Setting leaders up for success with employee experience

Emma Bridger

27 Mar 2023
Employee Experience
Employee Engagement
When it comes to creating a positive employee experience within your organisation, it makes sense to start at the top. Often organisations overlook the fact that their leaders are employees first, leaders and managers second. We have to focus on getting their experience right to help them ensure their teams have a great EX.

Make or break

Quite simply your leaders can make or break the employee experience within the workplace, so investing in them makes sense. Firstly by intentionally designing compelling experiences for them and secondly by ensuring they are set up for success to support a compelling EX with their teams. Don’t assume your leaders will naturally know how to facilitate a compelling EX with their teams, support may be required.

We know what great leadership and management looks like. There are huge bodies of research and numerous books on the subject. Gallup are leading experts in the subject and share some useful guidance on how we can support our leaders on creating a compelling EX with their teams:

Choose your leaders and managers carefully, obvious but critical

So many people find themselves promoted to the role of manager or leader because they are technical experts rather than because they have requisite skills to lead and manage others.

Give your leaders and managers the right support

In their research Gallup find that leadership development programmes are not translating into managers feeling fully prepared for and inspired about their future.

Practice empathy by taking time to understand how it feels for leaders and managers in your organisation

Gallup’s paper, The Manager Experience: Top challenges and Perks of Managers, is a great resource, sharing evidence from a study of more than 50,000 managers. However, there is no substitute for taking the time to listen to managers and leaders within your own organisation. Gallup suggest designing learning programmes that are continual, multimodal and experiential.

Take steps to ensure your brand, purpose and culture are experienced at every stage of your employee life-cycle

This advice is relevant for all employees not just leaders and managers. But we can’t expect them to bring the organisation purpose, brand and culture to life for their teams if they are not experiencing it themselves.

Positive leadership

Positive leadership is helpful for EX practice and Kim Cameron’s work on positive leadership can also provide practical guidance to set leaders up for success when creating a positive EX. Cameron outlines a number of positive leadership practices which are based on his four positive leadership strategies:

  • Positive meaning
  • Positive climate
  • Positive communication
  • Positive relationships
At a high level the practices he advocates are:

Creating a culture of abundance

This in essence is about looking at strengths as well as weaknesses and focusing on what works as well as what does not.

Establishing Everest goals

This is about setting big goals that motivate people to achieve spectacular performance.

Developing positive energy networks

This is firstly focusing on developing your own positive energy, then actively building a network and spending time with others who have positive energy.

Delivering negative feedback positively

This refers to the ability to use supportive communication when delivering difficult messages. This includes avoiding defensiveness being congruent, and validating the other person.

EX leadership competencies

We don’t yet have a definitive competency framework for leaders and EX. However in 2011 the CIPD conducted research to identify specific management behaviours that are important for employee engagement and this framework is entirely relevant for EX too. As you’ll see from the framework the competencies link to both psychological element of EX, as well as specific leadership styles:

Open, fair and consistent

Managing with integrity and consistency, managing emotions/personal issues and taking a positive approach in interpersonal interactions

Handling conflict and problems

Dealing with employee conflicts (including bullying and abuse) and using appropriate organisational resources

Knowledge, clarity and guidance

Clear communication, advice and guidance, demonstrating an understanding of roles and responsible decision-making

Building and sustaining relationships

Personal interaction with employees involving empathy and consideration

Supporting development

Supporting and arranging employee career progression and development

Using the framework

In the absence of a definitive competency framework for managing EX, this is a great place to start. You can of course add to the framework with further competencies relevant to your organisational context as well. The framework could be integrated into your management development offering, or used as part of a 360-degree feedback process if you have one. In addition the framework and associated competencies could be used within your performance management and appraisal systems, helping them not only communicate the desired behaviours, but also to reinforce the value of demonstrating them. Also, competency based questions could be developed in line with the framework to assist recruiting managers who either have these skills already or have the potential to develop them.
Perhaps the most useful element of the framework though is the ability to clearly articulate to managers what good looks like. Communicating a competency framework, enables your managers to understand the behaviours and competencies they need to help facilitate a compelling EX and engage their teams.

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