Thursday, October 29, 2009

How to Infuse Coaching Skills into a Manager

After taking the recent Talent Management Challenge, a reader commented:

“Suggestion for your next blog post - How do you improve career coaching and development at your organization when your managers are bad at it and don't have time to get better (ha - and they don't think they need to get better, nor do they have the time!)?”

The reader was referring to solid, beyond a shadow of a doubt research that says managers, in general, are lousy at coaching and developing their people.

As if that fact isn’t depressing enough, what makes it even worse is a whole body of other research that proves just how well effective coaching hits the bottom line. For example, a 2007 Corporate Executive Board study found that sales reps receiving great coaching reach on average 102% of goal in contrast to sales reps reporting poor coaching who achieve only 83% of goal. Good coaching can improve bottom performance by 19%!

Coaching is not just a “nice to do” – it’s a proven productivity driving, revenue growing, high impact management activity.

So if it works…. why don’t more managers do it? And why are they so bad at it?

There are four reasons:

1. They don’t understand how effective it is in improving performance.

2. They don’t have time. While “lack of time” may be just a symptom of reason #1, it’s also a reality that most managers these days are terminally busy and have difficulty finding time to eat, let alone coach.

3. It’s hard to learn. In fact, it’s one of the most difficult leadership competencies to learn.

4. Poor execution. Managers often spend too much time coaching poor performers at the expense of the “B” performers who would benefit from it the most. Or, they apply the same process to all employees equally.

Given this stark reality, what’s an organization to do? How can we infuse coaching skills into an organization’s managers? Here are four ideas:

1. Help managers understand the importance of coaching.
Stop trying to convince them it’s the “right thing to do” in order to improve employee satisfaction. Show them the research and the ROI. Make it a business case, not an HR driven social agenda.

2. Set expectations and help align their priorities.
Establish clear, measurable, non-negotiable expectations. Then get rid of all the lower priority stuff that’s filling up their days. We can’t just tell managers coaching is important and hold them accountable for it, and not eliminate the non-value activities that are often driven by their own managers and HR. BTW, I didn't even bother suggesting "adding it to their performance appraisals". It already is, and that's never made a difference.

3. Teach them how to do it.
While it’s hard, it’s not impossible. Good managers are not born with a coaching gene… they are good at it because they know what key behaviors make the most difference and they practice those behaviors relentlessly. There is no 3x5 laminated card short-cut solution to teaching and learning coaching skills – it’s a significant investment of time and effort.

4. Use internal and external experts.
Create a pool of internal and external coaches as a temporary or permanent “work-around”. These experts could be from HR, training, professional external coaches, or anyone that has a knack and passion for bringing out the best in others. Over time, this capability can’t help but be transferred… it’s a quicker way to infuse an organization with coaching expertise, while you are building your manager’s skills at the same time.

5. Try the Vulcan Mind Meld.
Just be careful, it's tricky. Too much be can physically debilitating for both parties.

While these solutions may sound overly simple (except for the mind meld), the devil is in the details. It’s going to take a lot of commitment and hard work. We just need to ask ourselves: would it be worth an almost 20% productivity improvement or increase in revenue? If so, then let’s get to work.


Janna Rust said...

Coaching is a fabulous leadership model and I agree with all of your points. I'd also like to add that I'm not sure many people are very familiar with the competencies and skills of coaching, according to how it is defined by the Interational Coach Federation. Maybe if more trained coaches consulted with organizations to create coaching cultures, more real coaching would take place.

Unknown said...

Dan, This is a great post with concrete, usable ideas! Thanks.

As an external consultant and coach, one strategy I use is to explicitly model. When an organization hires me to coach a manager or supervisor, I require that the coachee's boss also be involved. This strengthens their relationship, avoids the dreaded triangulation, and provides me with opportunities to be very transparent about what and why I am doing.

Now I am off to get coaching on the Vulcan Mind Meld!

Mary Jo Asmus said...

Hi Dan,

I first learned coaching skills before I became an external executive coach, while I was still in the corporate world. It felt so different than anything I'd ever learned before!

Two things that I've found as I teach others the skills that make it even harder: many organizations don't even come close to having an organizational culture that supports the skills, and often senior management doesn't think it's something they need to learn. So there is no reinforcement or accountability from the higher ups or anywhere else in the organization to use the skill set.

I used to wonder whether it was wrong of me to even teach the skills to managers under these circumstances. I've decided that its worth it - because many managers experience such great value in using the skills, despite those obstacles.

So I teach managers coaching skills - sometimes as part of my 1:1 work, but also in workshops. They do a LOT of practice in class, and they don't leave class without 1. an action plan, and 2. a buddy or two to meet with as a "peer coach" to reinforce the skills with each other (including a date/time and phone number for the first meeting) and 3. a teleconference a week or two after class, where I coach the new manager-coaches about coaching. All of these things help the managers to swim upstream with the new skills.

A manager learning to coach will soon discover that the short term pain of learning the difficult skill and the time it takes to coach others are exchanged for long term gain. When they develop a new "coaching habit", the managers who really learn to coach others will find their people become more autonomous and higher performing.

Thanks for your great post, and for making the case.

Susan Zelinski The Zen of Business. The Business of Zen said...

I love your suggestion #5 - the Vulcan Mind Meld as a final option! Usually, steps 1 - 4 work so you don't have to resort to this! I have on occasions, tried hypnosis and subliminal messaging!

Alicia-Ann Caesar said...

Thanks for this post Dan! I recently filled out my self-evaluation for the company I work for and I think my manager was surprised at my request for "coaching." I work for a nonprofit and coaching is definitely not a top priority at this moment, but I see value in myself as an employee and feel I would benefit with more direction and learning opportunities. I can see all the reasons why the level of coaching I want will not be possible, especially because my manager is extremely busy, but I can only hope that something works out for her and for me.

Tony Thekkekara said...

Dan - Great suggestions for helping improve coaching in managers. It is definitely a major benefit to work for a company where mangers can provide this type of direction and development. Hopefully it can be mutually beneficial and as employees grow their contribution to the organization can be realized in increased profits.

Dan McCarthy said...

Janna -
Agree, managers could learn a lot from professional coaches

Lee Ann -
You're welcome. I like your appoach, and be careful learning that new skill.

Mary Jo -
Thanks for sharing your approach. Agree, well worth it, and they need to se the results themselves.

Susan -
Can you teach me those? (-:

Alicia-Ann -
Good luck with that. I just wish there was a more affordable coaching option for non-executives, non-profits, so more people could get read the benefits.

Tony -

Mary Jo Asmus said...


At least for non-profits - I'm learning that there may be some foundations out there that will fund that type of work. In terms of "non-executives", group coaching might fill the bill as a more affordable option. Most coaches I know charge by the hour, not by the person, for group coaching, so the expense can be spread among a number of individuals.

Rick Pannemann said...

"These are not the 'droids you're looking for."

Oops! Wrong sci-fi show...

Agree 100% -- coaching is necessary and it works!

Dallas said...


Thank you for reminding me that my staff is in need of some coaching! I supervise 15 people of which I hardly ever see in person. Coaching must be done over the phone or by email. This is even more reason to "be too busy to develop". Perhaps you could cover "Coaching From a Distance"? Wonderful post.


Dan McCarthy said...

Mary Jo-
That's good to hear. Thanks for the follow-up.

Rick -
I had to look it up... duh, Star Wars.

Dallas -
Thanks. I'm hearing that many, if not most executive coaches do most of thier coaching over the phone, pehaps after an initial f2f meeting.