When seeking advice about your career path, are you more likely to reach out to a scorekeeper or a career coach?
Most of us would eagerly say, “career coach,” which brings up an important ongoing shift in talent development. Currently, many organizations believe that it is time to move away from annual performance feedback and shift to ongoing performance feedback. New systems, processes and practices are, of course, hugely important to making this shift.
Yet at the heart of this transformation in how and when feedback is delivered is one undeniable truth: the manager-employee relationship needs to change for the better.
M. Tamra Chandler, author of the new book, How Performance Management is Killing Performance—and What To Do About It clearly articulates the essential change in the manager-employee relationship as follows:
“We need to move managers out of the role of reviewer and assessor and firmly into the role of coach, guide, career navigator, mentor—pick the word you like best. If we think of the employee-manager relationship as a collaboration, then both parties will gain far more from their time together.”
This shift in the relationship may sound simple and it certainly makes sense, yet it is far from an easy move for both managers and employees to make. After all, despite the belief in the need for change and even the desire for making this change, we continue to bump up against the historical construct of the boss-subordinate relationship born in the industrial age by the invention of the organizational hierarchy.
The boss holds the power
Consider that the historical relationship between a manager and their employees has one fundamental feature that can make this shift away from boss-as-assessor and toward collaborator elusive: a manager continues to have power over their employees.
After all, consider that when you believe someone has the power to influence your compensation, to create or destroy opportunities for your future, to influence the perception of those in positions of power to which you have limited access, would you be more likely to…
- Focus your conversations on your accomplishments or your challenges?
- Be positive even when you are not feeling confident or optimistic or open up about your fears and concerns?
- Direct attention to your strengths or call attention to your weaknesses so you can get the support you need to learn and grow?
Everything’s coming up roses…or is it?
The truth is when someone has power over us, we are driven to protect ourselves. We are less likely to talk about fears, challenges and performance gaps and more likely to make the case for how great we are already performing. The result is that a manager’s impact in a role of coach or mentor may be compromised before they even begin.
This can, of course, be overcome, but it requires that managers take full responsibility for the power they have, whether it is in reality or only in employee perception.
Awareness is key
So be aware that despite your best intentions to support people in growing and developing, they are likely to feel vulnerable and proceed with caution. They may even resist your attempts to make the shift from assessor of past performance to collaborator in their future success. This resistance may happen despite their desire to undertake a different relationship with you as their manager!
The bottom line is that you cannot coach or mentor someone effectively who does not trust you to have their best interests at heart and that you will use your power to support them rather than simply judge them. To create an effective coaching or mentoring relationship, it is up to you to demonstrate that you are worthy of being entrusted with their future.
So ask yourself, do your employees trust you enough to hear your feedback and engage with you as a collaborator in their future success?