Is the gap widening between people leaders and team members’ perceptions of what good management looks like?

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By Serendis

March 1, 2024

As an executive coach, I have the privilege to be invited into people’s minds. They share their frustrations, their moments of joy and their day-to-day experiences…or rather their perception of their day-to-day experiences.

I have learnt over the years that there is no such thing as reality. Different people will have a range of perceptions of the same event or situation. The ‘perception gap’ between people who share the same reality can be extreme and fascinating.

Team members tell me that ‘they want more feedback from their managers’. And managers complain that their team members ‘need constant praise and want to be promoted within weeks of being in a new job’.

I have absolute empathy for both parties. But we need to close the perception gap if organisations want to retain talent and increase retention.

What do employees really want?

As Marcus Buckingham puts it: people ask for feedback but in practice, no one likes feedback. In fact, people want ‘attention’. (Coaching vs. Feedback (

The difference between providing feedback and delivering attention can be subtle and therefore challenging to differentiate for managers.

‘Do you share the feedback like a grenade that you throw from the other side of the fence?’ asks Buckingham. ‘Or do you move to your employee’s side of the fence, look at the world through their perspective and share feedback by putting yourself in their shoes?’

The former is what happens in traditional performance conversations. The latter is called coaching. This is what employees need. It gives them a sense of feeling valued, a sense of connection, fairness and personal growth which builds psychological safety and performance in modern workplace environments.

How can organisations help people managers deliver on these expectations?

Today’s people managers need to evolve their focus from managing the team’s performance to developing and growing their people’s capabilities. They need to become mentors and coaches.

This does not have to be daunting. A discipline to have regular and dedicated conversations on the right topics with the right questions can address the gap effectively.

Conversations can rotate around three different topics and take place at least once a month, and ideally, once a fortnight:

1. Regular feedback: where did the team member do well, what did they achieve that was valuable to the team and the organisation, what didn’t they deliver? (This provides validation and a sense of feeling valued which younger talent need more explicitly.

2. The next growth area: where will they grow next? What skills do they need to focus on to develop? What will success look like for them in the next six months? (This creates clarity around what the person needs to demonstrate to progress and can provide a sense of momentum even within organisations where promotions and career pathways are limited.)

3. The future: what is their long-term career path in the organisation? How might they get there? (This is often challenging for people managers who see this discussion as premature, but this sense of clarity is important to younger workers.)

At Serendis, we’ve observed that team members are more likely to be engaged and supportive of their organisation if they have frequent, focused, career discussions with their managers. In other words, leaders’ discipline to regularly cover these three topics will help mitigate the perceived restless ambition that frustrates them in young talent. This is why we have developed tailored toolkits and nudges to guide each manager with just-in-time powerful questions to lead their monthly mentoring conversations.

As we progress through 2024, expect to hear a lot more about the need for people managers to embrace a different approach and truly see themselves as mentors.

Written by Maud Lindley – Founder of Serendis.