How Connector Managers Create Star Performers

August 08, 2019

Contributor: Jackie Wiles

Connector managers extract more value from employee coaching and are more likely than other managers to create high performers. Heres how they do it.

Do you want to triple the number of high performers in your organization? Then you need to stop relying on the Always-On management style you have probably been favoring, and groom Connector managers Connector managers boost employee performance by up to 26% and more than triple the likelihood that the employees they coach will be high performers. They also boost employees’ discretionary effort by up to 38%, and can improve employee engagement by up to 40%. Connectors drive these critical outcomes regardless of industry, function or region. So how do these standout managers do it? 

“ Connectors expose employees to the best opportunities to acquire experience, skills and capabilities — at the time they are needed”

Connectors foster meaningful connections to and among employees, teams and the organization to develop an employee’s specific capabilities — at the very moment that employee is primed to learn,” says Jaime Roca, Senior Vice President, Research & Advisory, Gartner HR Practice.  “Connectors don’t presume to coach their direct reports on everything,” adds Sari Wilde, Managing Vice President, Research & Advisory, Gartner HR Practice. “They expose employees to the best opportunities to acquire experience, skills and capabilities — at the time they are needed.”

Learn more: Building Connector Managers

Management myths hinder performance potential

The success of Connector managers is surprising given that today’s fast-shifting work environment seems to call for an Always-On style of managing, which can respond to employees who crave (and at times need) frequent coaching and feedback.  But research shows that Always-On managers actually degrade employee performance by up to 8%. This happens for various reasons — most of which hinge on some popular myths about the virtues of continuous coaching and feedback. Avoid steering your manager population in the wrong direction by debunking these myths — especially these three favorites:

  1. The more time managers spend coaching and providing feedback, the better. Wrong. Gartner research found that there is no significant correlation between time spent coaching and employee performance. Connectors perform the same core coaching activities as other managers and don’t spend any more time coaching than the other types. Rather, they prioritize their coaching time differently, and extract more value from the time they do spend coaching. As a leader, you can help your managers do better: Decouple the time spent coaching from the implied quality.
  2. Managers are expected to always know what’s best for their employees. Our research finds that only 18% of employees believe their managers even understand their work, so how can they consistently be the main source of top-notch feedback? As a leader, rather than asking managers to drive the development agenda in every coaching interaction, ask them to recalibrate their relationships with employees by asking a series of probing questions about their motivators, preferences and work aspirations.
  3. Managers are the best source of coaching and feedback for their employees. Managers can’t be expected to know every answer, especially in today’s fast-changing work environment, so don’t fall prey to the idea that some guidance is unequivocally better than no guidance at all. Emphasize to your managers that they should only directly coach in areas in which they have expertise or strength. Focus on enabling managers to build awareness of their own strengths and development areas, so they know when to lean in — and when to defer to others for coaching.

Why 3 connections?

In working to debunk these myths, you are also unleashing the power of the Connector manager, who doesn’t try to be everything to everyone, but rather focuses on making three core development connections for their employees to reap and deliver benefits. 

Employee connection

What is it? Managers have myriad interactions with employees, from providing direct feedback and coaching to sharing performance expectations. Connectors dedicate extensive time and energy to this employee connection, building a deep and rich upfront relationship with employees and helping them accurately identify needs, interests and aspirations.

What does the employee connection look like? Connectors don’t offer feedback on every project, interaction and activity. They invest in upfront work to understand the employee’s specific needs and then find ways to empower them to be proactive about their own development.

What’s the result? Connectors provide more targeted development at the right times and on the right skill needs — feedback that employees can actively use to improve their performance and drive their own career development. 

How to drive the employee connection?

  1. Invest heavily in diagnosis. Build trust, ask context-specific questions and listen to direct reports to better understand their needs, interests and aspirations.
  2. Coach the person, not the problem. Flex your coaching approach based on an individual’s development needs — and their receptivity.
  3. Be positive, but be prepared to be tough. Prioritize strengths-based feedback, but be critical when it’s needed most.

Team connection

What is it? Connectors take their foundational understanding of what drives and motivates each employee and use it to tailor the broader team environment — and set employees up to more intentionally share skills and boost each other’s performance within team interactions. What does the team connection look like? Connectors build a team environment that is grounded in trust and a deep understanding of employee needs. Team members are encouraged to discuss strengths and weaknesses with their peers — and to find peers with whom they can share knowledge and skills development. What’s the result? Our research finds that approximately one-quarter of employees count on teammates as a primary source of feedback. Instead, consider the potential harmonizing power of your own team. Let’s say you have five direct reports. With five employees per team, there are nearly 25 connections that can occur between teammates to help them improve their skills — potentially developing a whole finely tuned unit of high performers. How to drive the team connection?

  1. Use motivators to tailor the team environment. Understand what engages individuals and teams so they can create their own personalized approaches to development. Ensure that teams work toward common goals.
  2. Identify and embrace individual differences. Encourage individuals within your teams to share their distinct opinions, backgrounds and experiences, and use these differences to build team trust, develop new skills and improve outcomes.
  3. Make peer skill-sharing a ritual. Make it easier for employees to develop their peers by institutionalizing the sharing of information, strengths and needs across the team.

Organization connection

What is it? Connectors look to exploit connections beyond those available within an employee’s direct reporting lines, teams or even their known professional and social networks. These skill pockets may be hard to find within the organization, and may not exist at all for smaller organizations or niche job areas.

What does the organization connection look like? Best-fit development connections emerge by building bridges across and outside of the enterprise to make the best (not just the most) connections. Possible sources are “benevolent outsiders,” such as peer companies that share industry, geography, orientation or growth stage, app and technology partners with a vested interest in seeing your organization thrive, and customers with an emotional connection to your business.

What’s the result? Best-fit development connections are critically important in boosting employee performance, grooming high-potential employees, and providing high-performing employees with development opportunities that keep them growing and engaged.

How to drive the organization connection?

  1. Become mapmakers. Help employees understand where the best-fit connections might be within or outside the organization — not by literally building an org chart, but by leveraging key points of contact to help identify where skills may be prevalent.
  2. Develop warm-up and cool-down routines. Play the role of an “activist coach,” holding one-on-one meetings with employees to help them prepare to extract the most value from their connections and reflect on lessons learned after the fact.
  3. Model best-fit connections. Connect employees with individuals across and outside the organization for development, but also make sure to serve as a connection yourself.

How to get started

The role of the manager in coaching and developing people has rightfully become a high priority for organizations in today’s era of heightened change and complexity. Managers serve as the key conduit between an organization and its staff, helping employees continuously align to changing performance standards, learn new skills, grow in their careers and much more.  In this environment, Connector managers are a critical asset for HR and other senior leaders who want to keep their organizations agile in a time of significant business flux and for learning and development managers looking to extract better returns from their development and coaching programs.  To improve your organization’s chances of grooming high performers, commit to these three things today to take the Connector manager approach:

  • Get to know your employees — really
  • Make development a team sport
  • Ensure better, not just more, connections

Learn more: The Connector Manager

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