Rehumanising management

A lot of leaders lack the soft skills needed to deal with the ‘people’ side of management that can boost productivity and performance, say Dominic and Laura Ashley-Timms. Find out how you can change your approach

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that people’s values have changed when it comes to the world of work. With the global realisation and attitude that ‘life is short’, people are putting themselves first more than they were before. How an employee’s values are met by their workplace can now be make or break for an organisation. People have started to vote with their feet, with staff more likely to jump ship and find new roles that align better with what matters most to them, rather than stick with the traditional stability of an unsatisfying and unrewarding job.

It’s no surprise that there are higher expectations for employee value and wellbeing. These days, employees expect that their contribution is going to get recognised. So, when that recognition isn’t present and they don’t feel valued, staff aren’t prepared to put up with it. Employees are also increasingly frustrated with a lack of feedback, with many managers ill-equipped at giving feedback and handling challenging conversations. Workplace stress levels are still scarily high, with increased workloads in short timeframes leading many to want to work from home. Compound this with a lack of clarity as to where careers are heading and a lack of confidence in managers to have open career conversations and you begin to get a better idea of why companies are struggling to retain their employees.    

The failure of management to respond to workplace’s human needs

Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workplace report found that employee engagement levels everywhere are shockingly low. Worldwide, 79 per cent of workers were found to be disengaged and Europe had the lowest regional percentage of engaged employees, at just 14 per cent. The report also found strong links between engagement and performance outcomes, such as productivity, job satisfaction, profitability and retention. With low engagement levels estimated to have a $7.8 trillion cost on the global economy, managers and leaders must take urgent action now to respond to the human needs of their workforce if they’re to retain their teams and operate at the highest level of potential.

The time to rehumanise management is now. But managers themselves are struggling to keep pace with the constantly changing world of work. Through successive rounds of delayering, continual reorganisations, budget constraints and the drive to improve margins, managers have found that the pressures on them have continued to increase. They often do the work of two or more people and this is taking them further and further away from being able to spend quality time with team members. It was the pandemic that threw this chronic failure of management into stark relief. With the added challenges of adapting to hybrid working models and a higher demand from staff for a better work-life balance, managers are feeling overwhelmed, overworked and exhausted.

In the UK, the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) estimates that between 70 and 80 per cent of all managers are ‘accidental managers’ and lack the vital skills needed to deal with the ‘people’ side of management to boost productivity and performance. Teaching managers how to be a coach, once seen as a panacea for helping managers perform differently in their roles, has singularly failed to transform organisations. This is perhaps not surprising when you consider that the specialist performance consultancy Notion has established that coaching reaches fewer than five per cent of an organisation. The reason for this, according to Notion’s analysis, is that the coaching models being taught are executive coaching models that reinforce the idea that coaching should follow a structured, sit-down process. These ‘manager as coach’-type training courses all teach time-starved managers how to conduct coaching sessions, rather than how they can use coaching during daily interactions with team members.    

Everyday coaching

So, what can organisations do differently to take the benefits of coaching and make them relevant and applicable for a manager? According to Notion, the focus needs to shift towards the behavioural aspects related to coaching that managers can learn to adopt to help them use more of an enquiry-led approach. Notion defines this as an ‘operational coaching’ style of management. It aims to ditch the command-and-control style, help managers to stop firefighting and teach them how to quickly “change state” to have “in the moment” coaching conversations every day with their employees. There is also a simple but effective method managers can follow to achieve this, known as the STAR (‘Stop, Think, Ask, Result’)model as described below:

Stop: when an employee comes to you with a problem, as their manager you must learn to stop and take a step back to recognise your habitual responses. This will allow you to change your state when responding to different situations and places the control over them back in your hands.

Think: once you have been able to stop, you have the ability to think about whether the situation an employee has presented to them is a ‘coachable moment’.

Ask: being able to master the art of asking powerful, thought-provoking questions and actively listening to your employees allows you to ditch the ‘fix and solve’ response, and instead presents the other person with a learning opportunity to become independent, solution-driven problem solvers.

Result: as a manager, it is your responsibility to achieve a positive result from these interactions. For continuous performance development, you must approach the conversation openly and empathetically, allowing the employee to imagine themselves taking any desired action and agreeing a next step that you can then follow up on.    

The coaching model described above is designed to change your behaviour as a manager, instead of trying to change the behaviour of the other person. By adopting this model, managers can cultivate new coaching-style ‘behaviours’ in the moment, which can:

  • Help get the most from their teams
  • Boost employee engagement levels
  • Increase retention
  • Develop high-performing workplaces
  • Build personal and organisational resilience
  • Drive commercial performance
  • Increase solution-focused outcomes
  • Improve creativity

Rehumanising management is about giving managers the soft skills needed to develop both the people that directly report directly to them and their own management capability. This will enable managers to deliver a transformative coaching culture throughout the entire organisation, connecting with employees on a human level where they feel valued, listened to and can develop the confidence to fix problems independently providing them with their own skills for a successful future and giving managers some of their time back.

Dominic Ashley-Timms (pictured right) and Laura Ashley-Timms are the co-founders of performance improvement consultancy Notion and co-authors of The Answer Is A Question.

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