The #1 factor driving operational performance - The manager.

Over the last 20 years we at ActiveOps have engaged with a wide range of Leaders who wrestle with the Operational Challenge of trying to improve the value of, often seemingly, conflicting metrics.


Sifting through the noise to identify which factors have the most significant impact across a multitude of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) is a challenge for any senior leader.

According to recent research by leading global Analytics firm Gallup there is one area that is transformational in boosting the key metrics of Profitability, Quality, and Service Delivery - The Manager!

The latest Gallup research has shown that improved engagement leads to significant improvement in performance across all key KPIs. And it's is the Manager that accounts for 70% of the variance in Engagement! So, it follows that if you help improve how Managers are managing and you reap the most rewards.

At ActiveOps we have a strong affinity with this Gallup research as evidenced in our tag line - Manage Differently - like Gallup we know that helping Leaders to manage differently will transform performance across a multitude of KPIs. This blog post draws from this new Gallup research and the 20 years of working with our global clients to pinpoint how focusing on just 3 points will empower the manager in your organisation and drive business performance.

The link between engagement and performance

Before we talk about how the Manager can improve engagement, we need to appreciate how improved engagement can accelerate operations performance.

Gallup recently completed 9 Meta-analyses of the relationship between performance data and employee engagement using data over the past two decades. The most recent of these studies spanned 82,000 teams in 230 organisations, 1.8 million employees across 73 countries!

One of the central findings of this analysis is that the relationship between team engagement and performance is consistent across time and organisations. This is true despite variation in companies, countries, economic periods and all the changes in technology over recent years.

Gallup's results show that businesses in the top quartile on employee engagement significantly outperform those in the bottom quartile on a range of critical KPIs.

When engaged teams produce better outcomes, and 70% of engagement is down to the manager then lets focus on The Manager! Let's talk about where to focus our efforts to improve how managers improve engagement and performance.

3 simple ways to manage differently to drive engagement

1) Move from a boss to a coach

For managers to positively impact the engagement of their team there is a need to equip managers to become coaches. Moving to a coaching approach allows managers to listen and understand the team's performance and recognise challenges and involve the team in creating solutions. It allows managers to create plans with teams that the teams feel are equally challenging and realistic, and then regularly shares how they are performing against the plan they built. Gallup have shown that this coaching approach drives improved engagement.

  • "Employees whose manager involved them in setting goals were nearly four times more likely to be engaged than other employees."
  • Managers need the training and relevant data to help tailor goals and development plans to the individual. Dashboards of data for individual team members, teams and departments provided by ControliQ allow managers to understand areas of strength and development and to jointly agree on goals based upon reliable facts.

What's more, this information can then be tracked and measured to demonstrate performance against the shared goals. Furthermore, solutions from ActiveOps empower managers to create weekly plans and upcoming goals with their teams and enables the team to see how they are performing against their shared goals.

  • "Employees who receive daily feedback from their manager are three times more likely to be engaged than those that receive it once a year. What's more, nearly half of employees only receive feedback a few times a year."
  • Teams want feedback to be meaningful and based on fact, they want to know how they are performing, they want to share their insights with their peers and managers. The best managers use a combination of insightful performance data and a coaching style to question the data with the team daily. Whether data is shared on a whiteboard, a TV screen or over Video Conference doesn't matter - the importance is the manager shows how the team is performing against the goals they set themselves, asks questions and listens to responses.

ControliQ enables managers to have real time discussions on how the team is performing against their plan and actively involves the team in these discussions to drive team engagement and performance.

2) Create simple management routines

Introducing simple weekly routines give managers the framework to coach their team consistently. The best managers have an understanding of their team and their performance because they have a combination of fact-based data and a knowledge of their team through regular conversations where the manager can understand challenges more deeply and find solutions.

At ActiveOps we have a simple 4 step routine to provide managers with the data and routines to enable coaching and performance improvement...

  • Build a Plan to make sure you have the right amount of resource for the expected work. Not enough resource means staff will be stressed with high workloads, not enough work and staff will be bored and demotivated and their performance will drop as workloads drop.
  • Coordinate with other teams to balance the resource needed to meet the workload - lend and borrow staff from other teams to ensure the right amount of work is available for the team. The team can then work at a steady pace as the manager has made sure the right people are in place to complete the work
  • Share the progress against the plan with teams daily - the team want to be involved and they will have ideas to improve performance. This ensures team members are fully involved in the decision making as they are the people closest to the work, they have an opportunity to make changes driving team member's engagement. Performance is discussed with the team every day and opportunities to improve highlighted - again delivering the best outcome becomes a daily conversation.
  • Take time to reflect on previous performance and lessons learnt. The best managers look back and look at what they could have done better. Armed with these learnings they apply them to improve performance.

This simple routine empowers managers to move to a coaching style with simple routines that make sure performance and engagement are being positively addressed every day.

3) Play to people's strengths

Obvious right? Get people doing what they enjoy, and are good at, and they will perform better, and be happier.

This is so obvious it hardly needs any data to support it, but Gallup have shown that people who regularly use their strengths at work are 6 times as likely to be engaged at work and 3 times as likely to report an excellent quality of life. Moving managers towards a coaching approach is critical if they are to understand their people's strengths, and how this can be harnessed to improve performance and motivation.

With some simple questions managers can start to appreciate an individual' strengths and identify when they are performing at their best:

  • "To what kind of activities are you naturally drawn?"
  • "What kind of activities do you seem to pick up quickly?"
  • "What activities give you a kick, either while doing them or immediately after finishing them, and you think - When can I do that again?"

For those that want to take this further to understand their people's strengths more deeply then Gallup has a personality survey that identifies people's talents which can be used to identify how to help the individual improve both engagement and performance.

More than 20 million people have now taken the survey and it is a great way to build collaboration and engagement across teams and help people do more of what they do best.

Wrapping it up

If you want to improve performance across the critical KPIs then you need to focus on Managers - they account for 70% of the variance in team engagement. Empower them to become coaches by giving them the data, skills and operating routine to coach their team effectively and lastly help them to unleash the potential that is in their team by focusing on the individual strengths in every team.

Links to Gallup: https://www.gallup.com/itsthemanager/245324/manager.aspx



David has over 18 years’ experience in working across financial services with specialist experience in continuous improvement, problem solving, relationship management and leading teams of expert change agents.

As a certified Gallup Strengths Coach David helps people understand and harness their natural strengths.

David’s top five Gallup strengths are:

  • Relator: “People talented in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others, they find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.”
  • Harmony: “People talented in the Harmony theme look for consensus. They don’t enjoy conflict; rather, they seek areas of agreement.”
  • Individualization: “People talented in the Individualization theme are intrigued with the unique qualities of each person. They have a gift for figuring out how different people can work together productively.”
  • Analytical: “People talented in the Analytical theme search for reasons and causes. They have the ability to think about all the factors that might affect a situation.”
  • Achiever: “People talented in the Achiever theme work hard and possess a great deal of stamina, they take immense satisfaction from being busy and productive.”

David Wands, Head of Delivery Europe, ActiveOps