Think Employees Thrive With Constant Coaching? Think Again

“Connector” managers are the standout performance coaches. They connect employees to the right people and resources at the right time.

Paul, the chief HR officer (CHRO) at a global consumer goods company, is deciding how to incorporate outside talent as he builds out the firm’s digital marketing capabilities. Sarah, the head of learning and development (L&D) at a global financial services firm, is in search of managers to lead functional digitization efforts.

You unknowingly favor the type of manager who actually degrades employee performance

Paul and Sarah both need managers who are adept at continually improving employee performance in the midst of change. But are they — and you — filling the manager ranks with the right type of people to drive performance in such turbulent times?

Recent research by CEB, now Gartner, suggests not. In fact, it’s likely they — and you — unknowingly favor the type of manager who actually degrades the performance of employees.

Most organizations yearn for what our research calls the “Always On” manager — someone who commits to constant employee coaching and development. Jaime Roca, senior vice president, Research & Advisory, of Gartner’s HR Practice recently told the Harvard Business Review 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.

It was another type of manager — the “Connector” manager — that was especially shown to improve employee performance. “Connector managers triple the likelihood that their direct reports are high performers, and increase employee engagement by up to 40%,” says Roca.

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

Connector managers are least common but most effective

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 their own sphere and expose employees to the best opportunities to acquire experience, skills and capabilities at the time they are needed.

The net result: Connector managers were shown in the research to improve the performance of employees by up to 26%. If this type of Connector manager doesn’t come to mind when you think continuous-performance coach, you aren’t alone.

When it comes to coaching employees, being a Connector is how you win

The Always-On manager — visible and diligent in the way they coach — is highly sought after by most organizations. Surprisingly, 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%.

Other types of managers exist — the Cheerleader, who is the most common in organizations today, 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.

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3 connections to drive performance

Today’s imperative to improve employee performance comes amid business disruption and rising demand for new, and sometimes unfamiliar, skills and capabilities. Gartner research shows 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.

Connector managers are especially effective in today’s fast-changing environments, as they leverage three sets of connections — employee, team and enterprise — to reap and deliver benefits. They tailor professional development to employee needs and interests, promote reciprocal and real-time development within the team, and ensure quality development connections among individual employees — and between individuals and other teams and organizational resources.

This makes the Connector a critical asset for L&D managers looking to extract better returns from their development and coaching programs, and for CHROs and other senior leaders who want to keep their organizations agile in a time of significant business flux.

Recognize a Connector manager

Would you know a Connector manager if you saw one? “Connector managers don’t spend more time coaching and developing than other types of managers. They extract more value from the time they do spend,” says Roca.

If you’re on the lookout for Connector managers, seek managers who:

  • Take an active role to ensure high-quality development connections, and don’t just delegate development responsibilities
  • Invest time to diagnose and understand individual employee needs, and don’t jump to conclusions about employee performance and development needs
  • Help employees get more value from their development connections, not focus just on enlarging employees’ networks
  • Deliberately create an environment of transparency and trust within their teams and recognize peer coaching and development

With that in mind, do you have the right type of managers to drive performance in your organization? As Roca told HBR: “When it comes to coaching employees, being a Connector is how you win.”

Gartner for HR Leaders clients can read more about the new manager mandate to leverage Connector managers and watch a webinar on the impact of different types of managers on employee performance management.