An employee excelling in a role doesn't necessarily make them a stellar manager — and yet that is often what leads to promotion.
So, how can HR teams make an efficient manager out of a freshly promoted employee with lots of potential? The answer lies in coaching, according to a June 2021 report from Forrester. Coaching empowers employees, empowerment drives engagement, and engagement drives performance. The report outlined how coaching a frontline leader can be pivotal for success in consumer-oriented businesses. While executives may shape customer strategy, frontline managers are — as the name implies — on the front lines managing the employees putting strategy into action.
Katy Tynan, Forrester's principal analyst of employee experience and future of work, defines a "frontline manager" as "a leader whose team comprises individual contributors." In essence, they are the first level of management in an organization. "They may be team leaders, or only have one or two people who report to them," she said to HR Dive in an email.
When employees don't know how to lead properly, they default to what Forrester calls a "command-and-control" setting. This inefficient leadership strategy leads to unproductive behaviors — most commonly, micromanagement, focusing on employee weaknesses, and providing limited or no feedback. In regard to recognition and feedback specifically, 93% of respondents said their managers needed training in that area.
Some people's operations specialists and HR professionals may not think of coaching as a key part of their training and onboarding processes. But often, Tynan said, the issue is that development systems are not available in a way that makes learning possible in a timely manner. "For example, leadership development programs may only be offered once a year and that may not align with when some new leaders are promoted. Or the development programs may be very short (i.e. a day or two)," Tynan said. "So even though development is provided, it's not sufficient — nor is it designed to create new habits and change behaviors."
Ideally, good management development learning programs take place over a 6-month or year-long period. "[It would] involve phases of formal learning, as well as opportunities for social learning, experiential learning, and iterative practice to develop new skills," she said. Along with giving new managers adequate time for training, Forrester's team recommends active coaching. What that looks like in practice is flipping the above-mentioned unproductive behaviors, according to the report.
Define success together, instead of micromanaging. "Obsess" over your employees' strengths, instead of focusing on their weaknesses. Fill the feedback gap by "inspiring employees to grow their skills." Forrester's research team also urged higher-ups to "be present." But what does that mean in a hybrid work environment, where phenomena like Zoom fatigue abound? For one, Tynan said, being present can mean having office hours or other defined availability for drop-in questions.
"It can also look more like managers being intentionally aware of what each team member has on their plate, and understanding their deadlines and workloads. It also means having empathy and understanding of team members who may have diverse needs and life demands outside of work, which may impact their engagement and wellness," she said.
Researchers at Forrester acknowledged that managers can find it difficult to carve out time for team development — especially when numerous projects are at play and they are on deadline for various deliverables. Rituals make finding time an easier process, the report said. From Tynan's perspective, trust is a key part of ensuring your team learns and thrives together. "The single most valuable thing that managers can do is foster a culture of psychological safety within the team, which has been shown to be a significant differentiator for high-performing teams," she said.
Rituals can be a huge help in supporting employees individually, as well. "Each member of the team should have a career/professional development plan and should meet regularly with their manager to set goals, consider stretch assignments, and focus on learning and development as an intrinsic part of their work," she said.