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Managers as Coaches: The Changing Landscape of Managing Employees

The numbers aren’t pretty.

A Gallup poll last year found that no more than 13% of adults with full-time jobs found their work meaningful.

According to the Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace report, only 33% of U.S. employees are engaged (passionate and committed) at work. That means two-thirds of the American workforce is either not engaged or, worse yet, actively disengaged. And these disengaged employees are estimated to cost the U.S. $450 to $550 billion per year in lost productivity.

Of the respondents to an Achievers’ survey in 2018: just 21% termed themselves “very engaged”; 16% call their manager/company “horrible” at soliciting feedback and 40% rate them just “OK.” Also, 38% have “never heard leadership talk about culture” or “they talk about it, but there’s no action.”

According to Gallup’s State of the American Manager report, one in two employees have left a job to get away from a manager and improve their overall life at some point in their career.

In general, managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement. Unfortunately, only about one in four employees strongly agree that their manager provides meaningful feedback to them — or that the feedback they receive helps them do better work.

From the manager’s point of view, many (if not most) begin a typical day with a task list. But once they arrive at the office or otherwise begin their day, they are inundated with questions, problems, and issues from employees. Managers can spend so much of their time addressing their team’s issues that frequently, by the end of the day, they have made little headway on their own task list.

How do managers break this cycle while also addressing their employees’ needs? Global Dynamics Senior Associate and executive coaching expert Maya Hu-Chan says the answer is for the busy manager to learn how to become a coach to their employees.

According to Sir John Whitmore, a leading figure in executive coaching, the definition of coaching is “unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.” When done right, coaching can also help with employee engagement; it is often more motivating to bring your expertise to a situation than to be told what to do.

We now know that the awkward, once-a-year performance review is not effective. Employees become defensive and deflated when rated and ranked based on old information or based on biases from a manager who doesn’t really understand their work. But, at the same time, gone are the days of the manager who stands over your shoulder. The manager doesn’t have the time for that and employees don’t want that level of monitoring or micromanaging.

Sidebar: If you want to see a hilarious example of an “old school” management style, check out the 1999 American comedy Office Space (“Did you get the memo?”).

In recent years, forward-thinking organizations have begun to move away from traditional top-down command-and-control management styles to a more participative and consultative leadership approach in which the coach-manager plays a pivotal role.

Research shows that:

  • Organizations with a strong coaching culture typically enjoy higher levels of employee engagement and job satisfaction.
  • Organizations have more productive and cohesive teams that achieve better business results, and are highly successful at attracting and retaining talent.
  • Employees who receive daily feedback from their manager are 3x more likely to be engaged than those who receive feedback once a year or less.
  • When managers provide meaningful feedback to employees, those employees are 3.5x more likely to be engaged.

Google’s Project Oxygen 2018 Manager Feedback Survey (to evaluate what makes a manager great) found that employees ranked coaching as the top competence they want their managers to have.

If a manager wants to be a leader, she must develop the ability to coach others. It is core skill required of every successful manager in the 21st century. The days of command-and-control leadership as a standard and effective way of managing people are long gone. Coaching and collaboration have taken over as the most effective way for managers to lead. If managers do not become skilled at coaching their employees, it is unlikely that they will be able to achieve sustainable long-term positive results for themselves or their organizations.

Unfortunately, according to a recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 93% of managers feel they lacked the training and skills needed to properly coach their direct reports.

So, why don’t all managers coach? Most likely due to one of three major reasons: (1) they don’t understand the value or importance of coaching; (2) they don’t possess the skills to coach others; or (3) even if they understand the importance and have the skills, they don’t have (or take) the time.

Given that much of an individual’s experience at work is directly shaped by their relationship with their manager, it’s vital that managers are given the coaching tools they need to adapt their management style and respond better to the needs of their team members.

Having spent the bulk of this post addressing the issues and challenges of managing “old style” and shy coaching is so important, we will focus next time on suggestions for helping to transform managers into coach-managers.

 

Additional sources: “How to Turn Managers into Coaches” by Agata Nowakowska; “Training Managers to be Coaches” by Neal Goodman; “Why Your Managers Should Be Like Coaches” by Jessica Buona; “Five Ways to Transform Managers Into Coaches” from the American Management Association; “Most Managers Don’t Know How to Coach People” by Julia Milner and Trenton Milner.