December 22, 2015 by

The fastest way for companies to drive away rock star talent is well documented:
micromanage them.

To retain them forever? Also well documented: coach them.

Well documented by whom, you ask? None other than two of the world’s top trendsetters
in management and corporate culture: Google and ADM.

Archer Daniels Midland?

Yeah. So, let’s start with Google.

In 2009, Google launched Project Oxygen, a research initiative to understand how its most successful managers manage. For a full year Google’s statisticians data-mined more than 10,000 quantitative observations of ideal manager behaviors.

As Laszlo Bock, then Google vice president of people operations, said in a Wall Street Journal interview, “The starting point was that our best managers have teams that perform better, are retained better, are happier, and do everything better. The biggest controllable factor that we could see was the quality of the manager. So what if every manager was that good?”

One year later, Google came to some telling conclusions. Managers that naturally practiced an empowering style of trusting rock stars to perform like rock stars were considerably more successful than those who hovered over their direct reports as if they were incompetent children.

To train underperforming coaches, Google hired coaches from my alma mater, CTI, in San Francisco.

“We were able to have a statistically significant improvement in manager quality for 75% of our worst-performing managers,” Bock said in the same article. The remaining 25% of the managers who couldn’t—or wouldn’t—learn to coach don’t manage anymore.

Their 33,000-plus rock stars now perform at a much higher level than before and are much more likely to be retained by Google. And Google is among the 10 most profitable companies in the Fortune 500.

But what about ADM and their like-sized team of 30,000 rock stars?

While the notion of “coaching” may conjure up images of Silicon Valley start-ups with meditation rooms and beer on tap, ADM, the 112-year-old agri-business colossus based in Decatur, Illinois, is one of the leading proponents of “coaching-based performance improvement.”

While Google launched Project Oxygen in 2009, ADM initiated Coaching to Win (CTW), a program to train managers to coach direct reports that inverted the traditional, top-down management technique.

Since then, CTW has reaped breakthrough ideas to cut costs, improve efficiency, and increase the bottom line. If lower costs and higher profits don’t sell you on this style of coaching, maybe eliminating the annual torture of performance reviews will.

According to CTW creator, Jane Pierce, ADM’s former vice president of talent development, “A far better use of management time than reviewing past performance is coaching rock stars to high performance in real time throughout the day.”

A meta-analysis by Bersin & Associates found that corporations which employ a coaching management style have 21% better overall business results than peer companies.

In markets like Omaha, which enjoys virtually full employment even after ConAgra’s cuts, it’s very much a rock star’s market. So hire rock stars and treat them as such to enjoy the highest retention rates.

Handle them like incompetent children, especially in Omaha, and you won’t be handling them for long.

Scott Anderson is CEO of Doubledare, a coaching, consulting, and search firm.

Scott Anderson is CEO of Doubledare, a coaching, consulting, and search firm.

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