The Superpower of Top Workplaces Managers

by Stephan Hagelauer

And Why Great Coaches Don’t Put Michael Jordan at Bat 


We’ve discussed how the manager role has shifted in recent years. Top Workplaces managers are effective because they coach more than they supervise. They understand the importance of getting to know employees as individuals. And they know what motivates them both on — and off — the job.

The connection between an engaged workforce and business results is well established. Managers serve a critical role in this link, bridging the gap between employees and the organization. In fact, our Top Workplaces research shows the manager/employee relationship to be one of four key relationships that create a positive work experience.

When it comes to the manager/employee relationship, Top Workplaces managers align three factors:
1) The individual’s interests
2) The individual’s skills
3) The organization’s needs
Core Coaching Zone

Development Zone: The intersection of interests and the organization’s needs provides managers with guidance for the individual’s future development plans.

Realignment Zone: Where employee skills and the organization needs overlap, managers have an opportunity to redesign job accountabilities or develop opportunities for the individual to coach others. This helps to build engagement by focusing on what energizes the employee the most.

Reassignment Zone: Managers should proceed with caution when an employee has both skills and interest, yet there isn’t an organization need. This is an area where team members may gravitate, artificially creating opportunities to invest their time to the detriment of other higher priorities.

Core Coaching Zone: The Core Coaching Zone is found at the intersection of skill, interest, and the organization’s needs. The ability to target and grow this ‘sweet spot’ is a superpower Top Workplaces managers. It’s also the focus of their regular, ongoing coaching conversations that align the people on their team and enables them to make course corrections when necessary.

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Begin with a foundation of trust

Getting to this point requires a trusting relationship between the manager and the individual they’re coaching. A manager with no formal training as a coach, but who has established trust, will get much farther in helping others develop than a manager with lots of formal training but low trust.


Put the employee in the driver’s seat

It’s important to note that coaching is not something managers do to their employees. Rather, it’s a collaborative process that requires employees to be active participants. They should want to be coached because they are the ones at the center of their own career.

To prepare for coaching conversations, employees need to think about what they like to do, what else they may want to do, what makes them feel competent and confident in their work, and under what circumstances they have fallen short of achieving a goal. They need to think about short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals—plus whatever else they want their manager to know. By putting all this on the table, employees can express who they are and what they want out of their job.


Learning to listen instead of waiting to talk

For managers, the number one task during conversations with employees is to listen. Really listen. And listen intensely. Maybe the manager asks a few drill-down questions, but the idea is to listen more and talk less in order to get the full measure of the individual. Alignment between interests, skills, and organizational needs becomes easier the more managers know. And, of course, managers should come to these conversations well-versed in overall organizational needs because their own bosses should be having similar discussions with them.

The information managers gather from their conversations can be used to create what we at Energage call a Coaching Worksheet. This sets the framework to review where individual employees excel and areas where improvement is needed, with a focus on the future rather than dwelling on past mistakes. Here the manager’s role is to emphasize the positive, trying to encourage and increase the individual’s superpower, instead of trying to fix something they may never be good at.


Top Workplaces managers don’t put Michael Jordan at bat

A sports analogy helps make the point. Michael Jordan has been called the greatest basketball player of all time, with six NBA championships, numerous awards and titles, and two Olympic gold medals. After retiring in 1994, he pursued a second career in major league baseball. He only made it to the minor leagues, for one year, before returning to the NBA and continuing his streak of success—in basketball. It would have made no sense to continue coaching Michael Jordan in baseball when basketball was his obvious superpower.

Few managers will find talent equivalent to a Michael Jordan on their team, but they will find individuals who have unique abilities and the capacity to make significant contributions to the organization’s needs.

It just takes a good coach to discover and champion their superpower.