The past few years have profoundly changed expectations for managers. Leaders have had to adapt to managing teams across in-person, fully remote, and, in many cases, hybrid settings. They’ve been held to account for advancing critical goals focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. And they’ve had to make sure work gets done amid unprecedented upheaval from the pandemic, supply chain constraints, and social unrest.
In the process of analyzing how companies have navigated these changes, my colleagues and I at RedThread Research spoke with a major retailer that has long kept its turnover especially low and frequently appears on lists of best places to work. One thing executives at the organization told us was particularly striking: Managers act not only as guides and coaches to employees but also as advocates.
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In recent years, there’s been increasing discussion about the importance of managers as sponsors or mentors. When should they go a step further and advocate on behalf of their employees? After all, managers are accountable to the organization and have to balance the needs of employees with those of the business.
Through research and conversations with leaders at a wide array of companies, I’ve seen that advocacy can be a powerful tool for managers, boosting productivity and employee retention. It also improves relationships both inside and outside the organization, which helps the organization flourish.
Supporting Employees’ Goals for Themselves
One of the strongest areas where manager-employee advocacy shows up is in a career track. Traditionally, managers have looked to incentivize excellence by showing the opportunities and promotions that an employee can aspire to within their company or field. But employees don’t always want to stay on the same track.
Employees want learning and development opportunities that help them achieve their dreams.
Take the example of John, who entered his company as a financial analyst but really wants to make the jump to marketing. A manager acting as an advocate would ensure that John has the time and resources to develop marketing skills and would identify collaborative projects in which John could work with members of the marketing team. (An internal talent marketplace can be especially helpful in making this happen.) When possible, John’s manager would look for opportunities that would allow him to spend time embedded with the marketing unit.