All Things Agni

From Agni HQ: Reframing the Role of the Manager

Great managers -- everyone wants to have one, be one, and share opinions about the skills that make one. Google “what makes a good manager” and you’ll soon be swimming in blogs, books and TED Talks. And for good reason! The connection between managers and direct reports is worth the spotlight. A manager that empowers teammates, celebrates wins, and challenges assumptions can propel a career; a manager that discourages growth, dulls a teammate’s shine, or instills fear can halt one. The stats back us up on this: according to research from Gallup, 50% of employees leave their companies because they’re unsatisfied with their boss (Officevibe).  

What is it about this relationship that is so challenging to get right? Dissatisfaction between direct reports and managers in the modern workplace can be distilled to two common and intertwined themes: trust and communication. Without a solid foundation of these two key ingredients, conflict tends to fester.

Take this common scene for instance, in which we can draw the lines between poor communication and lack of trust:


Employee A fails to communicate to her direct report, Employee B, how he’ll be evaluated. In turn, Employee B incorrectly assumes that he'll be judged on the contributions of his direct report, Employee C.
B goes on to micromanage C in an effort to secure praise from A. As a result, C feels that B doesn't trust her and that her growth is being stifled by his over-attentive management.

At Agni, we sought to weed through the many buzzy tips and tricks about management and distill for ourselves how we can build clear, honest, and direct communication and trust in each of our direct report/manager relationships as we scale. We asked each other: what are (and aren’t!) the responsibilities of a manager? How do we want teammates to feel when meeting with their manager? And most importantly, how can we adopt practices that help all teammates feel supported and be impactful? 

We realized that the managers that we want to emulate at Agni are already out there, but they don’t call themselves managers. Instead, they call themselves coaches. And just like that, we adopted the coach/player analogy, and we all (coaches and players alike) now benefit from it. Here’s how:   

1. The job of a coach is to help their player succeed at their game. Simply put, when the player wins, the coach wins, and both coach and player are celebrated for the player’s achievements. The coach has no reason to feel threatened by the success of a player, since they share this common goal. This closes the door on potential competitiveness and/or fear around who gets the credit for a job well done. 

2. Coaches specialize their approach. The coach’s role is to help players identify and double down on strengths while overcoming weaknesses. The player, on the other hand, has someone that knows them and their personal traits, to whom they can turn for advice and insights. With this mentality, feedback flows freely and is received with gratitude rather than defensiveness or fear.
3. It's ultimately up to the player to play the game.  Coaches can lend expertise and share what they know, but they can't compete on behalf of the player.  The player is in charge of what happens on game day, and decides how they'll play.  This sense of ownership empowers direct reports to make decisions on their own, assume responsibility, and take pride in their contributions. 

    While we don’t call our managers coaches or our direct reports players, we’ve incorporated the unique qualities of this relationship into our manager activities, and the outcome has been remarkable. Our direct reports feel more ownership over their work, and our managers feel encouraged to both share feedback when applicable, and let the direct report take control of their own priorities.    

    If this kind of relationship sounds like something you want to replicate in your own work environment, take a look at your management rituals (regular meetings, evaluations, feedback shares, etc.) and consider: when does the coach/player philosophy feel present, and when does it feel absent? Once you’ve identified which touch points could benefit from a reframe, talk to your manager or direct report about incorporating a coach/player mentality into each meeting or practice. And if you ever wonder how to proceed in a given situation, keep in mind these five simple words: what would a coach do? 

    Do you use a philosophy like the coach/player analogy to drive supportive managing? We’d love to hear from you about what works for you.  

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