Why great managers are the best assets your team can have

In most companies, especially those adopting remote or hybrid work models, a growing need is emerging to focus on management, communication, and building trust.

We spoke with Hiba Amin, the Senior Marketing Manager at Hypercontext, about what makes good managers, why they’re essential for every company, and how to use managers to boost employee engagement.

Hypercontext is passionate about great managers and their impact on the overall performance and engagement levels in teams. What specifically do you think is the biggest difference a great manager can make?

According to Gallup, managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores. In other words, managers are the biggest factor in whether an employee shows up to work and tries. In my experience, great managers have the ability to improve an employee's confidence and growth trajectory.

How do you see managers improving confidence and growth in employees?

Great managers coach rather than dictate. Benyamin Elias recently did a talk on the importance of enabling your team to solve their own problems rather than doing it for them. When managers encourage teams to think for themselves, they help employees build confidence. When people feel empowered and capable of making good decisions, confidence follows.

On the other hand, great managers prioritize an employee’s growth path. It starts with understanding what the desired growth path is: levelling up in seniority, diving deeper into a topic, or financial growth. Asking the right questions is the best way to understand what motivates an employee and how you can help shape a growth path for them. Beyond asking, it’s implementing that knowledge as well.

Remember - people quit bosses, not managers. If you want to engage and retain your team, hire great managers and be a great manager yourself.

How can companies ensure managers are doing everything they can to boost engagement?

There are many ways to approach enabling leaders to boost employee engagement. Companies can support leaders through great hiring processes, flexibility, and running better 1:1 meetings.

When it comes to hiring, having a great process in place means it’s easier for managers to enter every conversation prepared and evaluate candidates based on the ideal skills required for the position.

As a recent first-time hiring manager, I found the hiring process overwhelming because of how time-consuming it was. My direct manager pushed me to prepare and document the entire process before the job posting went up and that was the best advice he could have possibly given me. I also recently documented my hiring tips for managers, which are based on the lessons I learned throughout the process.

What about flexibility and better 1:1 meetings?

Just as managers are encouraged to give their team autonomy and flexibility, it’s also important that companies offer the same to managers. Team leaders will have the best understanding of what motivates their team, when (and where) they’re most productive, and what touchpoints are most fitting.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution here. Companies like Facebook and Google have given their team the flexibility to decide on whether they’re remote or on-site workers, while companies like LinkedIn have put the onus on team leads.

When it comes to effective one-on-one meetings, they’re the best way for managers to engage employees and exchange feedback. As an organization, it’s important to equip managers with the tools and frameworks to run effective one-on-ones. Some resources that Hypercontext users love include one-on-one meeting templates, meeting questions for managers and employees, and our one-on-one software to add structure and purpose to this time.

Do you think engagement is a more important metric than productivity?

I don’t think it’s a matter of one being more important than the other, but rather that they’re intertwined. When people are more engaged at work, they actually show up and try. When people are motivated to try, they’ll be more productive as a result.

How do you see the shift to employee engagement, wellbeing, and experience post-pandemic? Do you think employers will pay more attention to all these things moving forward?

I hope they do. But, if you look at reports from Gartner year over year, employee engagement scores haven’t changed in 20 years. So, a lot of what organizations have preached around caring about engagement is performative. A big reason for this is that a lot of companies rely heavily on engagement surveys to collect feedback and this is a broken process.

For 200+ employee companies, the process looks a lot like this: they spend up to a month collecting survey data, 1-3 months analyzing, and then up to a year implementing a few things from the action plan.

Meanwhile, while all of this is happening - the most disengaged employees have already quit.

I think the pandemic has pushed employees to reevaluate what they care about and they’re more vocal about it. So much so that we’re now going through “The Great Resignation”.

Instead of relying on ineffective engagement surveys, I hope more employers focus on fostering a culture of feedback.

How do you approach trust-building at Hypercontext and what are some tips you would give to leaders about it?

At Hypercontext, we focus on giving people the structure and autonomy they need to succeed. We set clear team goals using the OKR goal-setting framework. As a result, every individual and team understands what’s expected of them and all teams across the company are aligned and moving towards the same goal.

We emphasize building trust through autonomy in many ways, including:

  • Giving people the freedom to work when they’re most productive, beyond the 9-5
  • Sharing ownership over the KPIs set behind individual and team goals
  • Focusing on testing with an emphasis on learning fast

When it comes to advice I’d share, I think aiming for these three things has been the most impactful change in my leadership style:

  1. Aim for high psychological safety. Ask yourself if people feel comfortable sharing thoughts and feedback with you or is there a level of fear preventing open communication? When it comes to this, my advice is to lead by example and be the first one to be vulnerable with the team.
  2. Aim for low-effort feedback sharing. How much effort does a person have to put in to share feedback with you? My advice here would be to be as low-effort as possible. It doesn't mean you have to be a pushover: when you receive constructive feedback, don’t blow up or react poorly.
  3. Aim for a high benefit of sharing feedback. When a direct report shares feedback with you, are you acting on it? High benefit doesn’t mean you have to agree with all the feedback you get. Instead, it’s important you do something about it, whether it’s changing a process, simply reflecting on it, or having another conversation.

What are some other great companies and startups out there you think are doing a great job?

For me it’s less about specific companies who are doing a great job and more on the individual leaders who I’ve had the pleasure of learning from, including:

  • Brennan McEachran at Hypercontext. He’s taught me everything I know about management. He leads by example and continues to push me to be the best manager for my team. Without Brennan’s guidance, I really don’t think that the transition into management would have been as easy, seamless, and fun as it has been. He continues to give me the tools, frameworks, and confidence to be a great leader.
  • Emily Lonetto at Voiceflow is a leader who I aspire to be like “when I grow up”. If there is a gold standard for leadership, she not only meets it but exceeds it. She pushes her team to aim high beyond company metrics, but in their careers as well.
  • Alessandra Colaci at Mailshake. She continues to show me what a true marketing leader looks like. She leads with a human-first approach and is one of the most empathetic and understanding people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting this past year.
  • Anjuan Simmons at Helpscout has become one of my go-to people when it comes to getting management advice.

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Andrea Rajic