The role of the manager is currently undergoing a transformation. Historically, managers embraced the role of coach and mentor. Through informal conversations during the commute to work, over a coffee break, or while enjoying a burger after hours, managers passed along crucial information and knowledge about the organization’s culture. Even more formal conversations, like one-on-one meetings and small group gatherings, transferred insight and understanding to employees. This invaluable information wasn’t found in textbooks, from a class, or over an app, but given from someone with years — decades even — of experience.
But today, tighter budgets, flatter organizations, a heavy workload, and too many direct reports often leave managers without the time — and sometimes without the skills — to shoulder the responsibility of being coach and mentor. And yet, this function remains critical to the long-term health and productivity of the organization.
This erosion in the role of the manager has not gone unnoticed. As part of a recent research project into how top executives view training and development programs, executives overwhelmingly said the most urgent problem they face is igniting their managers to coach employees. What’s more, it’s also the challenge where executives said they are most desperate to find and deploy effective solutions.
In response, my team has compiled six practical tips to help managers slip back into the role of coach as effortlessly and efficiently as possible. These tips include:
Use regular one-on-one check-ins. Regular check-ins, as opposed to waiting for the annual performance review, allow you to work collaboratively with your direct reports to offer regular insight, knowledge, guidance, and suggestions to help them solve pressing problems, and to help them stay on track for their professional development goals. This is one of the most powerful tools that you can use to elevate coaching. Some managers we spoke with make it a point to schedule regular phone conversations or in-person meetings on a monthly — and sometimes even weekly — basis.
Encourage more peer-to-peer coaching. Peer-to-peer coaching offers some of the richest, most valuable learning in an organization. An easy way to incorporate more of this type of learning is to use your regular staff meeting as a collaborative problem solving session. This builds cohesion among your team, and inspires them to think creatively about how to solve pressing organizational challenges. It’s also an easy way for you to coach multiple people in one setting at one time, thus maximizing your time and efficiency.
Create mentoring partnerships. “Some of the richest mentoring I have experienced is through ‘reverse mentoring’ where a younger generation employee partners with a more senior employee and they agree to share lessons learned with one another,” says Michael Arena, Chief Talent Officer at GM, so consider pairing-up team members from different demographics. Those in the older demographics likely possess critical institutional knowledge and have collected a vast amount of life experience that would be beneficial to the younger generation, while those in the younger generation likely know all about the latest and greatest technology and how to find important bits of information rapidly, which they can pass onto their mentoring partner.
Tap into the potential coach within everyone. Hidden within many individuals is a fountain of information and knowledge waiting to be shared with the broader team. You can encourage your own team members to become coaches and trainers by allowing them to hold their own mini-seminars on an important topic or skill. Or if your organization offers software and applications, like its own private YouTube Channel or an intranet, encourage them to create and share their own learning content, stories, and tips for where to access the best learning activities.
Don Jones, former Vice President, Learning, Natixis Global Asset Management shared this example in a recent interview:
Employees are becoming “content developers” for our learning organization. Imagine a top sales person in the field giving his pitch on a certain product. He then uploads the content and others in the organization can share their thoughts and comments through Salesforce Chatter, or other online discussion groups. This is an example of the power of free-flowing knowledge that can be exchanged in an organization. It energizes, engages, and encourages learning. Plus, these videos and comments become material to create content to show our new sales hires during sales training.
Support daily learning and development activities. We’ve heard from a number of Chief Learning Officers who say employees regularly claim they don’t engage in learning activities because they don’t believe their managers would support them. It’s up to you to change this perception by creating an environment where it’s not only acceptable, but encouraged to use office time to engage in learning activities. Suggest that they digest small bites of content when it fits into their schedules during the day, or look for creative and engaging ways that you can bring learning and development into daily activities for your people.
Seek formal training. It seems obvious, but if you want your staff to engage in ongoing learning activities, then you’re going to have to model that behavior yourself. Consider seeking out formal training to enhance and improve your hard and soft skills, whether it’s one class, a certification program, or completing a more formal executive education or leadership training curriculum. In today’s modern world, you have numerous opportunities to engage higher education be it through an online, distance, local on campus, or a hybrid program. Pursing a more formal training program is one of the wisest investments you can make in your development.
Managers have an enormous impact on an organization’s ability to retain and attract top talent, and they remain the preferred, go-to source for passing on knowledge, skills, and insights to others in an organization.
The good news is that great coaches aren’t born; they’re made through dedication, commitment, and practice. By taking the initiative and proactively working to become a better coach, you will elevate not only your own performance, but that of your team, and by extension, your organization.
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