Keeping your employees’ skills up to date is essential in these times of perpetual change. Your success in achieving that goal will depend on how you tackle it, according to a recent Harvard Business Review analysis.
It used to be that a single annual review for each employee was considered enough to ensure an individual’s effective growth. Today’s modern executives are expected to be on the ball to respond with feedback, encouragement or instruction for employees, as and when the need arises.
That’s easier said than done when managers are already under pressure and short of time. In reality, while HR leaders surveyed wanted managers to spend 36% of their days cultivating their team members’ skills, the real proportion spent is just 9%.
QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
But new research suggests that quality is more useful than quantity when it comes to coaching employees. A study by Gartner set out to identify how staff development was commonly being approached and which methods were the most appreciated and effective. They surveyed 7,300 employees and managers in various industry sectors, interviewed more than 100 HR executives and surveyed 225 more, before thoroughly analysing their responses.
It may seem an obvious conclusion that lavishing attention on each individual’s progress would be the most successful method, but Gartner’s study found otherwise.
“There is very little correlation between time spent coaching and employee performance,” said Jaime Roca, one of Gartner’s practice leaders for human resources. “It’s less about the quantity and more about the quality.”
TYPES OF MANAGER
They found that management coaching styles in all the organisations they studied fell into four distinct categories, with roughly equal numbers in each:
1) The teacher. This is a manager who shares the knowledge and wisdom, often in technical areas, built up over years on the coalface before they moved up the ladder. They give direct advice to employees and oversee the individual’s development.
2) The continual coach. This approach – considered the ideal by most HR professionals – involves beingswitched on to employees’ development at all times. Supporting skills improvement is an integral part of their daily routine and, on the face of it, they seem to be the most committed of managers.
3) The connector. This style involves the manager commenting and advising in areas where they are experienced, but hooking up staff with other team members or people elsewhere in the company for specialist feedback and tuition. Assessing employees’ abilities and requirements carefully is an important part of their process, as is recognising that they will not always be the best teacher for the job.
4) The cheerleader. This is the coach who stands on the sidelines giving praise and encouragement without much direct input. Employees control their own development and skills.
Another surprise that emerged was that the constant coaches could actually have a detrimental effect, with employees under their guidance performing not only worse than those with a teacher, connector or cheerleader behind them, but also less effectively overall.
Like “helicopter” parents who give their children no space to experiment and grow, the constant coach smothers independence, often giving blanket advice that isn’t relevant to all, and failing to recognise their own limitations as teachers.
THE MOST EFFECTIVE APPROACH
It was the connectors’ approach to managing employee skills that clearly outshone the other three in the study; those they guided were three times more likely to be top achievers.
Considering the connector in the context of professional sport, it’s like the chief coach of a tennis player calling in specialists for specific aspects of training such as building strength or diet control when needed, while continuing to guide overall development.
BECOME A CONNECTOR
Knowing the benefits this approach can have, how can you become a connector when it doesn’t come naturally? The researchers have a few tips:
1) Be self-aware. Be prepared to recognise and admit the gaps in your own skills or expertise.
2) Focus on depth and quality. Prioritise quality over frequency of conversations with employees. Really listen and understand their needs.
3) Encourage team coaching. Harness the talents of your whole team by suggesting they coach each other in areas where some have more knowledge than others.
4) Widen the net. To fill in any gaps, link with co-workers from other parts of the company.
It’s clear that being a connector is the way forward in a corporate climate where change is continual and keeping employees’ skills updated is crucial. It’s worth honestly assessing your own approach and switching to the winning strategy if you’re not there already.