Picture the best manager you ever had. Do you still remember what they said to you? Do you remember how it felt to work with them?
My guess is that the best manager you ever had cared about you as a person. They saw potential in you. They empowered you to move to the next level. The most important moments with them didn’t happen with an evaluation rubric or during an annual performance review. It likely happened in a doorway, between meetings or over a lunch talking about your dreams.
When you left a meeting with them, you felt like you had what you needed to solve your own problems. You felt understood, but most importantly, you felt inspired and motivated to work harder than you ever had before, because you had the support you needed, and you were eager to grow.
For too many employees, that manager is rare. Most employees do not feel inspired by their manager to perform better. According to Gallup, only one in five employees strongly agrees that they are managed in a way that motivates them.
A New Focus on Learning and Development
So, how does a manager motivate today’s worker?
According to Gallup’s recent “State of the American Workplace” report, employees are looking for more than just a paycheck. They want to develop and grow. That means managers now play an even more essential role in helping employees reach their personal goals as part of reaching organizational expectations.
Managers must increasingly take on the role of coach for their team members. In the past, a manager who was a coach was a rare breed, and only some lucky souls experienced it. In today’s knowledge-driven economy, a coach is a necessity to engage and retain the workforce. This change may be a major shift in mindset for many managers used to traditional ways of thinking.
Archetypal managers tell people what to do; coaches ask questions that help their people move forward. Managers focus on past performance and mistakes that cannot be fixed; coaches focus on the future and opportunities to improve. Managers set expectations first, and then inform their team; coaches include individual feedback so that goals are mutually agreed on upfront. Managers focus on accountability; coaches are invested in the success and growth of their teams.
This comparison is not a way of saying that managers must lower their standards on accountability or simply be nicer. The central issue remains managing in a way that actually drives performance. When employees feel that their managers care about them as people and are willing to help them grow professionally, they are more engaged at work.
Continuing Informal Conversations
Today’s employees require ongoing coaching conversations to perform well. They may include everything from monthly 30-minute evaluations to informal weekly check-ins lasting less than 15 minutes. Even these brief informal conversations, however, need to be meaningful and focused. These types of conversations do not come naturally to most managers. Gallup research shows that only one in 10 people has the talent required to effectively manage other people.
If managers struggle to give effective feedback once a year, we cannot expect that they will be effective at giving informal feedback on a regular basis. We must train managers in the coaching skills required to have meaningful, effective conversations with their team members. Training can help managers avoid common coaching pitfalls, such as micromanaging. Even the most well-intentioned initiative, without training, can backfire. Who wants to spend moretime with a bad manager?
Of course, coaching is about more than just following a formula. It also means being able to identify talent in others and nurture it. All athletes have weaknesses, but great athletes know their strengths. If we want to see improved human performance, we must help people focus on what they do best.
If companies are seeking exceptional – not merely incremental – performance gains, they must invest in training managers to be the inspiring coaches we all dream of having.