Article: Transforming a manager into a coach

Strategic HR

Transforming a manager into a coach

The key to delivering effective coaching feedback is that it is observational and non-judgmental
Transforming a manager into a coach

Coaching is a purposeful ongoing one-to-one dialogue between a Manager-Coach and the employee


The manager-coach creates an environment that fosters learning, independent thinking and opportunities to contribute


Managing people today is becoming less about command and control and more about development and empowerment. Managers need to give up the position of power and become cheerleaders and coaches to their employees. Flatter organizations and frequent downsizing means that employees need to cope with changed requirements in skills, responsibilities and performance. Individuals are called upon to take ownership of their own development and even training. That is where a manager’s role changes to that of a coach. Guiding, encouraging and suggesting rather than directing are the new expectations from a Manager-Coach.

Coaching is a purposeful ongoing one-to-one dialogue between a Manager-Coach and an employee for developing skills, improving performance and enhancing potential. It is distinctively different from performance assessment because it focuses on encouraging, motivating and guiding the protégé to achieve higher goals.

Coaching consists of constructive and consistent feedback aimed at increasing awareness and results in improved performance. The key to delivering effective coaching feedback is that it is observational and non-judgmental. However, it does not shy away from giving feedback on what could have been done better. The focus, therefore, is on the future than the past though it may be helpful to analyse the past and determine what went wrong. Apart from providing feedback, the Manager-Coach also provides suggestions for the future that might help achieve positive change in behaviour. This feed-forward helps employees envision and focus on a positive future while critically reviewing past performance.

The traditional formal classroom training is fast losing its effectiveness unless supported by subsequent reinforcement. According to a study by Xerox Corporation, 87 per cent of the newly taught skills were lost in a controlled group without follow-up coaching. The message is clear. No matter how good the classroom training is, the effectiveness is sustainable only through on-the-job reinforcement.

Marcus Buckingham in his book “First Break all the Rules” describes the factors that lead to an effective workplace and concludes that an employee’s manager, not the company, is the critical link to employee engagement. Of the 12 questions used in Buckingham’s study, three questions directly correlate to the importance of coaching as an effective employee development tool. Questions like ‘Is there someone at work who encourages my development?’ or ‘Have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?’ Or ‘Does my manager, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?’ are clearly indicative of the importance of the role that the immediate manager plays in developing an employee. It is no wonder that employee’s expectations are high from this one single source. Attrition analysis of any organization will demonstrate that highest reason for leaving an organization is an employee’s dissatisfaction with his or her immediate supervisor, though in exit interviews this reason is most often camouflaged.

In adopting coaching as a management style, managers help their employee unlock their potential. This has direct correlation to improving current performance of the employee. The crux of this approach is encouraging employees to learn on their own steam instead of providing solutions straightaway. The manager-coach creates an environment that fosters learning, independent thinking and opportunities to contribute. They facilitate team members to achieve their results without making them dependent. Most often such manager-coach are role models themselves and are excellent listeners and communicators, providing perspective and encouragement whilst setting high standards and expectations.

Managers with strong coaching skills are good at deploying questions to draw solutions to problems out of their employees. They use every opportunity to ask employees questions like “What do you think? How would you deal with this situation? What options do you see for addressing this issue and what are the pros and cons of your preferred option?” Thus they cease to be prescriptive and instead provoke a thinking process in the minds of employees to seek solutions themselves. A little bit of prodding and nudging helps the employee remain in the right direction while seeking a solution. The end result is a remarkable belief that develops in the mind of the employee that they themselves found a right solution. A good Manager-Coach thus prefers to stay in the background but privately feels proud of having groomed yet another protégé to be self-reliant.

The benefits of this approach are obvious. First, an environment of self-respect is infused into the team. This invariably increases the innovation level for resolving issues and thereby improving the team productivity. Second, every interaction with Manager-Coach becomes an opportunity to learn and grow. This stimulates broader and deeper thinking. Individual development is thus enhanced due to the encouraging environment where one can speak up one’s mind or feel comfortable in suggesting out-of-the-box solutions without fear. Also, age and experience level cease to be the sole qualification. Effective Manager-Coaches thus evolve into becoming a catalyst that helps employees think for themselves. In contrast, managers who like to be solution generators themselves are effectively disempowering their employees by continually offering their suggestions and thereby stunting growth of individual employees.

Graham Alexander’s G.R.O.W model, later championed by Sir John Whitmore, is a well-established treatise on coaching. It is an acronym for Goal-defining what is to be achieved; Reality-exploring the current situation, relevant history and future trends; Options-coming up with new ideas for reaching the goal; and Will-deciding on a concrete plan of action. This simple yet powerful approach has been the foundation stone for many a successful coaching endeavors.

In today’s economy, it is critically important to get optimal productivity from every employee. Organizations need to ensure that every employee performs to the best of their ability and deliver significant value. Research has shown that employees who receive coaching from their managers are more productive, more engaged in their work, contribute better and in a significant way, advance in their career rapidly and thus stay with the organization longer.

Coaching is thus a business imperative more than a feel-good concept. Manager-Coach will be leading the charge in the new world of employee empowerment and higher productivity. The faster the current sets of control-centric managers evolve into Manager-Coaches, the better for any organization.

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Topics: Strategic HR, #HRIndustry

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