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What do you do when you learn that your team is not as engaged as you would like it to be, and it might be because of their manager (you)?

This is exactly what happened to Lior Lavi, manager of the CP Services Portals group’s Cloud Portal and Enterprise Portal team in SAP Labs Israel, following his first year as a manager of a large team.


Lior, how does your story begin?

My story begins almost 4 years ago. I had been a manager of 20 people for over a year and felt things were going just fine. Boy, was I wrong. I had just returned from a long vacation, happy and relaxed, only to be summoned by my manager. Together with an HR representative they presented me with the shocking results of the employee survey: my team does not trust me, they do not feel appreciated by me, and their scores for the engagement index were low. Could things get any worse? What a harsh welcome-back-to-reality. I realized that I need to initiate a fundamental change, both in myself and in my group, fast!


So, what did you do?

I did not know what to do. I started investigating the subject of relationships between managers and their employees. One of the topics that came up was employee engagement – the emotional commitment of an employee to an organization and its goals. The kind of commitment that brings a can-do attitude and a willingness to go beyond the call of duty.

I learned that employee engagement has benefits for both the employee and the organization. Research shows a connection between feeling engaged and your motivation, performance, and self fulfilment. Even your health improves. All this, of course, leads to a positive effect on the organization as well – more productivity, less absences, and an increase in revenues.

So, tackling employee engagement seemed like a good start.


How does one improve employee engagement?

It turns out, there is a lot of material out there about employee engagement. After reviewing some models, I chose Kevin Kruse’s model, which seemed to me to be simple and pragmatic and definitely something I could learn and implement.

Kruse’s model describes four engagement drivers: communication, growth, recognition, and trust. I believe trust is a basis for everything, and must exist between team members, between the team and its managers, and in the organization and in its goals.


But how do you apply such a model with 20 employees?

First thing I did, was to hold a team workshop in which we focused on employee engagement and, together, we marked this as the most important goal for the upcoming year. We used Kruse’s model to review the importance of each engagement driver for each team member, and to discover where there are gaps. Following the workshop, I set in-depth one-on-one meetings to discuss individual engagement drivers. For example, for one developer growth was the most important factor, while for another it was important to gain recognition within the team and beyond it. For each team member, we planned together a course of action to bridge the gaps.


How did you feel during this process?

The process was not easy for me. It was an intense period. I felt that I myself was changing too. I was communicating openly with my team members and gaining their trust. I was establishing personal relationships that demonstrated to my team members their importance to me and my appreciation of them.


Sounds like this story has a happy ending?

Well, happy – yes. Ending – no.


What do you mean?

Happy - yes - because things have improved significantly since then. The satisfaction and engagement of the team members, the atmosphere in the team, and positive feedback that I received from my team and manager.

Ending - no – because this change did not happen overnight and this is a journey that continues.


What are your key takeaways from your journey? What would you recommend to fellow managers?

I feel I have come a long way since my first days managing people. I have grown and evolved, very much thanks to them. My beginning may have been "rocky" and challenging, but it was also an opportunity for moving forward, and I am very glad I took it and learned from it.

I have learned that it is a manager’s on-going challenge to lead each one of the team members to be engaged, while maintaining open communication and trust, and remembering to be a part of the team.

Managing people has its challenges, but as Albert Einstein said: "In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity".