During a recent discussion with senior executives, the question was asked:
"In today's chaotic work environment, does it make sense to provide coaching to mid-level managers?"
The group concluded that, yes, now more than ever is the right time to provide coaching support for managers at the mid-level. The discussion that followed resulted in nine reasons why their frontline and mid-level managers were in urgent need of dedicated coaching support.
Here are the reasons:
Traditional forms of management development are no longer viable.
There's never been a more challenging time to be a frontline or mid-level manager. While these leaders have long been seen as the backbone of the organization, in today's volatile workplace, they can be the difference between the success or failure of your business. This is true regardless of the size of the company.
But, for many managers, today's constantly changing demands and rapidly evolving expectations far exceed their preparation. Formal leadership development and competency-based training modules can't evolve fast enough to address the flood of new and unprecedented pressures placed on today's managers. What's needed is more targeted leadership triage: concise, easily accessible, on-the-spot support that is tailored to meet individual's situational needs. In other words, what most managers need is individualized coaching.
There's a high failure rate among first-time managers.
The Corporate Executive Board conducted research (pre-COVID) and found that 60% of all new managers fail within the first 24 months in their new positions. The primary reason is improper training or lack of on-the-job support. With recruiting, selecting, training, and lost productivity, turnover becomes a costly proposition. A dedicated coaching resource that could support onboarding, facilitate development, and reduce management turnover would pay for itself.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives need support.
First, as more minority members move into positions of leadership for the first time, they need to be supported. Because one criterion of success for a DE&I initiative should be the retention of new BIPOC managers, and with what we know about washout rates (above), a genuine commitment to bringing about change would be to support these new leaders. A personal, dedicated coach is a powerful way for a company to demonstrate support and a likely way to enhance retention.
Secondly, established mid-level managers (both minority and non-minority) will also be facing a new work context and set of expectations. They, too, may need coaching on how to manage a new workforce. Traditional classroom diversity training simply cannot provide the real, day-to-day situational support that a coaching relationship does.
We are facing a mental health crisis.
The World Health Organization has called our current global condition a "mental health crisis." There are unprecedented levels of anxiety, depression, burnout, and languishing in the workplace. Most managers need considerable help in knowing how to deal with team members' behavioral health issues.
An experienced coach can help managers delineate their roles and responsibilities in these situations, apply policy with empathy and concern, and leave the practice of mental health care to the Employee Assistance Program, external therapists, and/or healthcare providers.
Remote work has been a game-changer.
Let's not overlook the impact of the transition to working from home. Very few managers whose teams were able to work remotely were prepared for just how much it changed their world. While their employees were asked to make the transition, managers themselves had to adjust to remote work, and on top of that, manage teams going through that same adjustment.
Every aspect of a manager's role including basic communications and meetings, performance management, feedback, maintaining the culture, career development, process improvement - and more - was impacted by the change to remote work.
The continued uncertainties further frustrate everyone involved. Whether people will transition back to the office remains unresolved due to questions about the full impact of the Delta variant, booster shots, and policies regarding mask mandates and vaccination verifications.
A whole lot of people have just had enough.
Some people have called 2021 "The Great Resignation." A Microsoft survey found that 40% of workers are pondering quitting their jobs within the year or changing their professions altogether - other surveys have put that figure closer to 50%!
The impact on managers is obvious. They are asked to do more and more with less and less. Managers are pulled in two different directions - they are asked to be planful and strategic, but the widespread departures and employee disengagement force them to take on more operational duties.
A coach could help a manager create a culture that can win the war against attrition and turnover. Such progress could be instrumental to the success of the operation and provide the support and recognition needed to prevent the manager from becoming part of the mass exodus!
The gray tsunami is coming.
One key part of the mass exodus is the Baby Boom generation. Replacing them continues to be a pressing need. According to Pew Research, 41 million of the 73 million Baby Boomer generation are still employed and comprise about one-third of the workforce. With "The Great Resignation" trend and 10,000 Boomers per day turning 65, many will be departing the workforce and greatly reducing senior levels of leadership. For many businesses, it's imperative that they immediately develop the next generation of leaders.
Since managers lack the time to attend traditional program-based training, and since the content of the curriculum cannot keep pace with a rapidly evolving workplace, it seems that only a tailored coaching relationship could truly meet individual managers' evolving needs. Because coaching is the development method most consistent with adult learning principles, it continues to be the most effective way to identify strengths, determine skill gaps, and develop managers for senior-level positions.
A revolution of rising expectations.
Many times, history has shown:
when people endure extremely difficult and stressful times,
then get a glimmer of hope that things may get better,
but then the situation does not improve or doesn't improve fast enough,
frustrations, anger, even aggression can occur at levels far exceeding the initial reactions.
In other words, a previously bad situation that had been tolerated for some time becomes unbearable when people begin to believe it's almost over. Historians call this a "revolution of rising expectations."
Here's why this is relevant. It seemed that we were making progress emerging from the COVID pandemic and establishing some "new normal." But, if the dramatic resurgence in cases caused by variants plunges us back into mask-wearing, minimizing public exposure, social distancing, partial shutdowns, potential economic hardship, at-home-schooling, etc., we could see some really upset fellow citizens and co-workers.
This would mean that managers will be asked to deal with even more angry, stressed-out, and anxious workers while trying to keep the workplace safe and productive. Because this will likely exceed their preparation, it will be critical to provide these managers with opportunities to talk things over, strategize, get advice, commiserate, and debrief periodically with a dedicated coach who's familiar with their role, responsibilities, and challenges.
Coaching can be recognition - and a respite.
Providing mid-level managers with a coach is a practical way to demonstrate that senior leaders recognize the magnitude of their challenges, appreciate their efforts, are investing in them as professionals, and are supporting them as people. Coaching provides convenient, candid, confidential time to discuss, strategize, and de-stress with a highly trained professional, while at the same time communicating that senior management recognizes their considerable efforts.
The Bottom Line
It is hard to describe the pressure placed on mid-level managers over the last 18-24 months. Unfortunately, there's no relief in sight for these unsung heroes. Because of the way things have evolved, coaching - even when provided virtually - is today's most efficient and effective professional development option for mid-level managers.