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RedThread Research on 'Managing Better in 2023'

RedThread Research on 'Managing Better in 2023'

Great workplaces require great people leaders. However, the state of work in 2022 makes this a particularly challenging period to be a manager

Employees are more distributed and thus more disengaged than ever before. Managers need new skills to navigate the performance and equity risks of hybrid and remote work. They also require new levels of support and training to lead healthy workplaces that balance productivity with empathy.

In this session hosted with ATD, Redthread Research’s co-founder and principal analyst Stacia Garr and Perceptyx’s head of product Joe Freed examined new data from RedThread Research on the current plight of managers and discussed what organizations must do now to enable and support them for future success.

Here are some highlights of their discussion, which can be accessed in full here

Top Challenges Facing Managers in 2022

In recent years, organizations have placed increasing demands on their managers, at times leaving them to navigate novel situations without training or skill support. They have been tasked by leadership to quickly implement new policies (remote work, return to office, hybrid schedules, etc.), manage remote teams when they are used to co-location, and keep productivity high.  Over the past three years, RedThread identified the following as key challenges to management effectiveness:

  • Emotional strains of the pandemic 
  • Challenges of social unrest
  • Loneliness of remote working
  • Fear and difficulties of returning to the office
  • Layoffs

“We are in a unique situation right now, where layoffs are coinciding with what remains a tight job market,” said Stacia Garr.

Disengaged Managers

RedThread’s latest study, based on a survey of more than 700 employees, revealed an increasing level of management disengagement, coupled with reduced effectiveness, between 2020 and 2022.

Manager Effectiveness Graph

“Managers are the people who can help organizations cut costs, respond to market demands, and enable employees,” said Garr. According to RedThread data, employees with highly effective managers are:

  • 2.8x more like to give a positive Net Promoter Score (NPS), which is associated with an improved Employee Value Proposition (EVP) and higher levels of employee retention
  • 2.5x more likely to say their organization is innovative, which correlates with higher levels of organizational innovation
  • 1.6x more likely to be engaged, which is reflective of higher organizational productivity

7 Practices That Drive Manager Effectiveness

RedThread’s research revealed seven practices that are highly predictive of manager effectiveness. Four of these are tied directly to manager practices:

  • Removing barriers to getting work done
  • Treating employees with respect
  • Fostering connections within the team
  • Managing difficult conversations effectively

“Of these practices, the most predictive year after year involves managing difficult conversations effectively,” said Garr. The organizational practices, which Garr stated are more controllable because they’re systemic in nature, are:

  • Providing data-based insights into the team’s engagement
  • Providing clarity on what employees need to do to succeed in the future
  • Providing opportunities for employees to connect with coaches outside the organization

Manager or Organizational Practices: What’s Impacting Manager Effectiveness Now?

To answer the question of whether manager capabilities or organizational support is having a greater impact on manager effectiveness, RedThread looked at the data. Between 2021 and 2022, manager capabilities did not meaningfully decline year-over-year.

Managers' capabilities graph

However, organizational support did experience a significant decline between 2021 and 2022. RedThread’s Garr noted that 2020 was a watershed year in terms of manager support from organizations, due to the unprecedented nature of pandemic-related workplace changes. For many organizations the subsequent years, as they seek to return to a new baseline, have seen a reduction in the amount of support they provide to managers.

Organizational Support Chart

“It comes down to what organizations are doing to support managers,” said Garr. “To improve managers’ effectiveness, HR leaders and senior executives need to change the practices and systems that support them.” 

