As an executive, you make countless decisions on a daily basis. Of all the decisions you make, however, one hold the greatest potential to impact your company’s success: assigning the right people to management roles.

According to the 2013 Gallup State of the American Workplace report, “When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits — nothing.”

Why does the choice of manager hold so much weight — especially in today’s workplace? One reason is that American companies are facing a serious problem: employee disengagement. Because first-line managers have the most day-to-day contact with employees, they have the most power to influence employee engagement.

Employee disengagement: turn that train around

The 2013 Gallup report says that only 30% of the U.S. workforce is engaged in their work. On the flip side, that leaves a rather astounding 70% disengaged and, therefore, “not reaching their full potential.” Disengagement can cost companies — both in productivity and in profits.

That’s the bad news.

The good news: Great bosses cultivate a workplace environment that breeds employee engagement — and can do so rather quickly. “Choosing the right managers in an organization has an immediate effect on employees’ engagement,” according to Gallup.

Even better: Effective leadership skills can be learned. Through executive coaching and leadership development programs, managers can discover powerful strategies to increase employee engagement. They can also learn to become more accountable for their team’s attitude and performance.

The following are a few examples of strategies that managers can use to cultivate an engaged workplace:

Focus on strengths — People like to feel good about their abilities and contributions to an organization. Managers who focus on their employees’ strengths can practically eliminate active disengagement, according to Gallup’s research.

Find ways to connect — Another crucial ingredient in the recipe for employee engagement is personal connection. It’s important that managers find ways to connect with each employee, respecting employer-employee boundaries, but recognizing team members as “real” people.

Appreciate differences — Effective managers understand that age, gender, tenure and other variables all play a vital role in shaping a team member’s experience, and that every interaction with an employee has the potential to influence his or her level of engagement.


Naming the wrong person to a management role can trigger a downward spiral of disengaged, unmotivated and nonproductive employees.

In many instances, it can send an employee straight to the exit door. Employees often leave their jobs because of their manager, not because they are unhappy with the job itself. This dynamic underscores the importance of hiring the right candidate for — or promoting the most qualified team member to — a management position.

The problem is, Gallup finds, raw management talent is rare.

Focusing on fit more than on experience tends to yield better results. Not everyone is a right match for your company or organization, nor is everyone cut out to be a manager. As a matter of fact, a 2014 Gallup study revealed that one in ten people possess the talent to be a great manager.


Zappos’ CEO, Tony Hsieh, understands the power of connection, and encourages managers to get to know employees on a personal level. In an interview published on Entrepreneur’s website, Hsieh said that while many companies have policies that prohibit socializing outside of work, Zappos encourages managers to grab a drink with employees because “… in a lot of ways, that’s where you develop personal connections.”

He also believes in empowering individuality among Zappos’ employees. “A lot of people [act] different on the weekends versus the office. It’s like they leave a big part of themselves at home. We encourage our employees to be themselves. We want them to be the same person at home and the office.”

When people bring their “best selves” to work, and are recognized for their unique contributions to a company’s culture, mission and bottom line, it’s an almost surefire formula for a win-win success story.

The impact of a highly engaged manager

ANN INC., parent company of well-known women’s fashion retailers Ann Taylor and Loft, set out to determine whether choosing managers with the right talent for the role or with high engagement in their job had a greater impact on store performance. The analysis confirmed that talent matters most, but engagement accelerates it.

“Finding people with the right talent and engaging them are essential elements of maximizing performance — but of the two, getting the right person in the right role makes the greatest difference … The study found that engaging less-talented workers doesn’t get the same results as engaging more-talented workers.”

“While we did not anticipate that engaging managers with low talent would lead to exceptional performance, we did expect it to lead to better performance. Instead, we found that store performance dropped by 5.9% for managers with low talent and high engagement compared with managers with low talent and low engagement. In other words, without the innate talent to be a great manager, engagement did not result in better performance. For ANN INC., talent was the critical ingredient.”

“The good news for ANN INC. is that once the talent to be a great manager is in place, engaging that high talent accelerates exceptional performance. The study confirmed that managers with the combination of high talent and high engagement outperformed those with low talent and low engagement by 23.5%.”

Four key areas of employee engagement

While the majority of American companies struggle to “get it right,” Gallup’s best clients — winners of its 2013 Gallup Great Workplace Award — deeply integrate employee engagement into four key areas:

1. Strategy and Leadership Philosophy: “The best leaders understand that there is an emotional undercurrent to everything they do, which affects how they conduct business every day. They take a strategic, top-down approach to engaging leadership teams and then cascade engagement through the ranks of managers to employees on the front lines.”

2. Accountability and Performance: “Highly engaged organizations hold managers accountable — not just for their team’s engagement, but also for how it relates to their team’s overall performance.”

3. Communication and Knowledge Management: “Leaders in the best organizations take a strategic approach to aligning their employee engagement communication efforts … They use every opportunity, touchpoint and available communication channel to reinforce the organization’s commitment to employee engagement.”

4. Development and Ongoing Learning Opportunities: “The world’s top-performing organizations start engaging employees from the minute they show up on the first day … They take leaders’ and managers’ development seriously, and focus on the development of individuals and teams.”

Highly engaged organizations do not happen by accident, Gallup emphasizes. “… It takes proper execution, hard work and perseverance to master the integration of each of these critical four components.”

It also requires naming the right people to management roles.


Today’s non-traditional work environment now extends beyond the confines of an office building. According to a recent Forbes article, one-fifth of Americans now telecommute, with the number expected to increase by 63 percent in the next five years. While this variation from the traditional office arrangement offers many unique benefits — to employees and employers alike — it also poses unique challenges, particularly when it comes to employee engagement.

Citrix, parent company of, suggests that managers take a few simple actions to ensure productivity and mitigate remote employees’ feelings of exclusion or isolation:

  • Host virtual meetings to keep remote workers involved
  • Stay connected via phone calls or, even better, online chat tools
  • Schedule office visits, whether at regularly scheduled meetings, annual office parties and/or training sessions

Our take

Through all your years of business school, the importance of selecting the right people for management roles was likely never given the emphasis it deserves. The good news is that it’s never too late to invoke positive change in your leadership team.

People generally start a new job with a sense of optimism. But if they don’t feel that they have any real power to make decisions, contribute ideas or make an impact, they tend to quickly become disengaged.

Managers should provide employees with opportunities to contribute directly to the organization — and to be recognized for it. The most effective companies empower employees at all levels to make decisions and take action. Zappos is a great example of a thriving company that embraces employee engagement.

Executive coaching can help turn mediocre managers into strong, effective leaders. In gaining deeper insights into factors that motivate their team members, managers can learn how to cultivate an environment that encourages employee commitment, promotes a positive collective attitude and, ultimately, contributes to their company’s long-term success.

Read more about employee engagement in the 2013 Gallup State of the American Workplace report.