If you’re like many utility fleet leaders right now, you’re bracing for a significant brain drain in your organization as experienced technicians and other key people in the fleet department get ready to retire in the next few years, with fewer younger workers in the pipeline to take their place.
So, how can you get a leg up when competing for top talent to eventually replace your veteran workers? And how can you create a culture that makes the fleet department – and the company as a whole – a more attractive place for employees to work, learn and grow?
Become a Connector manager.
That’s the big idea from the book “The Connector Manager: Why Some Leaders Build Exceptional Talent – and Others Don’t,” based on a study of about 10,000 managers and employees by the research and advisory firm Gartner Inc.
UFP recently spoke with Sari Wilde, the book’s co-author and managing vice president at Gartner, where she advises executives at hundreds of Fortune 500 companies on their leadership and talent management practices.
Here are the key takeaways from our conversation.
The Four Manager Types
Wilde and her co-author, Jaime Roca, found that all managers tend to follow one of four dominant approaches for how they coach and develop their employees.
The Teacher: Develops employees' skills based on their own expertise and directs employee development along a similar track to their own. "The Teacher manager often has as their mantra, 'I did it this way and was successful doing it this way, therefore you should do it this way, too,'" Wilde said.
The Cheerleader: Gives positive feedback while taking a generally hands-off approach to developing employees. “The Cheerleader encourages a lot of self-development,” Wilde said, “but when they do provide employee feedback, it tends to be overly positive.”
The Always-On: Provides constant, frequent feedback and coaching on all aspects of the employee’s performance. “Whether or not their employees actually need that feedback, the Always-On managers are providing feedback on almost everything that employees are doing,” Wilde said.
The Connector: Provides feedback in their area of expertise while connecting employees to others on the team or in the organization who are better suited at addressing specific needs. “The Connector manager provides targeted coaching and feedback where it's appropriate for them, where they have the right experience and knowledge,” Wilde said. “But when they don't, they connect their employees with others who have the right expertise to help them.”
Which manager type is the most prominent?
“The numbers were fairly evenly distributed across all four types – about a quarter each,” Wilde said. “We see some slight differences across industries or functions. But overall, in our sample of 10,000 managers, we found that they tend to be evenly distributed.”
Defying Conventional Wisdom
Conventional wisdom would state that the Always-On manager should be the ideal profile.
After all, the Always-On manager seems to be the most engaged manager in terms of providing employees with coaching and feedback.
But according to the research, the Always-On manager actually degrades employee performance by up to 8%, Wilde said.
“The Always-On [manager] creates a situation where employees depend too much on their managers for everything,” Wilde said. “Those employees aren’t actually developing and improving their performance. They're focused more on trying to kind of check the box or what they think their manager wants.”
They also tend to make assumptions about their employees' needs that can lead to off-target coaching. "Often, those assumptions can be wrong, and that could lead employees down the wrong path, hurting performance," Wilde said.
The Top Performer
So, which manager type drives the best performance from their team?
“We found that the Connector manager has, far and away, a much higher impact on employee performance,” Wilde said. “And the other two types – the Teacher and Cheerleader – fall somewhere in the middle [between the Connector and Always-On], but much lower than the Connector.”
Why? What makes the Connector the most effective manager?
The Connector demonstrates humility and self-awareness, understanding the limits of their expertise and experience. So, they connect their team to other resources who are better suited to help those employees grow and develop. Then they follow up with those employees to make sure the learning happens.
Wilde said that Connector managers help make these three critical connections for their team:
Employee connection: This is the one-to-one connection where managers get to know their employees at a deeper level. “They’re focused on understanding their employees’ motivations, interests, goals and development areas in ways that we don’t see in the other types of managers,” Wilde said.
Team connection: The manager creates an open and transparent environment in which team members can develop one another so that all of the coaching doesn't have to come from the manager. "Often, you work more with your peers than you do with your manager," Wilde said. "And your peers are closest to you and best prepared to kind of provide that feedback."
Organization connection: The manager helps their employees find the right skills or expertise outside of themselves. “The key point here is that [the Connector] is really good at helping their employees learn from those connections,” Wilde said. “So, it’s not just about delegating development to someone else, but it’s really about helping the employee apply the learning.”
Becoming More of a Connector
Whichever manager type you are today, what advice does Wilde have to help you become more of a Connector?
There are several exercises in the book for developing the Connector in you. But one practical idea Wilde offered in our conversation that you can apply immediately is, "Each one, teach one."
"The manager convenes the team in a meeting, where everybody shares skills that they're willing to teach to others," she said. "The idea is that you're able to find skills on the team that are needed by other individuals on the team. And it's essential for the manager to begin facilitating this kind of peer skill-sharing, something that the other manager types don't tend to do."
What type of manager are you? Take the online quiz at www.gartner.com/en/human-resources/insights/publications/connector-quiz.