Among the top priorities for HR leaders today is helping managers be more effective at leading teams and helping direct reports succeed. That’s why we invited Stacia Garr, principal analyst and co-founder at HR industry research firm RedThread Research, to share her team’s latest insights into manager effectiveness — and how you can better enable managers to achieve peak performance.
Manager effectiveness has always been important, Garr said, but it’s become more urgent of late. Market volatility has prompted companies to demand greater individual productivity and efficiency. This puts more pressure on managers to help their teams react to uncertainty while increasing output. At the same time, managers are grappling with hybrid work and helping employees adapt to artificial intelligence.
Despite all the increased pressure on managers, most organizations aren’t providing the resources they need to help their teams through challenging times. Investment in advice and coaching for managers has actually decreased since last year, Garr said. And without that organizational support, manager effectiveness has declined from 54% in 2020 to 25% in 2023.
Garr’s research reveals actions you can take to help managers take their teams to the next level. Here are highlights from Garr’s session at the 2023 HR Tech Conference, along with three steps HR leaders can take to support managers in your organization.
Restore organizational community
Your organization’s sense of community helps employees understand how their work intersects with their colleagues’ work. But during the rapid shift to remote in 2020, employees’ work communities shrank. Many relied solely on their manager to connect them to the larger organization.
“Now, as we think about when we return to office and more of a hybrid way of working, we need to broaden those connections,” Garr said. “We need to make sure that it’s not just through the manager, but instead to the broader team, to other folks in the organization, and reactivate those social networks.”
Creating moments of connection across the organization empowers employees to see the impact of their work on broader organizational goals. Those moments also instill a greater sense of purpose and empower employees to ask better questions of their managers so they can receive targeted coaching.
Create a road map for success
Companywide HR programs need to support managers — not undermine them.
Garr’s research and Betterworks’ 2023 State of Performance Enablement report found that employees crave fairness in performance conversations. But “no matter how fair an individual manager is, if the process that’s set up doesn’t actually help them, doesn’t actually enable them to give fair and thoughtful feedback, then it doesn’t matter,” Garr said. “You’re going to end up in a situation where managers are going to be seen to be ineffective.”
Make sure employees understand the criteria by which their performance is assessed. The goal is for managers to link specific actions and outcomes to role-based performance expectations. This clarity enables fair, effective, and action-oriented conversations with employees.
Another way to support managers at the HR program level is by identifying and outlining the changing skills needed to succeed in today’ s workplace — and tomorrow’s. When equipped with the right information, managers become better coaches who can help team members grow and develop.
Enable employees to course-correct
Traditional performance management looks backward at performance rather than helping employees recognize and address problems in the flow of work. To drive manager effectiveness, Garr said, we need to empower managers to proactively check in with team members — and provide them with live performance data.
Better HR technology can help by tracking relevant data points from managers, teammates, and the organization at large. By aligning that data with performance outcomes, you can reveal insights into team performance. “There’s a huge opportunity to leverage the community — to leverage more than just the manager — to bring insights to employees,” Garr said.
The best way to address manager effectiveness, Garr said, is by considering how you might operate without managers. “If we had to build a system where there is no manager in the middle,” she said, “what might we do?” Instead of overloading managers with more tasks, think about how you can use HR programs and systems to free up managers so they can connect people across the business.
With broader organizational support, Garr said, you help managers put their time and energy into their employees who report to them.
Want to learn more about improving manager effectiveness? Watch the full session on demand.
Help managers succeed