work environment, says David Robertson

Great managers coach their team. They constantly provide formal and informal feedback, they offer direction and support, and they listen. Ultimately they engage to help employees' personal development.

As study after study shows, a more engaged workforce is a much happier and more productive one, which adds value to a business's bottom line through things like better staff retention, motivation, commitment and customer service. Take, for example, Leadership IQ's studyTalent Management in America and China1, which shows that employees who get fair, accurate and informal feedback perform 40 per cent better than those who do not.

But, despite this evidence, almost half of the employees interviewed by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, for a study carried out in 2008, claimed that their managers never, or very rarely, coached them. A third claimed their manager never, or hardly ever, bothered to even talk to them2.

The reason for this is often because managers - first-line managers in particular, who are often promoted into a role for their technical rather than leadership skills - don't know how or when to coach. They've never been trained to coach effectively or had the chance to develop these skills, often believing that coaching is a scary, mysterious and formal process when it should be a key, everyday part of managing a team.

But coaching is vital to creating a positive working 'climate' in which employees can thrive. The climate is an employee's perception of the workplace environment. It's how they feel when they are there and can greatly influence motivation and behaviour.

It's different to a company's culture, which is more about values and customs. Unlike culture, the climate of a company can be influenced and changed, and this lies mainly in the hands of the line manager or team leader.

My own company's research shows that the way a manager behaves is responsible for shaping around 70 per cent of the climate3. Do they engage with their teams? Do they provide positive feedback? Do they regularly coach individuals to help personal development? Such behaviour will greatly influence whether someone enjoys working there and, therefore, that person's overall enthusiasm and performance.

An employee that feels he is being listened to and being given time and support by their manager to grow will have a stronger bond with the company. He'll be willing to commit more time and effort to make the company successful, with 87 per cent of engaged workers less likely to leave a company than those that are disengaged4. The bad news is that only 30 per cent of staff in the companies we researched feel fully engaged5.

It again comes down to the important role of the manager and his leadership skills. By paying close attention to the climate, managers can increase the number of engaged staff and, therefore, improve the performance of their teams.

Often, managers that have little experience or training make the mistake of thinking that it's the extrinsic factors like pay and rewards that need changing to improve the climate and staff motivation and retention. These will attract people to a job but it's the intrinsic factors - such as supporting personal growth - that will build a climate in which they will want to stay working.

It's about understanding what inspires and energises each individual member of a team and then assigning them with relevant tasks. It's about being able to spot their strengths and weaknesses, listening to their concerns and ideas, and then using this information to manage them accordingly to ensure they get the most out of their job. This is how a good manager, with coaching training and experience, can help shape and build a positive working climate.

During our 30 years of research with thousands of managers in corporations worldwide, we've identified six key areas in which a manager's behaviour towards his team can greatly influence the climate and, therefore, the team's output:

  • clarity This is an employee's understanding of an organisation's goals and the requirements of his job. Ensure you meet with the members of your team to explain its performance in relation to the business objectives. Don't leave it to them to understand their role and to know how they add value because they will feel disengaged and demotivated; there's also a risk that they'll focus on low-value tasks that add little benefit to the business
  • commitment To help your team stay committed and focused to achieving its end goals, encourage members to share stories of challenging situations. This will enable them to learn from each other's experiences and feel united as a team, dedicated to working towards a common purpose
  • standards Establish challenging yet realistic goals for your team. Setting standards that are too high for the team to meet - or that are so easy they require no 'stretching' - will not be of any benefit to you, your team or the business
  • responsibility Good managers know how much responsibility an individual staff member can handle. If you want to create a climate in which employees feel that they're given the chance to develop and grow, give them the freedom to make decisions of their own. Don't always insist that you have the final say on everything affecting the team. As the saying goes, "give someone wings and they will fly. Take them away and they will stand still"
  • recognition Expecting your team to just do its job without any praise is very poor management, which will lead to a negative working environment and very disgruntled employees. If one of the team goes that extra mile or gets a great result, it's important to remember to congratulate them publicly as well as privately, to show how appreciated and valued they are. It's great motivation for the whole team as well as for the individual
  • teamwork It's important that the members of your team feel like they're working as a team - supporting one another to achieve a common goal - and not operating in isolation or in competition with each other. A manager can influence this by creating opportunities for employees to share ideas, best practices and business problems. Rewarding them for competing against each other will only create a hostile climate that drives people away.

