A manager’s role in coaching and developing people has increasingly become a high priority for organizations today. In a fast-paced and complex environment, 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.
Unfortunately, 45% of managers don’t feel confident in their ability to develop the skills employees need today, according to a recent Gartner survey. In addition to a lack of confidence, Gartner research found that managers lack time to coach their direct reports, with managers spending only 9% of their time on developing their direct reports on average.
Organizations that are most successful at developing their employees have focused on cultivating “connector managers,” who are able to connect employees to the right people and resources at the right time. In fact, Gartner research found that connector managers boost employee performance by up to 26% and more than triple the likelihood that their employees will be high performers.
Connector managers give targeted coaching and feedback in their areas of expertise, but they recognize that some skills are best taught by people other than themselves. Good coaching can provide many benefits to an organization’s success. Gartner research shows that employees who report to effective manager coaches are 40% more engaged, display 38% more discretionary effort, and are 20% more likely to stay at their organizations than those who report to ineffective coaches. These dynamics are crucial for business leaders to attract, retain, and develop critical talent and future-proof the workforce.
Connector managers achieve unparalleled performance from their direct reports by applying three essential connections:
1) Employee Connection
The employee connection involves all of the interactions managers have with their employees, from providing direct feedback and coaching them to sharing performance expectations. Connector managers anchor their time in active listening and asking questions that build trust and help them understand employee context.
Forging a deep up-front relationship with employees helps managers accurately identify needs, interests, and aspirations. This up-front investment yields dividends and ensures that connectors provide targeted development at the right times and on the right skill needs.
Connectors who wish to establish a deeper understanding of each employee to yield the most productive conversations should consider asking powerful questions in the following categories:
- Building trust: How can I support you?
- Understanding the employee context: What is your perception of [X situation, problem], and how do you think that differs from others’ perceptions?
- Developing solutions: What could we have done differently?
- Understanding an employee’s readiness (ask yourself): To what degree has the employee mastered his or her role?
2.) Team Connection
Gartner research reveals that approximately one-quarter of employees already count on teammates as a primary source of feedback. However, while most employees are willing to share knowledge and discuss strengths with their peers, very few are willing and open to sharing their skill gaps.
Developing the team connection relies more on managers’ creating an open environment for skill sharing to occur organically than on their ability to explicitly match employees for coaching. Connector managers start building this team ecosystem by leveraging the intelligence they gather during the employee connection. Their foundational understanding of what drives and motivates each employee allows them to tailor the broader team environment to match employees’ individual motivators—and create a productive and trusting space.
Managers can increase the value of team skill sharing by incorporating these measures:
- Create motivators to tailor the team environment. Connectors understand what engages individuals and teams in order to create their own personalized approaches to management and ensure that employees work toward common goals.
- Recognize and embrace individual differences. Connectors encourage employees to share their opinions, backgrounds, and experiences and, in turn, use these differences to build team trust, develop new skills, and improve outcomes.
- Incorporate peer skill sharing as a ritual. Connectors make it easier for employees to develop their peers by institutionalizing the sharing of information, needs, and strengths across the team.
3.) Organization Connection
At times, the right development connections are not available within an employee’s direct reporting lines, teams, or known professional and social networks. Larger organizations almost inevitably have highly skilled pockets that employees could turn to for rapid skill sharing. However, these skill pockets can be hard to identify in their organization, which can be challenging for managers of smaller teams, in smaller companies, or in niche job areas.
Connector managers enable their employees to build bridges across and outside of the enterprise to make the best, not just the most, connections. Accomplishing this task requires managers to give employees visibility into skills across the organization and help them prepare to extract value from each exchange and reflect on lessons learned after the fact.
While external connections are one good option for best-fit development, in many organizations, it is equally possible to find these sources internally. Ultimately, the organization connection does not require a large internal or external network. Connectors are resourceful and become “mapmakers” for their employees, helping them determine how and where they can identify “best-fit” connections inside and outside the organization.
Instead of physically introducing employees to best-fit development connections across the business, connector managers should help employees with sourcing high-quality connections. Offer employees visibility into skills across the organization, and help them prepare to extract value from each exchange. Regardless of industry, function, or region, Gartner research shows that connector managers can increase an employee’s willingness to go above and beyond by up to 38% and can improve employee engagement by up to 40%.
Learn more about Gartner’s research on connector managers in the just-released book The Connector Manager: Why Some Leaders Build Exceptional Talent – and Others Don’t, which features groundbreaking, data-driven research, as well as in-depth case studies and extensive interviews with managers and employees at industry-leading companies, to show what behaviors define connector managers and why they are able to build powerhouse teams.
Sara Wilde is the Managing Vice President of Gartner’s HR practice.