Performance or Engagement? And the Winner Is …

As with just about every aspect of performance management, opinions are divided on the question of whether managers should focus on the performance or the engagement level of their people.

Those on the performance side of the debate say that performance-oriented managers drive bottom-line benefits such as profitability, market share and competitive dominance by helping their people achieve specific performance goals and remain closely aligned to the company’s/department’s objectives. Those on the engagement side of the debate say that engagement-focused managers help reduce costly turnover and increase employee productivity and loyalty by sustaining high levels of employee motivation and discretionary effort.

Both sides make sense. So what’s the right choice?

Well, a Gallup survey of more than 8,000 employees shows that we really shouldn’t make a choice at all. The best managers focus on both performance and engagement.

According to an article published just weeks ago in the Gallup Business Journal, the most successful managers are “strengths-based, engagement-focused, and performance-oriented. … Managers who emphasize one approach while ignoring the other risk alienating their team members, lowering engagement, and damaging performance.”

The article goes on to tell managers how to enhance performance by focusing on employee engagement and how to enhance engagement by focusing on performance. “A team will never reach its full potential until it has a manager that is both performance-oriented and engagement-focused,” it states.

Focusing on both performance and engagement will require some managers to rethink their leadership strategies and tactics. For example, they might want to revisit how frequently they meet with employees. As we’ve written in the past, more frequent meetings help managers ensure their teams always perform at a high level by sharing specific, real-time feedback—what they’re doing well, what needs to be improved, and what they can do to advance their careers.

More frequent meetings also pay engagement dividends. As the Gallup article states, “On average, only 15% of employees who work for a manager who does not meet with them regularly are engaged; managers who regularly meet with their employees almost tripled that level of engagement.” These managers always know what their employees enjoy doing, what they’d like to do more or less of, and what they hope to be doing in the future.

Bottom line, when managers focus on both performance and engagement, the winner is … everyone.