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From Critic to Coach: Develop Managers Who Give Great Feedback

From Critic to Coach: Develop Managers Who Give Great Feedback

by Nate Dvorak, Jennifer Robison and Kristin Barry

Story Highlights

  • Each manager influences the employee experience differently
  • The way customers feel about employees dictates their spending
  • Employees need their bosses to act as coaches

Many companies have begun to evaluate their employee experience because workers who love their jobs -- or hate them -- have a huge impact on the bottom line. And if your employees report to a different manager every shift, chances are your organization doesn't really have a consistent "employee experience."

The hard reality is that you may actually have many employee experiences. Maybe as many as you have managers.

Take restaurants, for instance. One manager may be a joy to work with, never missing an opportunity to teach, to build collaboration or to acknowledge good work. Six hours later, another manager takes over -- one who focuses on mistakes and takes great work for granted. One who never teaches, only criticizes.

Those are extremes on the management performance spectrum. But any business that has shift managers (retail stores, hospitals, manufacturing facilities, even some military operations) probably has managers creating very different employee experiences every day.

Those varying experiences affect performance in ways leaders may not realize.

The Financial Impact of Inconsistent Employee Experiences

The most immediate impact of the employee experience is on the customer. Committed, enthusiastic, engaged employees behave differently from frustrated, anxious, disengaged employees -- a difference that customers can certainly feel.

And the way that customers feel about their experience dictates their spending.

The most immediate impact of the employee experience is on the customer.

Fully engaged customers, Gallup research shows, represent a 23% premium over less engaged customers in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue and relationship growth. That's the average across all industries -- the effect can be much bigger in service industries:

  • Retail banking customers who are fully engaged bring 37% more annual revenue to their primary bank than actively disengaged customers.
  • Consumer electronics shoppers who are fully engaged spend 29% more per shopping trip than actively disengaged customers.
  • Hotel guests who are fully engaged spend 46% more per year than actively disengaged guests.
  • Fully engaged guests of casual dining restaurants make 56% more visits per month than actively disengaged ones.
  • Fully engaged diners at fast food restaurants make 28% more visits per month than actively disengaged diners.

But there are other employee performance factors that can affect the bottom line too, including productivity, turnover, on-the-job accidents, theft and healthcare costs.

Gallup studies show that all those things relate to the way people are managed. In fact, a whopping 70% of the variance in employee engagement, which has a major influence on discretionary effort, can be attributed to the team's local manager.

What Now? Moving From Boss to Coach

Clearly, getting shift management right is crucial. The best way to start is with the selection of managers -- the one opportunity an organization has to add talent to their teams. While all managers benefit from development and clear expectations, shift managers who have talent for the role require less oversight and manage in ways that create a positive employee experience. Gallup's research on managers, outlined in It's the Manager from Gallup Press, finds that the five traits common to the best managers are:

Motivation: Inspiring teams to get exceptional work done

Workstyle: Setting goals and arranging resources for the team to excel

Initiation: Influencing others to act; pushing through adversity and resistance

Collaboration: Building committed teams with deep bonds

Thought Process: Taking an analytical approach to strategy and decision-making

While it can be difficult for a shift manager to build a sense of "team" among a group of associates that fluctuates from hour to hour, naturally talented managers do just that.

So what can an organization do to help develop the managers they already have? The key is teaching them to stop thinking of themselves as bosses and start viewing themselves as coaches.

Doing this requires a few important changes in their approach to management. For instance:

  1. Coaches set clear expectations. Coaches explain goals in ways that are relevant to the team and describe how employees can meet their goals. Clear expectations are fairly uncommon -- only half of all U.S. employees know what's expected of them at work -- and people won't ask questions if they fear their manager's response will be punitive.

  2. Coaches explain the "why." People do better work when they understand why their work is important to the purpose of the organization. Gallup research shows that employees who feel connected to the mission of their company have 5% to 15% higher profitability, 30% to 50% fewer accidents and 15% to 30% less turnover.

  3. Coaches have frequent, focused and future-oriented conversations. Once-a-week pre-shift lectures don't improve performance much -- but then, neither do most managers. In fact, only about a quarter of employees strongly agree that their manager provides meaningful feedback to them. But by changing the dynamic from "telling" to "discussing" via quick conversations immediately before, during or after a shift, a coach can inspire workers, strategize with them and course-correct their performance -- framing corrections as development, not criticism.

  4. Coaches recognize good work. Genuine, specific and individualized praise is the least expensive, most effective tool a manager has, and most don't use it enough -- only 21% of workers strongly agree that their manager motivates them to do outstanding work. Coaches use praise to show they care about the person and value the work. Critical managers, according to It's the Manager, make it "nearly impossible for a manager and employee to build a relationship of trust, which makes it difficult for the employee to accept any critique with an open mind."

Clearly, how each manager approaches the practice of management determines how employees feel about their job -- which ultimately determines how customers feel about the organization.

To create an employee experience that drives productivity and profit, leaders have to reduce the variance in that experience by developing their managers into coaches rather than bosses.

That said, it takes money to train managers to be coaches. Time and energy too. But it's an investment that pays off in performance. Remember, to a customer, the front-line employee is the brand. And to a shift worker, the manager is the difference between a job they love and a job they hate.

Learn more about creating positive employee and customer experiences:

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