I found on the Watson Wyatt site a WorkUSA research paper that WW looks to have sponsored. In the “WorkUSA® 2006/2007: Debunking the Myths of Employee Engagement, Executive Summary,” WorkUSA attempts to identify some myths and ascertain what actions might be most important in driving engagement. (I should note that I didn’t purchase the full article)
WorkUSA® 2006/2007 research suggests that employee engagement has a strong impact on an organization’s bottom line. Unfortunately, a number of myths, misconceptions and false assumptions are leading employers down the wrong path when it comes to building employee engagement. As a result, many are investing time and money in ways that will do little to increase engagement levels. ((Watson Wyatt. 2006. “WorkUSA® 2006/2007: Debunking the Myths of Employee Engagement, Executive Summary.” Retrieved from WatsonWyatt.com on December 18, 2006.))
One of those assumptions is that the front line manager is one of the key drivers of employee engagement. In fact, I’ve stated here that from a management perspective, there are two elements that drive engagement: 1) the ability of the front line manager to communicate and reinforce the brand, and the ability of the executive team to do the same. While I’m not sure if I expressed that one is more important than the other, I certainly think that the front line manager is where to majority of reinforcing communications take place. WorkUSA seems to rebut this common thinking with this:
In particular, many companies overestimate the importance of the supervisor in driving engagement. In fact, senior leadership and the frequency with which senior managers communicate with employees are far more important drivers of engagement. ((Ibid))
I’m quite certain that WorkUSA is not downplaying the role of the front line manager. Rather, if the front line manager’s communications are not reinforced by communications by the senior and executive teams, then the front line manager is rendered ineffectual. However, the same goes for the executive team where the they can be actively contradicted by front line managers. The sum of the story is that the brand must be exhibited in a coordinated fashion across all communications routes.