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The Supervisory Relationship is the Key to Employee Engagement

I begin this blog with a declaration that I intend to validate throughout the body of this entry: The key to employee engagement is emotional commitment which is in turn most closely linked to discretionary effort.Rewards, transactional positive reinforcement (supervisor occasionally using verbal reinforcement), and incentives in general do not change behavior in the long term; the biochemistry of the brain—serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters—the chemicals of employee engagement, of emotions and learning—are most effectively catalyzed through ongoing manager activities and attributes. Reinforcing work dialogs, which in turn build reinforcing manager-employee relationships, are the most effective means of eliciting employee emotional commitment to the job and the organization.

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How to Deliver Positive Reinforcement That Works!

Most supervisors want to be well-liked by their employees. Many of us don't have a likable personality; we are not well suited to be supervisors. We either don't have the social skills or we are too impatient or we are too perfectionistic. But, we have the job and we're doing our best.

We're told supervisors who get the highest levels of performance from their employees use positive reinforcement (R+). The problems is, positive reinforcement does not work--your efforts to R+ someone are not effective--if you have a poor relationship with the person you are trying to R+. Your relationship with an employee does not improve just because you try to positively reinforce them.

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Preparing for Management Self-Development

In my last blog, Engaging Supervisory Interactions, I presented the rationale for having productive conversations with your direct reports. Most supervisors will have to gradually develop the ability to talk with employees in this manner; it is a new skill set for most of us. If you are fortunate enough to work for a company that implements an initiative surrounding this process, it will be much easier.

I recently spent several days in a manufacturing plant in America—in a company that says and does all the things fashionable to create employee engagement. As I had occasion to talk with the front line employees, they expressed dissatisfaction in regard to supervisory interpersonal behavior. The supervisor’s peers corroborated the employee’s concerns.

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Engaging Supervisory Interactions

Positive reinforcement works; it fulfills every employee’s basic need to feel valued—cared about by the organization, their supervisor and leadership. When positive reinforcement is delivered while the behavior is occurring, it acknowledges the employees contribution in real time; it captures the moment when a valued added behavior—discretionary effort—can be encouraged or discouraged.

As discussed in my last blog most positive verbal comments are usually delivered after a behavior has occurs—when the employee is no longer engaged in the behavior. The supervisor is acknowledging the performance result that was created by one or more effective employee behaviors. Positive verbal recognition is a more accurate description of the supervisor’s action.

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