Research Paper By Glenn Case
(Career and Leadership Coach, CANADA)
Employee engagement levels continue to be one of the most significant challenges to corporate productivity. Engagement levels have remained low over many years in spite of significant efforts by organizations to improve them.
According to Deloitte Review 2015 (5),
…the issues of ‘retention and engagement’ have risen to No.2 in the minds of business leaders, second only to the challenge of building global leadership.
This paper explores a potential root cause of this issue. Namely, the low and decreasing rates of coaching by managers in the workplace.
Leadership effectiveness and coaching ability are intimately linked. Unfortunately, while coaching training is provided to managers, this training has limitations. These include:
1) Lack of dedicated training around coaching theory and technique.
2) Limited follow-up post-training to ensure coaching habits are engrained.
3) Poor development and tracking of key outcomes related to coaching (which are important to measure ROI as well as to emphasize the value of coaching to the managers themselves).
The current state of organizational engagement
According to the 2016 Gallup State of the American Workplace” report (1), only 33% of US employees are engaged in their work. 51% are disengaged while 16% are actively disengaged i.e. actively contributing to creating a negative environment on the job. Added to this, only 20% of employees feel that their managers are creating motivational environments conducive to doing outstanding work.
This level of employee indifference is having a significant impact on organizational effectiveness and outcomes.
Why is increasing engagement important?
Strengthening employee engagement has been shown to deliver a significant return on investment for employers. According to Gallop (1), business units in the highest percentile for engagement as compared to those in the lowest percentile have notable improvements in hard endpoints:
*41% decrease in absenteeism
*24%-59% decrease in turnover
*17% higher productivity
*20% higher sales
*21% higher profitability
Recognizing the changing needs of modern employees
What creates an “engaging” workplace today is very different than even 10-20 years ago. Employees today – especially Millennial’s – crave a very different career experience.
- An increased sense of purpose, with much greater emphasis on aligning their own personal values with that of the company in which they work.
- Challenging work that offers them opportunity to learn and develop.
- An ability to leverage their strengths and unique talents
- A flexible workplace that respects the full person
- Opportunity for advancement
- To be trusted and their creative potential leveraged
As noted by Deloitte,
The employee-work contract has changed, compelling business leaders to build organizations that engage employees as sensitive, passionate, creative contributors.
Organizations who do not adapt to these changing core workforce needs are at risk of high employee turnover rates and other negative outcomes due to low employee engagement.
Based on the Gallop data (1), employees leave their employment for many reasons. However, the following are the most frequently cited…
- career growth opportunities
- pay and benefits
- manager or management
- company culture
- job fit
The correlation is clear. 3 of the top 5 reasons for employees leaving their jobs – culture, career growth and job fit – are also key components that make an engaging workplace.
Of particular note, manager influence on employee engagement and retention ranks third. This correlation has been long known. Just one example is a 2006 study of over 1000 employees conducted by Mastery Works (now Lee Hecht Harrison) (2). This study found that one of the top-3 reasons for employees leaving their company was their manager – in particular, the inability of the manager to develop a trusting relationship with them.
As well, this study found that
managers who respected and valued employees’ competency, paid attention to their aspirations, assured challenging work, valued the quality of work life and provided chances for learning had loyal and engaged employees.2
In a 2017 study sponsored by MHR in England and performed by You Gov, the importance of managerial effectiveness on employee retention was yet again reinforced. In this study of 2006 employees, 73% had considered leaving and 55% had left their positions due to their relationship with their manager. It was found that 58% of employees felt their managers were ill-equipped to deal with the emotional side of managing others (3).
So, how can effective coaching by managers enhance engagement?
Deloitte 2015 indicates,
A coaching culture is the practice that’s most highly correlated with business performance, employee engagement, and overall retention…While directed management is important, it plays a smaller role than one might think. It is the coaching and development role of management that is the most valuable.5
Coaching when effectively applied leads to enhanced trust and openness between the manager and employee. In turn, this establishes an environment in which employee needs, concerns, aspirations, ideas, etc. can be aired, and action taken as required. Today’s employees demand this. Managers are optimally positioned to create such an environment, but only if they employ the transformative power of coaching – the “inside-out” vs. the “outside-in” directive role which is now predominantly being employed. The old Command and Control approach to management no longer meets the needs of corporations or their employees.
