Employees seem to be adjusting like champs to the new world of hybrid work. Are managers?

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The jury is still out on that one. There does seem to be some pushback from managers that employees need to be back in the office so they can “do” their jobs, creating a growing disconnect between employers and employees.

But allow me to float a radical thought: What if it’s the managers who need to change their mindsets and reimagine their roles?

Latest: Will hybrid work schedules move to 4 days in the office?

A report from Microsoft is instructive. It identifies a recent phenomenon: productivity paranoia, which is when managers are suspicious that remote employees are not as productive as they would be in the office. Apparently, some managers need to see employees hard at work at their desks in the office—if not, they simply assume the worst. Even when the productivity stats are positive and even when the reality is that most companies had dispersed teams prior to the pandemic.

But watching employees work isn’t managing or leading. Instead, efforts need to be devoted to growth and development, particularly as employee expectations around these intensify. According to Workplace Intelligence, nearly 75% of Gen Z and millennials are likely to leave their job in the next year because of the lack of development and career advancement. Work has evolved and leaders must evolve with it—and that means learning the art of coaching.

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The evolution of coaching in business

There was a time when a manager only coached an employee when there was a problem—perhaps poor performance or an interpersonal issue.

Today’s proactive managers need to take a page from professional sports, which has long valued the art of coaching. The typical professional football team, for example, has a head coach and an average of 15 assistant coaches: an offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, special teams coach, strength coach and so on. These coaches work with the players—continuously—to make them better at their jobs, to help them—and the team—consistently perform at a high level and win.

See also: If productivity is down, why training managers can help

Shouldn’t people managers in the corporate world bring coaching to their teams?  Shouldn’t they be helping teams feel invested and building trust, so employees show up every day as the best they can be? So that they want to work for your company in a competitive job market and ultimately deliver strong results? That’s how you field the best team.

Why is coaching now and in the future so critical? One big reason is hybrid work; it’s here to stay and requires a new style of leadership. Also, in a constantly changing environment, leaders can no longer revert to command and control to be successful. It’s critical that they listen and guide, empowering their people to learn, innovate and be unafraid to fail. A coaching culture leads to higher performance, stronger engagement, increased productivity and enhanced customer service.

Here are a few recommendations for creating that kind of culture:

  • Build a strong foundation of trust. Winning companies rely on a management model based on trust. Trust that your employees are good people who want to do the right thing and perform at a high level.
  • Replace performance management systems with real-time coaching (continuously, not just after the year has ended). Under outdated annual performance reviews and ratings systems, employees are too focused on the ratings and managers are too focused on meeting curve requirements. Instead, build a continuous feedback loop that unlocks honest conversations and encourages employees’ development and growth. Focus on asking questions, offering support instead of providing answers. Center discussions around the obstacles employees are facing, including how successfully they are balancing home and work responsibilities. This subject is no longer off-limits; it is critical that you engage your employees on how they are doing both personally and professionally. Ask the question: “How can we help you be your best?”
  • Set clear expectations and business goals. Keep your team accountable for outcomes by defining a clear vision and strategy and telling them what success looks like. Goals must be measurable, revisited frequently and reprioritized in real time when needed to ensure that the most important business objectives are being met as well as to ensure accountability and clarity.
  • Managers need coaches too. Invest in leadership training to help managers effectively lead through coaching. A big part of coaching is trusting employees to deliver. In addition, show managers how to maintain crucial connections in a remote environment and communicate clearly, candidly and frequently about expectations and outcomes. For example, Synchrony leaders who participated in one of our executive leadership development programs said coaches were most helpful in driving them to become better leaders. The program resulted in 98% retention and 70% promotion rate in its first four years (from 2018-2022).
  • Support employees’ wellbeing and personal lives by investing in a team of coaches and specialists, such as wellness coaches, financial coaches, benefits coaches and performance coaches.

At its heart, coaching is focused on servant leadership empowering and supporting teams to make decisions. It’s about asking, “How can we help? What can we do to make it easier (remove obstacles) for employees to do their jobs?”

Change is hard, but worth it. Leaders who are willing to rethink outdated approaches and take on the role of a coach will win. They will retain the best talent and drive stronger performance.

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