Fine-Tune Development Spend to Make Managers More Effective

To help time-stretched managers be better coaches, learning & development (L&D) can fine-tune spend to support “Connector” managers and peer coaching.

Dan, head of L&D at a global consumer goods company, looks glumly at his budget. He has less than last year to spend on developing his managers, who are already complaining they don’t have time to coach the way he expects. The strategic priority is continuous performance improvement. How should Dan fine-tune his budget so he targets those managers and learning channels that will deliver the best results?

With budgets shrinking, L&D leaders must target approaches most likely to boost performance

Improving manager effectiveness remains a top priority for heads of L&D in 2018. Yet, the percentage of L&D budgets that will be dedicated to developing managers has shrunk, according to CEB, now Gartner’s, 2018 Head of L&D Manager Effectiveness Survey. The survey shows 26% of the L&D budget will be spent on managers in 2018, down from 36% in 2017. That is a significant investment though, especially given that the manager segment accounts for only 16% of total employees.

“With budgets shrinking, L&D leaders must target approaches most likely to boost performance,” says Gartner research leader Sari Wilde.

Peer-based coaching is on the rise

The survey shows that L&D executives increasingly offer less-formal learning channels for managers alongside formal classroom-based learning, which remains in use almost everywhere.

Formal training for managers on an ad hoc basis remains the most common manager development solution, along with formal training for first-time managers. Two-thirds of organizations use online manager resource portals for development, though that was down 2% from 2017. The use of e-learning modules has declined more than any channel (down 11%) in the past year.

The use of peer-based coaching, by contrast, has grown more than any other learning channel (up 15%), along with manager-led coaching (up 12%), online video learning (up 7%) and mentoring (up 5%).

“These less-formal channels help the organization build and disseminate skills and capabilities at the speed that’s needed in today’s fast-changing business conditions,” says Wilde.

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Managers are short on time

In recent research on manager types, CEB, now Gartner, found 37% of the skills employees use today were learned in the past year, and 57% of employees develop new skills through their interactions with colleagues. These demands put pressure on managers to train their employees continually. The question is whether managers have enough time to participate in development. L&D leaders report managers’ lack of time as the No. 1 challenge to making managers more effective at developing and coaching.

The average manager has nine direct reports, spends about 35% of their day in meetings, almost as much time reading and responding to more than 120 emails, and nearly 10% of their time coaching and providing feedback to their team. And yet L&D wants managers to spend four times as much time — 36% — on coaching subordinates.

Managers are often told to provide constant feedback to employees across a broad range of areas, and yet this constant coaching ends up being counterproductive.

Shift from “Always On” to “Connector” managers

The research shows “Always On” managers — those who commit to constant coaching — actually degrade employee performance. More effective are “Connector” managers, who guide their direct reports to people and resources beyond their own sphere for a greater breadth of experience, skills and capabilities.

Read more: The Harvard Business Review reports on the Connector manager approach.

If L&D leaders proactively develop Connector managers within their organizations, human resources and business leaders can expect more effective performance coaching — from managers and peers.

“Connector managers triple the likelihood that their direct reports are high performers, and increase employee engagement by up to 40%,” says Jaime Roca, senior vice president of Gartner’s HR Practice. “That means Connectors deliver a good return on investment from development dollars.”

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Gartner for HR Leaders clients can read the Manager Development Benchmarking Report, 2018 and learn more about Connector managers.