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 3×5 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.