Overall, these six areas are affected by how well and how often communications, coaching conversations, feedback and dialogue takes place, as well as by how much time is available for individuals and the team to reflect on their jobs and their own personal development.

They act as a good guide for leaders trying to manage and maintain a positive working climate. However, without a clear understanding of the state of the climate or what the company wants it to look like, it's very difficult for a manager to develop and grow an environment that will benefit the team and also deliver to the goals of the business.

It's important for senior executives to buy into climate change and assess the climate first. Only then can a manager be clear on what needs to be changed and be equipped with the tools to be able to make these changes happen.

There are four steps, also developed from our management research, which companies can follow to help them understand what needs fixing and how to fix it to create a climate of growth.

Step 1: Climate survey

This enables you to understand where you are and where you want to be. The survey reveals employees' perception of the team climate according to the six key areas of influence I outlined above, their rating on motivation and performance, and how they view their manager's approach.

The findings provide the manager with a framework for understanding performance and for coming up with the best solutions, actions and goals for moving from actual climate (as reported by the team) to desired climate (where the business and team want to be).

This survey data can also be presented to senior managers so climate change happens beyond the individual team. Executives can use this feedback to make changes to the wider business climate to ensure that the entire organisation is working towards building an environment in which managers and their teams can flourish and company goals can be met.

Step 2: Action plan

The next challenge is deciding what actions to take. Using the survey, a manager can determine the right mix of actions and its possible impact on him and his team. The action plan can then be used to test, tune and track results.

Step 3: Involvement

It's worth involving employees at this stage to create or refine the final action plan as it will help gain their commitment.

Step 4: Results

Once the action plan is put into practice, the manager starts to measure the outcome, often within 90 days of completing the climate survey. Is the organisation seeing the results expected, when they are expected?

Often measurement is done by regular reassessments of the climate and against the possible impact set out in the action plan. Over time, the team plan becomes part of the overall company operations and processes so it's part of everyday work and not 'the plan'.

These four steps to changing climate are a great transformation tool for the entire business. But the manager's behaviour towards his team - as defined by the six areas of climate change - determines whether the environment is to remain a productive one that maintains the action plan's desired results.

A manager who lacks skills in engaging and coaching staff will struggle to meet the needs of the team highlighted in the climate survey and fail to deliver the action plan's goals.

The problem is that many organisations only train and develop the coaching skills of specific management sectors, such as senior leaders or high performers, rather than offering it across all levels. According to the CIPD's research, only a third of organisations offer coaching to all employees, with just under 20 per cent reporting that coaching is only offered to high potentials6.

First-line managers are particularly influential in changing climate, as approximately 60 per cent of them directly supervise around 80 per cent of the workforce7. Yet spend on training and developing first-line leaders is much lower than it is on other managers at other levels8.

For the climate to change across the entire company and benefit the whole business - not just individual teams - all managers, no matter their rank, need to be skilled coaches; they need to know how to engage and develop their teams in a way that gets the best out of them.

Furthermore, teaching someone to be a good coach and people motivator isn't something that's achieved through a single classroom event. It requires continuous professional development through regular training events and refresher courses to ensure skills are maintained, a positive climate is sustained and teams continue to deliver the best results for the business and themselves.

The key is to build a 'coaching culture' so managers have the confidence to use these skills every day to develop their teams, as well as encouraging future leaders to adopt and implement coaching techniques both internally and externally, to get the best out of customers.

Climate change doesn't happen overnight. It needs researching and it needs managers to be equipped with the right tools to deliver and shape the climate effectively, which includes adequate leadership training and development. Companies that fail to do this will just create a climate that pollutes their business.

A fully-referenced version of this article is available on request.

About the author

David Robertson is VP for Forum EMEA. He can be contacted on +44 (0)20 7017 7150 or via


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