COMPANIES today are increasingly focused on productivity because when their employees are productive, they get better business results. Employee engagement is an effective way to unlock productivity within the organisation, as it a real-time process that can show immediate results and is in the immediate supervisor's control.

Employee engagement is more than just the level of employee satisfaction within a company. It is an active, ongoing process focusing on strengthening the relationship between an organisation and its employees.

Typically, managers serve as the bridge between the employee and organisation, as these are the leaders the employees see the most. The impact of managers on their employees and what they do has a huge bearing on how engaged employees are.

Generally, people tend to do more of the behaviours that are reinforced. Social reinforcers include recognising effort or praising a job well done, and these can go a long way in improving performance and building employee engagement, sometimes more so than tangible reinforcers such as pay, incentives or rewards.

Here are some ways that managers can help shape employee performance in order to boost their productivity:

Personalise interactions

Ideally, managers should not have more than five to seven direct reports. This allows them to easily personalise their impact on the people they manage, making their interaction meaningful.

Understanding the employee and what is important to him is key. Leaders should take note of information about their employees, for example, what they do outside work, what their hobbies are, what is important to them in their lives. They can then customise the way they recognise an employee’s performance and make it meaningful for him.


Three-minute meetings

The length of time managers spend with employees is an important consideration. One reason many managers are reluctant or unable to have frequent interactions with their team members is because they believe these meetings will take a lot of time.

Joe Laipple, author of Rapid Change, talks about having more frequent short three- to five-minute meetings with employees instead. Having short but more frequent interaction with employees is better as people need time to reflect on what was said. The key to having effective three-minute meetings is planning — managers must learn to speak in a more precise manner.


Shaping behaviour

Performance management is a shaping activity; it’s about getting people to rapidly overcome the learning curve. Managers do this by having more frequent contact with employees, shaping their performance and helping them succeed in what they are doing.

This includes giving staff enough encouragement to continue to do the task until it becomes self-reinforcing. When this happens, employees are likely to continue doing a good job, because they are doing it for themselves.

Lead with the positive

Think of the teacher who always saw “something more” in us at school. For this teacher, we went out of our way to do better, even if the subject wasn’t a favourite, because the teacher showed an interest and saw potential in us.

Leaders have that kind of impact on their employees too and can help shape performance by finding something positive to reinforce and looking at what is working already.


Positive, immediate and certain

Managers can strengthen an employee’s good behaviour if they reinforce that behaviour soon (during or immediately after the behaviour).

So don’t be “stingy” with praise or only reinforce the behaviour way after the event. Celebrating behaviours that are valuable to the company also creates a learning opportunity for others to follow.

By showing what is important to the company, managers encourage employees to focus on what to do rather than what not to do.


Praise in public, criticise in private

Some leaders try to “shame” people into performing. This is actually a short-sighted and destructive practice as it creates toxic environments where people are pitched against each other.

What the manager recognises and praises is also important. Some tend to focus only on results and overlook bad behaviour that can result in unethical work practices. Think of the various catastrophic events in the global financial industry over the past decade.



Good leadership, which helps employees to be productive, is an everyday, on-going activity. If it is done in a well-thought-out and structured manner, it will have a powerful impact in the workplace and engage employees.

Managers can find out more on how to boost their employees’ productivity during the inaugural National Productivity Month 2014, which is in October. Act now, transform your employees and grow your business’s future.


Article by Laletha Nithiyanandan, the managing director of Talent Design Potential, with more than 30 years’ experience in talent acquisition and management. She will speak more on this topic at the launch of the National Productivity Month 2014 (