Think Employees Thrive With Constant Coaching? Think Again

July 25, 2019

Contributor: Jackie Wiles

Connector managers excel at eliciting standout performance from their employees, while sought-after Always On managers actually degrade employee performance.

Drug sales rep Raj spends one day a month with Sarah, his direct manager. Sarah is keen to make the most of this rare one-on-one time and starts the day by reviewing Raj’s sales performance and goals and defining the ideal strategy for his sales day — and then provides Raj with detailed feedback after each of the day’s six-to-eight sales calls.  Sarah focuses largely on a single performance issue: whether Raj is focusing enough on the “hard sell” of the drug’s benefits. But Raj is left exhausted from the ‘firehose of feedback’ and still isn’t sure how he would do things differently in the limited time he gets to make his pitch.

“ Always-On managers were found to degrade employee performance by up to 8%”

This scenario is a classic recounting of life with an ‘Always On’ manager — the type of manager who is often sought after for their enthusiasm and engagement, and yet, Gartner research shows, is a manager who actually degrades employee performance.

Learn more: Building Connector Managers

“Much of today’s coaching simply isn’t effective, and yet we know that when managers get it right, the benefits of good coaching are clear,” says Jaime Roca, Senior Vice President, Research & Advisory, Gartner HR Practice. “Our research shows that employees who report to managers who coach effectively are 40% more engaged, exhibit 38% more discretionary effort and are 20% more likely to stay at their organizations than those who report to ineffective coaches.”

“ Connectors don’t presume to coach their direct reports on everything”

“Knowing this, we embarked on a multiyear study of thousands of employees, managers and senior leaders around a simple question: ‘What are the best managers doing to develop employees in today’s workplace?’” says Sari Wilde, Managing Vice President, Research & Advisory, Gartner HR Practice. The study tested the conventional wisdom of what it means to be a manager and found that the approach to coaching and development that most organizations are promoting today actually does more harm than good. More importantly, it found an approach with an outsized positive impact on employee performance: the Connector manager approach.

“ Employees who report to managers who coach effectively are 40% more engaged”

Connectors are clearly the most effective

Roca says that he and his team assumed the Always-On category would perform the best, but that is not so. “That really surprised us,” Roca told HBR. Connector managers 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. Connectors don’t presume to coach their direct reports on everything. Instead, they guide their direct reports to people and resources beyond the employee’s immediate sphere and they expose employees to the best opportunities to acquire experience, skills and capabilities at the time they are needed.

“ Connector managers triple the likelihood that their reports are high performers”

The net result: Connector managers were shown to improve the performance of employees by up to 26%.  “Connector managers triple the likelihood that their direct reports are high performers, and increase employee engagement by up to 40%,” says Roca.

Nevertheless, if this type of Connector manager doesn’t come to mind when you think continuous-performance coach, you aren’t alone. Always-On managers — visible and diligent in the way they coach — are highly sought after by most organizations. But it turns out that their constant feedback can be indiscriminate, overwhelming and misplaced. It is also often irrelevant and inaccurate because Always-On managers tend to focus on developing their employees across a breadth of experience, even in areas they don’t know well enough to coach. The result? Always-On managers were found to degrade employee performance by up to 8%.

Gartner shows the Connector Manager clearly has the most impact on employee performance, while always-on managers degrade performance

There are two other types of managers — the Cheerleader and the Teacher — but neither has anywhere near the positive impact on performance as the Connector, or the negative impact of the Always-On manager.

Learn more:Developing connector managers 

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