Most Managers Don’t Know How to Coach People. But They Can Learn.


When we ask managers a simple question – are you successful at training employees, most of them wanted to say yes, but they were ill equipped to do so. A lot of times managers think that they are coaching, but all they’re doing is just telling employees to do things.

So what is coaching? Unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance and helping them learn rather than just telling things is coaching. If done in the right way coaching greatly helps in employee engagement and motivates employees to enhance their productivity.

Although a lot of managers don’t know how to coach people, but the good thing is that they are willing to learn and bring about a change. Managers and leaders are ready to improve their coaching and leadership skills to help their employees and organizations. There are various researches going on regarding this topic. Although we can call them work in progress, but discussed below are the initial findings and methodologies used.

First, we asked a group of participants to coach one another on a simple topic – time management. A total of 98 people were in this group and they all belonged to different backgrounds and domains. One third of the group comprised of females, while two thirds were males. The average age of the group was 32 years and they had an average of 8 years of work experience. The coaching conversations lasted a total of five minutes and it was all recorded. We asked 18 coaching experts to evaluate these conversations. The coaching experts had a graduate or master’s degree and an average of 23.2 years of work experience and 7.4 years of coaching experience.

Participants received face to face training in groups of 50. This group was further divided into smaller groups for practice, reflection, and feedback. At the end, the conversations were again recorded and evaluated by coaching experts. In total 900 conversations were recorded and evaluated. These were also accompanied by surveys asking participants about their attitude and experience with coaching, before and after the training program.

One of the biggest lessons for all participants was that when they were initially asked to coach, they demonstrated a form of consulting. Managers provided employees with advice rather than giving empathetic solutions. This kind of coaching practice was considered good coaching by all participants. But the scenario changed after the training program.

The research closely analyzed how you can train people to become better coaches. The following 9 leadership coaching skills were given main focus.

Recognizing and enhancing their strengths
Encouraging a solution-focused approach
Using the guidelines given by experts in the industry, the best, worst, and most improved components of coaching were listed. The skill that the participants were best at before the training was – listening and was rated ‘average’ by our experts. On completion of training, the expert rating increased by 32.9% and the rating changed from average to ‘good’.

The skill that the participants struggled with the most was ‘recognizing and enhancing their skills’ and ‘letting the participants decide their own solutions’. Participants were rated ‘poor’ and after the training the rating improved to ‘average’. It was understood that these two areas need to be focused the most by managers. The most improved aspect of coaching was ‘letting the participants decide their own solutions’. This particular aspect saw the most growth of 54.1% and from being rated ‘poor’ it went to ‘slightly above average’ after the training program.

If we talk on a general basis, a 40.2% increase in overall coaching ability was noted in the participants across all nine categories. Given that this is such a short training program, this is a remarkable result.

Once this step is done, the next step is to encourage managers to create a safe environment for employees. And for this to become a reality, managers don’t need to spend months. All you need is targeted training that’ll help improve the managers’ coaching skills. Whatever training program you choose, it is important that you give participants time to reflect on their coaching abilities. In this coaching program, the managers rated and reflected on their coaching abilities three times.

Once after we asked them to train someone cold
Once after they were given additional training
Once looking back at their original coaching session
After the training program, mangers brought down their initial assessment of themselves by 28.8% and it made a shift from ‘slightly good’ to ‘slightly poor’. This change was in tandem with the manager’s colleagues who reduced their assessment by 18.4% and it shifted from ‘slightly good’ to ‘neither good nor bad’. This means that when managers have the right training, they can assess their strengths and skills in a better way. Therefore, it is essential that organizations devote time for managers to reflect on their skills, review what they’ve done, and what’s working for them.

This research also supports and encourages giving feedback by experts. Coaching experts should give feedback on how well the coaching and leadership skills were applied, and if any aspect of the training was missed by the participants. This practice will highlight their weaknesses and give them a chance to work on them and improve these skills. Managers get two main advantages from this approach –

They can practice their coaching in a safe environment
Coaches can discuss challenges that they have experienced and how to overcome them
Lack of training leave managers unprepared and it might also lead to waste of time and energy. If you take slight learning from each of these, it will be a success. The good thing is that even a small amount of training can help managers.

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