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Engage Your Employees for Innovative Outcomes and Advantage

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Matt Selker
October 7, 2014

“No job is more vital to our society than that of the manager. The manager determines whether our social institutions will serve us well or whether they will squander our talents and resources,” claims Henry Mintzberg in his 1990 Harvard Business Review article titled, “The Manager’s Job: Folklore and Fact.” The primary responsibility of a manager is to achieve organizational goals using organizational assets; organizational assets none more important than people. Attuning human resources and aligning with resonance, while leveraging other organizational resources to achieve organizational goals is the desired outcome.

In this article I intend to prove that managers, like public administrators, play an important role in gaining advantages through employee engagement. Basing my position on research provided by influential scholars and practical experience, I will present characteristics of the concept of employee engagement. Lastly, I will introduce and present favorable behaviors to generate and strengthen positive relationship connectivity.

Gain Important Advantage Through Engagement 

Employee engagement is an instrumental responsibility of public administrators, as managers of units of government, are duly charged with. In a era of increased access to information, firms are able to relocate operations with limited inconvenience. That ease of mobility forces community residents to move in search of any employment, let alone a living wage. Public administrators, as managers of local government, must become better at engaging government employees to achieve sustainable innovation and inclusive community prosperity.

Selker octResearch conducted by Dr. Dale Hartz, in his studies at Case Western Reserve University, suggests managers influence employee engagement. While his research focuses specifically on employee engagement related to management transitions, very important lessons exist overall. What he has identified as extenuating influences on positive employee engagement will surely improve such in your organization if deployed with care.

Research suggests that employees exhibit behaviors that are a combination of their particular characteristics combined with the influences of their environment. Therefore, their immediate manager is the most important leader to set the tone for the positive experience outcomes. Their manager plays a tremendous role and may possibly be the largest single determinant of the employees’ engagement outcome. Much is riding on that manager’s actions.

For the public administrator to manage the line manager in a way that resonates positively and beneficially, it is their responsibility to set the stage for positive impact and replication of holistic behaviors. How would the public administrator create such a resonant environment? Similar to the way they create high-performance teams– through emotional connections at the cellular level.

Hartz suggests that managers and employees must have a strong emotional connection, further understood as their relationship connectivity. They must engage in positive connectivity. According to Joyce Dunton and Belle Rose Ragins in their article titled, “Positive Relationships at Work; An Introduction and Invitation,” positive relationships (positive connectivity) not only are essential to work and how things get done but to the lives of those engaged in these relationships. Work relationships, not unlike other types of relationships, reflect the full spectrum of quality.

I choose to define the construct of positive relationship connectivity as “reoccurring connections between two people that takes place within the context of work and careers and is experienced as mutually beneficial, where beneficial is defined broadly to include any kind of positive state, process, or outcome in the relationship.”

Seven Managerial Behaviors That Engage

Both Dutton and Hartz share similar essential behaviors or actions necessary for managers to achieve positive relationship connectivity. Those essential managerial behaviors or actions include:

  1. Engaging in generative conversations where questions are asked (inquiry) rather than directional narrative provided (advocacy).
  2. Promoting work style alignment between the manager and employee. This speaks to the level of autonomy and collaboration, and the balance, between both. The approachability quotient; was the manager approachable?
  3. Providing support and back-up by the manger. Enable with boundaries and encourage risk.
  4. Demonstrating your experience and skill. Experience and skill has a positive net impact on a positive relationship.
  5. Demonstrating a clear, understandable vision and direction for the employee.
  6. Identifying, communicating and promoting a shared self-interest draws managers and employees closer together. According to Hartz, his research further explains that shared topics ranging from work-related interests, common personal interest, to common traits aid in promoting positive relationship connectivity.
  7. Taking action that increases opportunities for high-quality connections. Connections where mutual awareness and social interaction takes place. Where the interaction between the individuals has an effect and affect at the emotional level, creating a bond between the participants where the impact is more long-lasting. 

Through-out this article I have presented my case that managers, like public administrators, play an important role in gaining organizational and community advantages through employee engagement. Having reviewed research by subject-relevant scholars and practitioners, I presented characteristics of the concept ‘employee engagement’. Lastly, I introduced you to behaviors designed to generate and strengthen positive relationship connectivity in your government.

Action Now is Essential

As the global market place continues to unfold and businesses and citizens are influenced to relocate, the ability for employees in local government to generate, collaborate and innovate will be essential. They generate ideas and gather information and ideas that, when leveraged, can be incubated and positioned for implementation. Employees will be enabled to collaborate across divisions, boundaries or silos promoting a robust, complex appreciation for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and abstractness. Lastly, employees will be encouraged to innovate; to make old ideas and opportunities new and transform what was once irrelevant into advantage. Through innovation, employees are encouraged to decrease time from idea to implementation.

It will become increasingly important for public administrators and managers of all sorts to create the space where collaborative information sharing and generative conversation prevail. Innovation of all sorts, sizes and types will be embraced and leveraged together to provide communities sustainable competitive advantages. It will provide hope where hope may have been abandoned. It will provide renaissance where irrelevance once prevailed.


Author: Matt Selker is a performance-management consultant. His firm, located near Cleveland, Ohio is hired by public and private organizations striving for improved performance by engaging human capital. Mr. Selker holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in public administration from Cleveland State University. Selker gained his education in organizational development and change from Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management. He can be reached via email at [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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