Organizations today are under tremendous pressure to innovate, expand their capabilities, and become more efficient and competitive. To achieve those goals, managers are called upon to play an even more active role in steering their direct reports’ professional growth and development. As coaching becomes a more critical aspect of managers’ jobs, HR functions are devoting more attention to training managers in the best ways to drive performance on their teams.
In our research at Gartner, we’ve identified four types of managers, each with a distinct approach to coaching. These include the teacher, who develops employees using their own experience and expertise; the cheerleader, who enables employees to take their development into their own hands; the connector, who introduces employees to the right people to meet their development needs, and the always-on manager, who provides continuous coaching and feedback across a broad range of skills. In an era when organizations are most concerned with constant growth and performance improvement, the always-on management style has become common, even preferred. However, our research finds that it is the least effective of the bunch; in fact, always-on managers tend to degrade employee performance rather than augmenting it. Teachers and cheerleaders improve performance to a degree, but it’s the connector manager who stands out, with a maximum impact on employee performance of 26 percent: around three times the impact of a teacher or cheerleader.
The connector manager model is not really new, Principal Executive Advisor Scott Engler pointed out in a session at Gartner’s ReimagineHR event in London last Wednesday. In a sense, it represents a return to the roots of performance management theory from the 1980s, before the term became conflated with performance measurement and ratings, and coaching transformed into feedback. By becoming connectors, managers can rediscover the power of coaching and substantially increase their impact on their team members’ performance without spending time they don’t have.
The high-impact coaching connector managers do has two essential qualities: it takes an employee-centric approach and uses a broader coaching network.
Employee-centric coaching is tailored to employees’ individual needs. Managers must learn to ask incisive questions and dig beneath the surface of employees’ concerns to identify the root causes of their challenges. Drilling down to the root cause of an obstacle lets the connector manager find a solution that will enable the employee to overcome it the next time it arises without leaning on their manager. The connector manager counts it as a win when an employee doesn’t need to come back to them twice for help with the same problem. The employee may still need help the next time, but they will know exactly where to go for the help they need, because their manager has facilitated that connection.
Connector managers must also learn to flex their communication styles to maximize the impact of coaching conversations on their individual team members. Some will be more receptive or resistant to coaching in general, while individuals also differ in whether they are more task- or relationship-oriented, more inclined toward action or deliberation. An effective manager is sensitive to these different preferences and modifies their own communication style to resonate with each employee.
Understanding different communication styles is also important for connector managers in building a broader coaching network.
The work environment is more collaborative and interconnected today than ever before, so an employee’s enterprise contribution depends on their having a strong network of connections throughout the organization. Employees also benefit from more frequent coaching interactions, demand more hands-on learning, and have more questions their managers can’t answer. In this context, where traditional one-on-one coaching falls short, building a network can support employee development much more effectively than managers alone. Connector managers accomplish this by making best-fit connections between personally and professionally compatible employees who can learn from each other, and by creating an open and transparent environment for peer-to-peer learning on their team.
These key qualities of effective coaching are just one of many insights to come out of our research into the connector manager. Gartner for HR Leaders clients can read more about developing connector managers here and watch a webinar on how different types of managers impact employee performance.