How is coaching currently used (or not) in companies?
According to a 2015 study by Forbes Insights looking at sales outcomes in organizations, they found that “three-fourths (74%) of top companies cite coaching or mentoring of sales reps as the front-line managers’ most important role”4.
But while most companies want their managers actively engaged in coaching, less than 25% of managers’ time is currently being dedicated to it.
So, why this disconnect?
The most common coaching barriers cited by managers include…
1) Too little time
The manager role is becoming more complex than ever. The workplace is information-heavy, change is a constant, and the competitive environment demands high productivity. All of these place a strain on a manager’s time. The transfer to matrix-model organizations where managers also have dotted-line responsibilities adds to this sense of overwhelm. As a result, managers claim that there is little time left for coaching.
2) Lack of Perceived Value
Coaching is often the first item to fall off the busy manager’s agenda because there is a perception that it takes more time than it’s worth. This is driven in part by the low level of measurement connected to coaching activities by companies. Without proven Return On Investment, this value perception persists.
3) Poor understanding of what coaching really is, or should be
Coaching for most managers is confined to specific area such as performance management or skill and competency development. Typically, it is viewed as a tool to fill a gap that needs filling. This is often an “outside-in” approach i.e. the manager highlights the gap, works with the employee to create a plan to rectify it, and monitors progress.
Unfortunately, engendering trust and a deeper connection with the employee using this approach is difficult. Potentially, both parties view the process as punitive.
There is low understanding of the transformative potential of effective coaching. Opportunities to connect with the employee at a deeper, emotional level are therefore diminished and so to the potential to enhance employee engagement.
Current application of coaching to address harder endpoints related to performance also misses the very important “soft-skill” aspect of the employee. Soft skills include people, social and communication skills that enable people to navigate their environment, work well with others, and achieve their goals.Employee success and fulfillment levels in their jobs are intimately connected to effectiveness in these areas.
4) Unsure where to start
Even with coaching training, managers are often challenged by how to integrate this learning into their day-to-day schedules. They are concerned that their team members will find their attempts intrusive or punitive, or that they may be drawn into a situation that they either feel uncomfortable with or now need to fix.
This is a critical area to be considered when any new coaching initiative is undertaken. Support needs to be given to the manager to increase their confidence and to ensure that incremental steps are taken to entrench the new habit.
Consistently low employee engagement levels and their impact on organizational productivity dictates that more needs to be done. The manager-employee relationship is central to engagement. Effective coaching by managers has been shown to significantly enhance engagement rates and business outcomes as a result.
An external Leadership/Organizational Coach can play a key role in making this happen.
The coach can lead the process and offer an objective, external view. With this in mind, any successful initiative to increase effective coaching by managers must involve the following:
1) Training by a professional coach around effective coaching technique is essential to increase awareness of the elements of coaching and its value.
2) Managers need to understand the negative impacts of low employee engagement and their critical roles in shifting these rates through effective coaching.
3) Current coaching approach needs to be assessed to determine what’s working, what’s not and why. Barriers to coaching need to be actively explored and addressed.
4) Managers need to develop individualized coaching plans that help them to integrate coaching in a manner that best suits them.
5) Regular coach-manager touch points are required so sustained action occurs and any barriers addressed.
6) Clear measures need to be pre-determined so that ROI can be assigned to any coaching changes made. This will in turn help reinforce the value of coaching to the manager.
1) Gallop 2016 “State of the American Workplace” report
2) Mastery Works, 2006: “Managers: A key factor in employee retention”, by Caela Farren
3) MHR News, 2017: “Bad Managers Are Driving Talented Staff to Quit Their Jobs”
4) Forbes Insights, 2015: “The Power of Enablement: Bridging the Sales Productivity Gap”
5) Deloitte Review Issue 16, January 2015: “Becoming irresistible: A new model for employee engagement.”