How the Best Managers Improve Employee Performance and Health

November 08, 2021

Contributor: Sari Wilde

If you want to develop and retain strong employees without compromising their health and well-being, Connector managers are your secret weapon.

When Gartner studied manager effectiveness before the pandemic, we identified Connector managers as the clear winners in building high-performing employees. We’ve now confirmed this manager type still outperforms — even in today’s stressful, disrupted times.

Throughout the pandemic, employees have generally worked harder, put in longer hours, and become even more productive. But while performance has increased, psychological safety, inclusion and intent to stay have all declined. And managers themselves are facing a confidence crisis, unsure how best to be effective. 

Download now: The Connector Manager Performance Advantage

Major disruptions test today’s managers 

To succeed, managers must first acknowledge how seismic the changes are in their work environment, particularly in these three ways:

  • How, where and when we work is changing. Managers must support their direct reports through frequent business and organizational pivots, and employees and employers often view work differently. Managers also face conflicting outcomes. For instance, while many employees are highly productive, many are also burning out
  • Skills continue to evolve. Gartner research shows the total number of skills required for a single job is increasing at 6% annually — so managers struggle to be experts in the skills their employees actually need. 
  • The employee value proposition is evolving. Employees now want a more human deal that recognizes them as people, not just workers.

Next, we have to reconsider what “performance” we’re even hoping to achieve.

A new way to define performance

For the benefit of both employers and employees, we need to redefine the desired outcome for managers, and today, that means eliciting performance that is sustainable. 

In other words, we need managers to support employees’ performance without compromising their long-term health.

Gartner's Model of Sustainable Performance

In surveying thousands of employees and managers, we found that sustainable performers were 17% more productive than other employees — and 1.7 times more likely to stay at their organization. 

Would Connector managers prove able to drive this sustained performance?

Revisiting the Connector manager

When Jaime Roca and I first studied manager effectiveness before the pandemic, we identified four distinct manager types and found that one — the Connector manager — improved employee performance by 26% and tripled the likelihood that their direct reports were high performers

Our latest research shows the Connector boosts sustainable performance by as much as 45%.

Four Types of Managers

Conversely, our new research finds that Teacher managers degrade sustainable performance, as they have been anchoring their guidance and coaching on past experiences that are no longer relevant to the current situation. The Always-On Manager — which many organizations continue to favor — has no real impact on sustainable performance. We know providing more feedback and check-ins does not generate sustainable performance. Finally, Cheerleaders have a marginally greater positive impact on their staff, which they achieve through sheer positive empowerment.

Learn more: Meet the Connector Manager

Connectors have evolved the three critical connections

Connectors still succeed as managers by making employee, team and organizational connections, but they have adapted the ways they create these connections to meet the needs of the new work environment. Instead of trying to provide or facilitate coaching to drive current performance, they focus on supporting the whole person to drive well-being and sustainable performance.

  • Employee connection. Connectors focus on asking questions and diagnosing employees’ strengths, development areas, motivations and interests. They lead with empathy but also realize that simply asking questions is insufficient in the current uncertain environment. They enable concrete actions so that individuals can move forward.
  • Team connection. In times of disruption, connections that matter most are those within the immediate team. Connector managers build successful teams by regularly assessing and monitoring their team’s health and cohesion. They also build a foundation of psychological safety that fosters trust, so that employees are invested in one another's well-being and success, not just their own. Finally, Connectors empower employees to share ownership for their team’s resilience, cohesion and learning as they shift and evolve, so it doesn’t all fall on managers.
  • Organizational connection. Connector managers advocate for their employees by helping them to make connections that nurture their professional and personal growth. They act as mapmakers who can help employees navigate the path to achieving their full potential when it may not be visible to the employee or connecting them with a coach who can teach them a new skill for their job today. Although Connectors don’t provide all of the feedback and coaching themselves, they ensure that employees are learning and growing from their connection opportunities.

To help your managers become Connectors, set expectations for managers, senior leaders and employees about their roles in creating a Connector organization. And encourage managers to assess what traits and behaviors they can adopt to become Connectors.

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