Gallup Surveyed 37 Million People and Found 1 Simple Thing Separates Good and Bad Managers

With one research study, the definition of "manager" just blew up.

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Think about the biggest workplace trends: gig workers, artificial intelligence, robotics replacing workers, diverse workplace cultures, and remote employees. Just about every organization I advise or consult these days is undergoing massive transformative change.

Today’s workforce — especially the younger generations — wants work with deep purpose and coaches who inspire and help develop their strengths. Top-down change no longer works. So, who’s the most important person to lead teams through true transformation? It’s the frontline manager. That’s where the rubber meets the road.

I recently had the chance to speak with Jim Harter, chief scientist of workplace and well-being of Gallup, the famous polling organization. Harter recently co-authored a book with Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of Gallup, called It’s the Manager. The book highlights  conclusions from research on over 37 million people related to their views of work and experiences inside organizations. It’s all about how to manage and lead to transform organizations to thrive in today’s disruptive world.

People want coaches, not managers.

Harter told me that one big thing popped out from their massive study: People want “coaches,” not managers. Bosses delegate or manage in a top-down fashion. Coaches develop people and focus on the unique strengths of each team member. So what does that really mean?

The top reason employees change jobs is “career development.” And when employees change jobs, they almost always change companies. This is a big missed opportunity. Somehow people aren’t seeing a path to progress within their current organizations. Managers need to know each person, what their strengths and ambitions are, and how those align with organizational opportunities. Managers need to paint a picture of an accurate future within the organization for each person, and then encourage them, develop them, and help them understand how they can get there.  And that’s actually not management, it’s coaching.

Five tips on how to coach employees.

Managers as coaches focus on the individual — and all their unique attributes. To do this effectively, you need to create five ongoing conversations that keep people feeling connected and supported, even if they’re remote:

  1. Use initial relationship and role orientation conversations to get to know each person and their potential contribution.
  2. Have quick connections through email, phone calls, video, and other messaging to see how things are going.
  3. Have regular check-ins (weekly or monthly) to touch base on expectations, workload, successes, and barriers.
  4. Have developmental conversations that provide immediate feedback following performance, planning, learning, and skills development.
  5. Use semi-annual reviews to slow down and think strategically about the future. These are also very good at connecting remote employees with one another, and team connectedness is at risk in remote situations. Great managers intentionally mitigate that risk.

Reframing performance reviews as coaching sessions.

One missing link in traditional “performance management” is the lack of ongoing conversations between managers and employees. Employees often get to their annual performance review with little to no context for how their performance evaluation was determined. They can then see the whole performance management process as unfair.

These five conversations provide a road map for managers to ensure they are having the right kinds of ongoing dialogue with each person they lead — reflective and future-oriented, as well as in-the-moment quick-connects, check-ins, and developmental conversations. These different conversations are all designed to make each person an integral part of their progress and development future.

Great coaches establish expectations for each person that are clear, collaborative, and aligned with the organizational objectives. They coach continually, with frequent, focused, and future-oriented conversations. They create accountability that is achievement- oriented, fair and accurate, and developmental.

Transforming individuals transforms organizations.

Having worked across dozens of organizations looking for innovation, I can attest that command and control, top-down leadership is now old-school. Organizations are simply collections of people. How you treat them and grow them directly impacts results.

Coach people to unleash their transformative potential, and you’ll transform your business and industry in the process.

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