Principal Analyst Forrester
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Today’s managers need to embrace a coaching mindset, not top-down leadership

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While executive level leadership is important to any organisation, it’s the front line managers who have the potential to affect the biggest change. Upskilling these managers and encouraging them to foster a coaching mindset will transform your organisation in ways you never thought possible.

12th Jul 2021
Principal Analyst Forrester
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No one questions the idea that elite athletes and professional sports teams need coaches. From defining a championship-level strategy to helping high performers reach their full potential, coaches are the connective tissue that pulls together talent with various skills and backgrounds into a team that produces extraordinary results.

While sports coaching has both similarities and differences to business coaching, many of the fundamentals remain the same: the goal is not for the coach to do the work of the team members, but instead to inspire and empower those individuals to do their best work.  

As your organisation continues its business transformation journey, line managers play an essential role in coaching new behaviours and driving change at an operational level.

Let’s put this into a business context. The pandemic has accelerated the rate of change in customer behaviour and demands, as well as the adoption of new technologies. In these conditions, firms must be able to adapt at unprecedented speed and managers are challenged to ensure their teams have the right combination of attitude, skills and experience to deliver new levels of agility.  

The rate of transformation demands a workforce that is poised, aware of its own talents, adaptable, and committed to continuous improvement. To achieve this level of engagement, managers must let go of ineffective practices and learn new behaviours.  

Great coaches energise

Executives play a critical role in developing a ‘customer obsession’ strategy and allocating resources. It is the frontline managers, however, who make up 50% – 60% of the management workforce and they supervise approximately 80% of employees who do the heavy lifting in terms of putting that strategy into action. Direct supervisors also account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement.    

This makes their capabilities as leaders critical to the overall success of the organisation. Today's work environment requires nimble, creative thinkers who can effectively solve novel problems rather than complete repetitive tasks.  

Coaching empowers employees

The misconception about management is that it's just about telling people what to do. Great leaders make a compelling case for the ‘why’ and leverage coaching to facilitate the ‘how’. They do this by (among other practices) actively listening and asking activating questions. Employees who feel their voices are heard at work are 4.6 times more likely to report feeling empowered to do their best work.  

reskilling hub link

Empowerment drives engagement

As managers implement a continuous practice of coaching, the rise in empowerment is a powerful driver of engagement. Empowerment is the ability of an employee to be directly involved in and have influence over their work. This self-direction is an essential driver of innovation, which also correlates highly with engagement. Employees who feel empowered are able to focus on solutions without fear. Forrester's Employee Experience Index shows that empowerment is the most significant predictor of engagement.  

Engagement drives performance

Engaged employees are not just happier at work, they make the organisation more profitable. Companies with high levels of engagement had 147% more earnings per share (EPS) than their competitors. Highly engaged companies are twice as likely to report that they are top performers in their industry.  

Managers are not always naturally good coaches

Leadership theories originally posited that the ability to motivate and inspire others was something you were born with, not something you could learn. Trait theory has been widely rejected as the study of leadership has broadened, but many organisations still fail to provide the tools that managers need to become effective leaders and coaches.  

Many new managers are promoted without any training at all. These unskilled leaders then frustrate their team members by defaulting to a command-and-control style of management. Bad managers engage in unproductive behaviours, such as micromanagement, providing limited (or no) feedback, and focusing on weaknesses rather than strengths. When asked about their managers' capability to provide feedback and recognition, 93% of respondents reported that their managers needed training on coaching. Employees know what they need to succeed — and they know when they aren't getting it.  

Start game planning for coaching leaders today

Leaders who know how to coach will drive transformation, so get started today and create leaders that make meaningful improvements in employees' lives with more immediate, positive, and continuous feedback.    

Work environments can be a hurdle to effective coaching, so create process that enable managers to spend time with their team. One of the most difficult changes to make is to get managers to transition from focusing on deliverables to focusing on team development, making themselves visible and available to operational staff. Think about ways to help managers connect, listen and interact more.  

It’s also true that giving effective feedback is a skill in itself and poorly delivered feedback can be very damaging. So, train managers in the art and ensure they hold themselves accountable for knowing how to balance positive and negative inputs about performance. This includes emphasis on the value of listening. Empathy is the cornerstone of successful coaching and managers should be listening carefully to employee needs and insights as well as asking open-ended questions that foster both relationship building and authentic collaboration.  

Managers who coach will drive change

As your organisation continues its business transformation journey, line managers play an essential role in coaching new behaviours and driving change at an operational level. These are the managers who will drive significant value in the organisation by attracting and retaining high performers. So, level up your leaders by eliminating passive management practices and fostering a strong coaching mindset in leaders at all levels.

Interested in this topic? Read If you manage people, you’re a coach whether you like it or not!

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