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Here’s Why Effective Managers Are Your Secret Weapon

Skilled managers can boost your organization's retention and performance.
By: | May 8, 2019 • 3 min read

We can all probably think of at least one or two managers who encouraged and supported our work projects, personal development and career advancement. Guided by their leadership, our work experience was richer and our engagement with the company soared. But those other managers? The ones we might call “bad managers”? Well, we all have some memories that could make us shudder.

An organization’s mission to find, hire and deploy a great manager starts with sourcing the right candidate. But 82 percent of the time, companies fail to choose a candidate with the right talent to do the job, according to Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Manager report. This has huge implications on employee engagement and retention. The study also found that managers have the greatest impact on employee engagement and are responsible for an estimated 70 percent of the variance of employee engagement across business units.

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This is a crucial factor in an organization’s retention strategy. In fact, Gallup found that 51 percent of managers aren’t engaged themselves, and 14 percent are actively disengaged. A bad manager can have sweeping effects on performance, engagement and retention companywide. The impact? Gallup estimates that these disengaged managers cost the U.S. economy between $319 billion to $398 billion annually. And some 50 percent of employees have quit to escape a bad manager at some point in their career.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Capable and engaged managers aren’t born, they’re trained – regardless of whether they’re an outside hire or internal candidate. Along with every promotion or lateral move, organizations need to set managers up for success by offering them ongoing training and development opportunities. Sure, some folks are clearly gifted in the leadership department – that’s the talented 18 percent in Gallup’s research. Leading and developing others comes naturally for them. But for the rest of us, manager development is essential – after all, we all report to somebody!

So where do organizations begin with their manager training? Here are three ways organizations can develop their managers so that they can contribute to a high-performing organizational culture of employee development and engagement.

  1. Focus on coaching for goal achievement

Think back to Little League: Coaching isn’t disciplinary action, and it’s different from “managing.” It’s about seizing opportunities to offer in-the-moment feedback with a focus on helping employees achieve their goals, which must be aligned to the organization’s business goals, visible and top of mind.

The best coaching happens when managers shift away from a “command and control” approach and instead take the time to learn and understand their people’s strengths, and then pivot their people into roles with responsibilities that leverage their skills. Coaches who give employees regular feedback and recognition in what they’re doing well and where there’s room for growth keep employees engaged in their own performance and career development. Coaches who recognize any employee skill gaps that may be impeding performance or growth can also prescribe learning and/or development activities to help those employees take a more proactive role in their own development.

More and more organizations are realizing the benefits of embracing a coaching culture. In Brandon Hall Group’s 2018 Performance Management Study, 63 percent of high-performing organizations already have a formal program in place to train managers to be coaches and mentors. And an integral part of being an effective coach is scheduling regular 1:1 meetings with their direct reports.

  1. Drive accountability with regular, ongoing check-ins

For managers to be engaged, they need to know what’s going on with their employees. The annual performance appraisal is not enough to drive performance, development and engagement. In addition to in-the-moment coaching, managers should be setting regular, ongoing 1:1 meetings with their employees to discuss performance breakthroughs, areas for improvement, and development desires. Ideally, managers should be checking in with their direct reports every other week, but it’s also possible to hold effective performance conversations in just 10 minutes a month. Whatever meeting cadence managers and employees decide upon, it must be consistent.

In-the-moment feedback and performance coaching is a practice that’s on-trend with the organizations BHG surveyed. Among the findings:

  • 59 percent planned to supplement annual performance appraisals with frequent performance appraisals
  • 40 percent planned to focus performance appraisals more on the future goals of the employee
  • 12 percent planned to eliminate formal performance appraisals altogether

When done well, 1:1 meetings are an easy and effective way to develop strong employee-manager relationships, encourage open communication, and keep everyone aligned, engaged and focused on achieving their goals.

  1. Tap talent-management technology to leverage deep performance insights

A new manager must learn how to lead people to produce their best work. Rather than being an individual contributor, the manager is now responsible for working through others. That means assigning, delegating and tracking projects. Today’s talent management technology can make connecting with employees – and tracking their performance and goal progress – faster and easier than ever, but your talent and performance management platforms are only as good as your organization’s overarching talent strategy.

It’s non-negotiable: To create a culture of engagement and high-performance, managers must understand the organization’s goals and how to leverage the organization’s performance management systems and tools in order to support their people and track their progress.

A hyper-connected talent-development platform can help make it easier for managers to support the continuous performance process by using the platform to prescribe learning, training and skill development opportunities right in the moment of need. This can help employees feel more empowered to explore learning independently, putting them squarely in the driver’s seat of their own development.

Shifting to a High-Performance Culture

By ensuring managers are using all the tools at their disposal, such as performance appraisals, development activities and career-planning sessions, manager and employee engagement will not only enjoy a well-deserved boost, but your company’s culture will shift positively to high-performance and development.

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There’s no reason that managers – even if they don’t fall within that “talented 18 percent” – can’t be trained to support their people, offer coaching, recognition and feedback, and strive to develop high-performing teams.

That’s why it’s crucial that managers know they should use these same resources to support their own performance, development and success — it’s not just for their employees.

As the chief people officer of Saba Software, Debbie Shotwell is responsible for human resources, learning and development, employee communications and community relations. Debbie brings more than 25 years of passion and experience building high-performance teams and cultures that deliver results, and has received the National Association of Professional Women’s Humanitarian Award.

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