Coaching the coaches: Giving managers the tools to lead
Front-line managers have their hands full. In addition to their own work load, they're responsible for managing teams, keeping them motivated and on task, all with an eye toward career development.
But a majority of managers feel they haven't been given sufficient training to do their job, much less do it well. According to recent data, between 40% and 59% of managers report having no training at all. And 44% feel overwhelmed at work.
This lack of training is affecting their subordinates. In a recent survey, only 40% of employees said their manager was helping them develop the skills they needed. With the role of managers shifting from simple oversight to complex mentoring, supervisors need more help than ever before.
Style and substance
For employers, it's important to first determine what you want to accomplish. Gartner has found that varying managerial styles net varying levels of success. A recent report on manager types uncovered surprising data. While most companies look for managers to be "always on" — consistently looking for opportunities to involve themselves with staffers — that type of oversight can be stifling. More successful in driving key employee outcomes are "connector managers." This group is aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, and knows when to connect to provide support and guidance, and when to leave employees to their own devices.
"In some cases, organizations may need to work hard to build that self-awareness in managers," Sari Wilde, research leader for Gartner's HR practice told HR Dive via email. One company Gartner worked with used a variety of survey instruments to provide managers with 360-degree feedback on how their style is perceived. "It was a huge wake-up call for the managers," she said. They found that letting managers take control of the analysis and discovery process was an important factor in helping them "buy in" to the need to change. The rest of the program focused on specific action plans to change behaviors and improve management approaches.
Wilde noted that a single initiative probably won't be sufficient, particularly for managers who are struggling. "We recommend 360-feedback on a regular basis, targeted development, and connections to other great managers who can act as role models or provide peer feedback and coaching," she said.
As with most training, personalization can ensure that efforts resonate with managers. "Learning and development teams should create personalized training programs for managers that focus on areas those managers care about and need to develop further," according to Kathleen Pai, Ultimate Software's VP of HR. "It's also important to provide training in both soft skills and technical capabilities, as this will not only lead to a more well-rounded experience for employees, but leave you with stronger managers overall," she told HR Dive via email.
Ultimate, for example, offers a variety of leadership and development tracks, depending on employee level. There are options for both aspiring and current managers, as well as new hires moving into management roles from external sources. Each will have different needs and goals, but all require support and development, she said.
Identifying managers who need help (even if they don't know it) can be a challenge, but technology can help. Surveys, for example, can leverage artificial intelligence and natural language processing to derive meaning from employee data. These can help identify areas for growth or concerns with managers that might otherwise go overlooked.
"Through sophisticated sentiment analysis, technology can read between the lines in ways humans can’t — as well as remove biases," Pai said. "With this assist, companies gain insights from both managers’ peers and their direct reports to create a holistic view of employees, and where individuals might be able to grow."
Coaching the coaches
When you decide to launch some manager coaching initiatives, you'll also have to decide whether to run programs internally or outsource. Both internal and external coaches have their strengths and values, according to both Heidi Mausbach, president and CEO of Ervin & Smith, and Flame Schoeder, professional certified coach.
For Mausbach, the priority was maximizing confidentiality, ensuring that managers felt completely safe to talk about the real issues they face — both personally and professionally. This meant retaining an external coach. "Our perspective," Mausbach told HR Dive via email, "is that if people can get coaching about personal concerns, it frees them up to do better work and if they get coaching about work concerns, it frees them up to better work. Therefore it's a win for E&S even if employees talk about their relationship with their spouse or children."
The pair said the goal of coaching should be to offer new perspectives to employees so they can be their whole selves at work. To support employees as challenges emerge and change, coaching should be ongoing. But the aim is not to have employees dependent on the coach; rather, it's to empower them to know and trust their own decision-making processes.
If an employer chooses to use internal coaches, mentoring can be a useful tool. Everyone needs a sounding board and resource to turn to when faced with challenging situations, but mentoring supports managers even when it’s smooth sailing. Structured or even informal mentoring programs provide access to another perspective and encourage the type of knowledge transfer so critical for business today.
The needs of managers — whether new or seasoned — are real. As the workplace continues to evolve and more is expected of them, employers must do all they can to support their supervisors.
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