Treat Your First-Line Managers As True Force Multipliers
By Harry Dunklin and Justin Albertson
Coaching to Business Outcomes
Harvard Business Review reports, in a 2019 article called “The Leader as Coach”, that the “role of the manager, in short, is becoming that of a coach.” It goes on to say that according to a study done by Daniel Goldman (published by HBR in 2000 and updated in 2023), “coaching is difficult and challenging”. A YouTube explainer on Goldman’s article goes on to say that “coaching in leadership has the power to get ordinary people to do extraordinary things.”
This is confirmed further by CSO Insights, in their research of over 900 companies in a B2B setting in 2021. They found that companies that require good, solid coaching, outperform companies who rely on the manager to dictate when and to whom they coach, by 11%.
A Difference In Perception
Most of the time, managers confuse spending time with their team-member with coaching. Telling someone “what to do” is a mistake, and is not proper coaching. Asking questions, and helping a team-member “figure out what to do on their own”, is proper coaching.
Too often, managers tend to look through a “lens of intention” as they think about their coaching skills and evaluate themselves highly for what they “think” they should do, and very well may do some of the time. The manager’s direct-reports only have their “observation” of the manager’s behaviors to go on. And typically if they don’t see the manager behaving consistently in the way that aligns with the desired state, they view coaching as less effective than their manager.
The Value of a 180° Assessment
While most people are familiar with the concept of a 360° assessment, we recommend a 180° assessment for first-line managers. In a Leadership 360° assessment, we are measuring the Leader’s competencies and usually involve direct reports, as well as peers and superiors. For this 180° assessment, we are only interested in the daily interaction that a manager has with their team of direct-reports. And the lion’s share of those interactions come in the form of a manager coaching a team-member.
Behavior Change Resulting From The Assessment
When the manager sees their scoring either jointly or by their direct-reports, the manager has no choice but to change their behavior if they want to be seen as a truly collaborative leader.
For behavior change we recommend two courses of action:
- Action Planning – Keep this to no more than 90 days. The manager owns this process – it’s a way to transfer accountability to the manager. The manager is responsible for arranging the time to meet with their superior at the inception of the action-plan, and again at 30, 60 and 90 days. And the manager is entirely responsible for execution of the plan.
- Development – Most companies have invested in countless models over time. We do not advocate that a company adopt yet another manager model, but instead take the one that is getting the most traction (a team of managers will be able to tell you this), and re-introduce it as a remedy to solve the majority of the managers’ issues.
Four Levels Of Measurement
We follow the Kirkpatrick four levels of measurement. While levels one and two deal with satisfaction and immediate post-learning knowledge, the third level, which we focus on, has more to do with learned behavior applied on-the-job and is usually administered between 6 and 9 months after the initial assessment and development made available by the company. This learned behavior predicts business outcomes at 12+ months.
We hope that companies provide insights to their managers to create clear development plans. The end-result is that you will be moving in a positive direction, toward the end-game where first-line managers are truly your organization’s force multipliers resulting in real, positive impact to business outcomes.