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Make It a Great Year


by Barbara Ruland, Communications Specialist

Five Evidence-Based Management Tips to Benefit Your Organization in 2017

The beginning of the year is traditionally a time for reflection and resolutions. At work, managers’ resolutions may focus on improving staff motivation and engagement, teamwork, or the results of training.

Perhaps no professionals are more knowledgeable about those areas than industrial and organizational psychologists, who employ the scientific method to study workplace interactions and improve human well-being and performance in organizational settings.

In this article, three members of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) offer evidence-based tips to help managers make 2017 a great year for their organizations.

Employee Engagement

Steven D. Ashworth, Manager of People Research for San Diego Gas & Electric, studies key workplace indicators including supervisor effectiveness and employee engagement, one of its components. SDG&E conducts employee surveys every 18 months, and encourages managers to develop action plans for improving their own effectiveness. An organization development team works with managers on what they call “hot spots” and “bright spots.”

Hot spots are areas where a manager or a supervisor has results significantly below the company average, while bright spots are managers who have improved low ratings.

1. Have a plan and work the plan.

Ashworth says their research shows three ways a manager can improve engagement scores. The first will probably sound familiar: have a plan and work the plan. The plan’s specifics will depend on the situation, but the plan should be written and clearly communicated to employees.

SDG&E’s supervisor effectiveness index includes ratings for communication and fairness in dealings with employees.

“Typically the supervisors who aren’t working a plan score low in supervisor effectiveness, so getting a plan and working it will help with that,” Ashworth said.

2. Put the right person in the right place.

Ashworth’s second tip is to put the right person in the right place.

“A lot of managers have reported that when they had poor results it was because they didn’t have people in the right jobs or in the right places,” he said.

Importantly, Ashworth and his colleagues also found that employees who feel they aren’t in the right job are likely to leave the company. Staff complaints about lack of training signal a poor job fit.

“So for them it means maybe reorganizing--moving people around, doing a job rotation, maybe a promotion, but doing something to shake up the structure of their organization a little bit,” he explained.

Structural changes may not be feasible. In that case, Ashworth suggested “you might be able to approach a problem from the other side” by giving employees training to develop the necessary job skills.

3. Inspire a culture of trust.

Ashworth’s third tip is “inspire a culture of trust.” Since respect and trust are intertwined, he uses questions about respect to help gauge the level of trust. The surveys ask, “Am I listened to? Do I have a voice? Do I feel that I’m part of a team? Am I treated with respect?”

Training and Development

4. Understand the impact of your employees’ training using the Recognize-Reward-Review-Recommend process.

“Many managers have complained about not understanding the full impact of their employees’ training.” said Sy Islam, assistant professor of industrial and organizational psychology at Farmingdale (NY) State College. A founding partner in Talent Metrics and a former president of the Long Island Chapter of the Association for Talent Development, Islam is an authority on training and development.

This disconnect may be more pronounced in larger organizations where training and development are administered by a separate department, but managers at any size company can benefit from Islam’s advice. He recommends a four part process of Recognize-Reward-Review-Recommend.

The first step, recognition, means being aware of what training employees are receiving and understanding its goals. Islam says managers must also have a plan for rewarding the employees in some way for using their training.

“The reward can be something as simple as verbal encouragement or giving your subordinate a desirable assignment,” he said. “We know from Thorndike's Law of Effect that if we want a behavior to be repeated we need to reinforce it with a reward.”

Adding a proactive element to a standard managerial function, Islam suggest managers add recommendations for any possible training to performance reviews.

Not only does this guide development that supports the manager’s goals, but other research has shown demonstrating concern for employees’ development increases their engagement and motivation.

There are several ways to gauge training’s effectiveness. One is to watch for the trained behaviors; using trained behaviors is a sign of success.

Managers can also talk to employees about their training experiences. Ask if they have the opportunity and feel comfortable using the training. “Find out if there’s anything that you as a manager can do to make it easier for them to implement the training.”

Islam recommends comparing departmental indicators and intended training outcomes every six to twelve months. Look for training results in variables that lead to achieving goals and not just the overall outcomes.

“For example, if your sales force attended a sales training, perhaps sales didn't immediately increase,” he said. “But if your sales team are making more calls and building a larger network, that indicates they're doing the right things in the process of doing their job. “

Leading Work Teams

5. Manage groups and teams differently.

Workplaces are often comprised of groups and teams. Successful managers recognize the functional differences between them, said Sharon Parker, a Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the UWA Business School, University of Western Australia and leader of the new Centre for Transformative Work Design.

“This question of ‘group or team’ matters,” she said, “because teams and groups should be managed differently.”

In a work group, individuals coordinate their efforts but don’t have a joint goal. A real estate office, where agents share tips and information but are responsible for their own sales, is an example of a work group.

“A ‘real’ team,” according to Parker, “is one in which people with complementary skills actually need to work together to get the job done such that the team’s performance is more than the sum of the individual inputs.”

An orchestra is a good example of a real team.

“All of the members must coordinate together, and depend on each other, to make the music,” she said.

Effective teams are deliberately designed and managed as such. Parker says the team needs a clear goal. Then design the team so that it has in it the right tasks, people, and resources to achieve that goal.

The organization’s wider systems must also support team functioning.

“For example, ensure that team working capabilities are part of the selection criteria,” Parker said, “Ensure that people’s team working performance is recognized in individual performance appraisal processes.”

A common mistake is to focus only on individual goals and performance when evaluating team members. Parker stressed that people working to achieve a shared goal must understand that goal and their role in reaching it.

“It is important to train teams in the skills they need to work as a team, and also for leaders of teams (or team coaches) to pay attention to how the team is doing its work,” she added—but that doesn’t mean they should be micromanaged. Instead, leaders should focus on designing the best conditions for team work, setting clear and compelling team goals, and providing coaching and support for the team.

 “Research shows that when teams are self-managing, they are often more efficient, effective, and innovative,” Parker explained. “The team itself can often decide who is doing what, when, and how.”

Regardless of an organization’s size, managers who can improve in the areas of staff training, motivation and engagement, and team work will have a better chance of reaching their goals for the year.

Additional Resources

Resources for more on these topics are listed below. Additionally, use SIOP’s Consultant Locator Service to find an industrial-organizational psychologist who can help with specific staffing and HR questions at your organization.  

Employee Engagement

Best Practices in Employee Engagement SIOP Webinar
Getting Engaged: Top Tips for an Engaged Workforce SIOP White Paper
Optimizing Perceived Organizational Support to Enhance Employee Engagement SIOP/SHRM White Paper

Training and Development

Learning and Development Overview SIOP web page
Chief Learning Officer Blogs about training and development industry trends

Groups and Teams

The Effect of Top Management Team Performance and Cohesion on Organizational Outcomes SIOP White Paper
Improving Communication in Virtual Teams SIOP White Paper
What Makes for a Great Team? American Psychological Association article
Work Groups and Teams in Organizations Cornell University digital publication

General Resources

IO at Work