Business leadership style is a topic we’ve been thinking about a lot recently, especially after we got so many great responses to our article about the Cost of Bad Leadership in Procurement. So when we saw a great new piece of research about management styles, we thought we’d take the opportunity to have a further discussion about leadership and how it can impact employees – particularly in Procurement and Supply Chain.
A new article in Harvard Business review digs into managers’ roles in employee development. It outlines four profiles of types of coaches and assesses the benefits and drawbacks of each. The report is based on a wide-reaching Gartner survey of 7,300 employees and managers, followed by interviews with 100 HR executives and a further 225 surveys.
The research asked these managers about their various employee development practices, and assessed employee job performance, to try and break down a framework for different “styles” of employee coaching. The goal? To get a boots-on-the-ground understanding of how managers are going about building the skills of their direct reports in 2018, and which methods are most effective.
The first surprising result of the research is that HR leaders surveyed expected managers to spend 36% of their time on employee development, but the actual average amount of time spent on coaching is only 9%. But as the research goes on to show, that’s not an entirely bad thing.
In our recruiting practice at Argentus, we often hire for positions (at the Senior Manager and Director Level) that require people management experience – including the ability to coach and develop junior talent into higher levels of responsibility and achievement. Strong mentorship is also an underrated motivating factor for candidates looking to move into new opportunities. In general, the bond between manager and employee is a strong factor all across the hiring spectrum.
So we were particularly curious what the research had to say.
Ultimately, Gartner’s research identified four coaching “styles,” with various levels of prevalence and effectiveness:
- Teacher managers tend to be more technically-focused, offering advice based on their own experiences. These types of coaches often work their way up from hands-on roles. (In our blog about the cost of bad leadership in Procurement, we outlined how this style can be very effective for Procurement and Supply Chain Management in particular).
- Always-on managers tend to see employee development as a constant process, providing employees with regular wide-ranging feedback across a number of areas. Harvard Business Review identifies these managers as the most prized by HR professionals. They’re also the most committed to seeing specific skills development in their employees.
- Connector managers tend to stick to their areas of expertise when it comes to giving feedback, offering a more targeted approach. They prefer to connect employees with other subject matter experts within the organization for areas in which they’re less comfortable, and spend the most time assessing the specific interests and needs of employees.
- Cheerleader managers tend to make employees the primary drivers of their own development, giving positive feedback and encouragement when they feel it’s helpful. They’re more hands-off, and that means they’re less proactive in terms of developing their employees’ skills.
According to the research, cheerleader managers are the most common type (29%), and teacher managers are the least common (22%), with a pretty even distribution across the board. But more interesting than that are the survey’s findings about the impact of these coaching styles on employee performance. The top line finding:
Time spent on coaching doesn’t necessarily impact performance. When it came to assessment of employee performance compared to coaching styles, the researchers found that quality of time spent on coaching is more important than quantity of time spent.
While the survey’s authors said they expected always-on managers to correlate with the best employee performance (for our money, we would have been skeptical), employees coached by always-on managers performed worse than the other categories. Why is that? According to the research:
- Continuous feedback can be overwhelming for employees. Picture “helicopter parenting,” but for workers.
- “Always-on” managers provide a wide range of feedback, so they don’t spend enough time assessing the areas where their feedback would be most effective.
- These kinds of managers don’t realize the limits of their own expertise, so they often provide employees with coaching that isn’t actually useful.
We think anyone who’s worked for an always-on manager (a.k.a. a micromanager) knows the limits of this coaching style, but it’s still interesting to see this knowledge borne out across a massive survey.
Interestingly, the survey found that connector managers were the most effective coaches in terms of employee performance, and by a country mile. Employees of these types of managers were three times as likely to be considered high performers as people working under other coaching styles. And why is that?
The HBR article uses the analogy of a tennis coach: they’re the most important voice in a player’s development, but they also bring in experts for specific skills development like nutritionists, strength training professionals, etc. The researchers’ suggestion is that managers who don’t already consider themselves “connectors” try to focus less on the frequency of coaching and feedback sessions, and more on the depth. They should understand their employees’ aspirations, and have the humility to step back and find strong experts in the organization to help with coaching for skills outside their own expertise. They should try to broaden the scope of an employee’s development, effectively breaking down the silo of the traditional “manager to employee” directive-based relationship.
HBR and Gartner’s framework probably doesn’t capture every management style, and there are shades of gray as well as individuals who offer a mixture of these styles of management. These kinds of frameworks are just that, frameworks, but they’re still useful for thinking about management styles and how to get the most from teams.
We’re curious what our network has to say: do you have any experiences with these four management styles, either positive or negative? Is there any particular style you think is best-suited for Supply Chain, Logistics and Procurement? Let us know in the comments!