The importance of managers as advocates

Advocacy can be a powerful tool to help managers increase productivity and employee retention.

Dani Johnson

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The last few years have profoundly changed the expectations of managers. Leaders have had to adapt to managing teams in in-person, fully remote and, in many cases, hybrid environments. They have been held accountable for advancing critical goals of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. And they’ve had to make sure the job gets done amid the unprecedented upheaval of the pandemic, supply chain constraints and social unrest.

As part of the analysis of how companies have handled these changes, my colleagues at RedThread Research and I spoke with a large retailer that has long kept its turnover particularly low and frequently appears on the lists of better places to work. One thing that organizational leaders told us was particularly striking: managers act not only as guides and coaches for employees, but also as defenders.

In recent years, there has been increasing discussion of the importance of managers as godfathers or mentors. When should they go further and lawyer on behalf of their employees? After all, managers are accountable to the organization and must balance the needs of employees with those of the business.

Through research and conversations with leaders from a wide range of companies, I’ve found that advocacy can be a powerful tool for managers, boosting productivity and employee retention. It also improves relationships inside and outside the organization, which helps the organization to thrive.

Support employee goals for themselves

One of the strongest areas where manager-employee advocacy shows up is in a career. Traditionally, managers have sought to encourage excellence by showing the opportunities and promotions 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 came into his business as a financial analyst but really wants to make the leap into marketing. A manager acting as an advocate would ensure that John has the time and resources to develop marketing skills and identify collaborative projects in which John could work with members of the marketing team. (An internal talent market can be particularly helpful in achieving this.) When possible, John’s manager seeks out opportunities that would allow him to spend time embedded in the marketing unit.

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