Equipping employees with the skills to thrive in a complex, constantly changing world of work is one of the biggest challenges facing organisations today. And, for the most part, companies are dependent on their line managers to ensure this happens.

But in a recent Gartner survey of HR practitioners, almost half said their managers are not effective at developing their people and succession plans are falling short when it comes to delivering the right people, with the right skills at the right time.

It’s a view reflected by employees themselves, with only 40 per cent of those Gartner surveyed confident that their managers were going about preparing them for their future careers in the right way.

In its 2019 Future of HR survey, Gartner suggests that the key to tackling this issue is to develop what it calls ‘Connector Managers’. According to Gartner, employees working for Connector managers, as opposed to those they classify as Teachers, Cheerleaders or Always on, are three times as likely to be high performers, and increase employee engagement by up to 40%.

So, what exactly does a Connector manager look like, and what are the skills and qualities they need to help their people get future-fit?

1. Demand driven

Connector managers recognise that they need to develop people for the skills they will need tomorrow, as well as the ones they need to succeed today. This calls for a detailed understanding of the organisation’s strategic direction and the environment it is operating in. How is digitisation likely to affect the market the business occupies, for example? Which roles are likely to disappear and what new jobs might emerge? What skills will be critical to business success going forward? What will tomorrow’s leader look like? Connector managers will constantly have their eyes on the future and will be ready to flex the way they coach and develop their people as the needs of the market and the business change.

2. Self-aware

In its research, Gartner questions the view that the best managers are those who provide coaching and feedback covering all aspects of an employee’s performance. These ‘always on’ managers, it suggests, can actually do more harm than good, providing misguided or irrelevant feedback, and potentially reducing performance by up to eight per cent. Connector managers, however, recognise that they don’t have all the answers themselves. They have the self-awareness (and humility) to recognise when other people in their team or organisation are better equipped to provide support and guidance and focus on connecting their employees with the right people at the right time.

3. Skilled at asking the right questions

Curiosity and good questioning skills are among the key qualities of a connector manager. They are good at getting to the root of what is really challenging employees, so that they can assess what kind of support and development is going to be most helpful. What aspects of their role are people struggling with? Are there development needs they are hiding for fear it will reflect badly on them? What are their aspirations? What do they want to do more of? Developing an open environment, where employees feel safe to discuss their challenges and concerns, means that important skills gaps don’t go unnoticed and learning and development happens faster.

4. Best-fit networking

Connector managers recognise the power of networking, They help people identify peers and colleagues who can give them the support they need and concentrate on identifying activities and experiences that will provide the right kind of learning opportunities. These managers are also good at flexing their communication style to meet the preferences of the people they work with, recognising when they need to adapt their approach to get the best results.
“Building a network can support employee development much more than managers alone. Connector managers accomplish this by making best-fit connections between personally and professionally compatible employees who can learn from each other, and by creating an open and transparent environment for peer to peer learning on their team,” says Gartner.

The beauty of the connector manager approach is that longer term, it reduces dependency on the manager. If people are encouraged to find their own answers, they will have the confidence to stand on their own feet the next time a challenge arises. If employees have a strong internal network, and are clear about who can help them, either within or outside the business, they won’t always have to turn to their manager first.


Manager types according to Gartner

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.