More Than a Manager: A Mentality to Ensure Enterprise Success

By JoJo Harris | October 1, 2018

Today’s passive candidate-driven market requires insurance organizations to reevaluate the ways they manage their workforces. Impending mass retirements and a lack of emerging professionals joining the industry are making it increasingly difficult for employers to find the right candidates. A low unemployment rate and a shrinking talent pool further compound the issue, forcing recruiters to attract passive job seekers and employers to step up their retention efforts.

Truth be told, employer loyalty is waning. Although the insurance industry was initially isolated from this trend, career employees have become few and far between. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.2 percent of finance and insurance industry employees voluntarily left their jobs in June. You’ve likely heard the adage that people don’t leave their jobs, they leave their managers. Improving employee-manager relationships is an opportunity to better engage and retain employees. Engaged employees are 59 percent less likely to switch jobs in the next 12 months, according to a Gallup survey.

What can leaders do to strengthen relationships with their teams?

Support Professional Growth

Humans have an innate desire to grow. We are continuously looking for environments that challenge us and allow us to develop ourselves. But not every manager is intentional about supporting the desire for professional development. According to Alight Solutions, 78 percent of employees expect their managers to talk to them about career and learning opportunities, but only 37 percent say their managers actually do. If given the promise of career development, employees can easily be tempted to leave their current roles. Organizations that make this a priority are more likely to not only retain current employees, but also attract other talented individuals. Nurturing and supporting employees through career development opportunities can also create a depth of talent for future openings.

It is important that managers view employees beyond the frame of their job titles and responsibilities. Managers should step outside their role as a supervisor and serve as a mentor to support their employees’ career ambitions and goals. While managers are responsible for increasing performance levels and revenues, they also have an obligation to their employees. Helping employees remove obstacles, develop their skill sets and prepare for their futures transcends the traditional employee-manager relationship. This takes intentionality and transparency, and often generates loyalty from both sides.

Employers should set the stage for managers and employees to come together and communicate transparently. It is important for managers to understand their employees’ desired career paths. Ask your employees: what do you want to achieve in your role, what career goals do you have, what can I do to help you get there? Managers can find ways to satisfy both organizational demands, while giving individuals exposure to their career interests and important learning experiences. Employees who recognize their leaders’ efforts and commitment to them are more likely to reciprocate the sentiments.

Focus on Communication

The best relationships come from meaningful, transparent conversations. Organizations can benefit from establishing weekly or biweekly one-on-one meetings between managers and employees for performance reviews, career development and exchange of ideas. These standing meetings are a platform for trust, allowing employees to speak freely and managers to recognize them for progress and provide them with chances to fail safely.

Constant and honest feedback during these meetings is critical to springboard valuable employee-manager relationships. Managers should provide honest and regular feedback on what it will take for employees to get to their future desired state and provide suggestions on how to progress. Meanwhile, managers must not be afraid to ask for employees’ input as well: what do you like or dislike about my management style, how can we better communicate, and what can I be doing differently to support you in meeting your goals or career development milestones? These conversations cannot be purely lip service though. Managers must incorporate the feedback, as appropriate, into their own style and approach.

Leaders should also encourage employees to present new ideas, no matter how big or small. Instead of making independent decisions, managers should solicit suggestions and solutions from their teams. This not only serves as a good learning experience and valuable exposure for team members, but also supports a culture of collaboration. Diverse perspectives and varied ideas are the foundation of innovation. Collaboration between employees from all levels and functional areas not only improves business outcomes, but also makes employees feel more invested in the company and its mission.

Truth be told, employer loyalty is waning.

However, again, management cannot let suggestions fall on deaf ears. Leaders must acknowledge employee suggestions by providing feedback or asking clarifying questions. If team members feel their ideas are not taken seriously, they become less inclined to share their thoughts, which can stifle company innovation and make employees feel unappreciated.

Motivate and Advocate

Managers should actively represent their employees’ interests and speak on their behalves. Some employees may desire better work-life balance to devote more time to their families. Others may want to dress down for work or have access to better health benefits. These preferences and interests, if shared among all levels, provide direction on how insurers can improve their workplace culture or benefits to drive better performance, increase engagement and reduce turnover rates.

It is also important to uncover how employees like to be motivated and to individualize that approach for each team member. Traditional approaches to motivation often fall short. According to a Gallup survey, only 2 in 10 employees strongly agree their performance is managed to motivate them for outstanding work. Celebrating wins – both big and small – in the way that resonates best with each individual employee is the foundation for continued success. Some employees want a cheerleader to encourage them every step of the way. Others are motivated by the idea of public recognition at the end of a project. Leaders can provide perspective and focus, thereby inspiring action.

This type of leadership also creates an environment of trust, driving team members to stay interactive, solve problems faster and push one another to innovate.

Employees also want to understand how their work is contributing to their organization’s mission and vision. Sharing the vision provides an opportunity for leaders to illustrate correlations between individual and company goals and to motivate teams toward greater success. Currently, only 40 percent of employees feel aware of their organizations’ goals, strategies and tactics, according to the Blackhawk Network. Connecting individual work to company goals motivates employees to outperform because they recognize the impact they have on enterprise success.

Managers today are no longer just supervisors. They are mentors, advocates and cheerleaders who listen to their employees, care for them and support them.

Strong employee-manager relationships serve as a platform for personal and enterprise success. Strengthening these interpersonal relationships increases loyalty and improves retention. Employee-first mentality is a recipe for a fruitful workforce and ultimately continued business success.

About JoJo Harris

Harris is senior vice president of human resources of The Jacobson Group, a provider of talent to the insurance industry. Phone: 800-466-1578. Email: jharris@

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Insurance Journal West October 1, 2018
October 1, 2018
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