3 Areas Organizations Should Focus On

To close the effectiveness gap, RedThread recommends that organizations focus on three specific areas to increase manager effectiveness. The first area, community enablement, came down to:

  • Purpose: 68% of organizations with highly effective managers help employees understand how their work connected to the organization’s purpose
  • Coaching: 58% of organizations with highly effective managers have ongoing conversations with coaches and mentors
  • Connection: 59% of organizations with highly effective managers have a strategy to enable connections in the workplace

Within the sub-category of coaching, RedThread found that:

  • 34% of organizations with highly effective managers are engaged in external coaching, as compared to 16% of organizations with moderately effective managers
  • Organizations are engaging in less frequent coach and mentor conversations, with 38% of organizations doing this in 2022 as against 43% in 2021; meanwhile, 58% of organizations with highly effective managers do this, compared to 33% of organizations with moderately effective managers
  • 50% of organizations with highly effective managers encourage peer-to-peer coaching, while only 27% of those with moderately effective managers do so

In addition to community enablement, organizations need to create a roadmap for success:

  • Performance management: 68% of organizations with highly effective managers ensure individuals have clear goals
  • Learning: 66% of organizations with highly effective managers encourage employees to continuously learn and develop skills

Finally, organizations need to provide the GPS that allows their managers to follow that roadmap: 

  • Add feedback structure: 72% of organizations with highly effective managers report that employees have daily or weekly check-ins with managers. 55% report employees have monthly or weekly structured conversations with managers.
  • Data for managers and employees to course-correct: 43% of organizations with highly effective managers provide data-based insights into how their employees are performing, allowing them to adapt communication and other behaviors to drive positive change.

“Within our data about feedback structure, we found that the most effective managers didn’t just have daily or weekly check-ins, they had structured conversations with their employees,” said Garr. “This means having a clear agenda, the right data at your fingertips, and so on. It’s not just frequency; it’s about what happens in those meetings.”

Cultivate: AI-Powered Insights to Improve Manager Effectiveness

As RedThread’s research demonstrates, giving managers the coaching they need — especially middle and front-line managers — to help their people and continue to drive business outcomes has never been more critical. Unfortunately, these coaching resources are often too costly or impossible to personalize at scale. With Cultivate Intelligent Coaching, Perceptyx aims to change that by delivering a personalized coaching solution for every manager.

Unlike other digital coaching approaches, Cultivate uses AI intent models to interpret observed behavior and provide more meaningful insights into areas for development. For example, Cultivate not only identifies how often a leader engages with employees, it also understands the tone of those conversations and whether the manager is providing advice or asking for opinions, as well as how frequently they recognize and encourage their team members. This observation of management best-practice behaviors ensures more valuable and actionable coaching recommendations — and thanks to a privacy-first model requiring each user to opt-in, managers can rest assured that the content of their communication, along with the data about their behaviors, is not shared with anyone else in the organization.

Democratized Leadership Development

Cultivate AI Models

AI-based platforms like Cultivate Intelligent Coaching remove the need to prioritize who gets coaching. All managers can get their own digital buddy that “sits on their shoulder" and helps them along, suggesting how to better communicate, collaborate, and work with others — and without taking any time out of their day. The AI monitors everyday behavior as it provides continuous feedback, essentially acting as a “Fitbit” for your managers.

Nudges and Unconscious Signals

All these digital communications do a lot more than transfer information. We send many signals without realizing it because our underlying messages are often unconscious. If we respond quickly to a team member, we show them they are important to us. Checking in more with some team members than with others can indicate bias and favoritism. The tone of our emails can be either directive or inquisitive, positive or negative. We may not always ask for opinions and instead, just tell people what to do.  After using Cultivate, managers began to recognize their people 28% more often, along with similar increases in other positive behaviors such as initiating conversations with direct reports and keeping teams informed of decisions

This experience can be further enhanced with 360 Feedback, with “blind spot nudges” based on that feedback serving to recommend actions related to previously identified blind spots to encourage measurable behavior change.  “All of this is provided to the leader to make of it what they will,” emphasized Perceptyx’s Joe Freed. “What we don’t want is a monitoring or surveillance system. We don’t want to force people to do these things. We want to give them the data and the roadmap they need to course correct on their own.” 

Perceptyx Can Help Boost Management Effectiveness in Your Organization

Organizations concerned about manager effectiveness have work ahead. A continuous listening program, supported by manager-specific solutions like Cultivate, delivers data-driven insights that illuminate what your managers need to do their best work, and how their needs, as well as the needs of their team, are evolving over time.

To listen to this webinar in full, click here. For more information on how your organization can utilize our technology and consulting expertise to boost manager effectiveness, schedule a meeting with a member of our team.

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