5 Ways to Make Good Managers Great Coaches

By BlessingWhite , a Division of GP Strategies

If you own a computer, chances are you’ve probably seen, heard, watched, or even written something about the need for more and better coaching in organizations. Whether it’s a Deloitte report, a David Rock presentation, an article in HR Magazine, or one of the most frequently accessed Harvard Business Review articles, the message is clear: Coaching. Is. Key.


The current trend on the coaching leadership style is in relation to Performance Management, and the need to stop looking backwards at what employees did and begin looking forward at what employees can do. Progressive companies are abandoning the ratings system and the annual conversation in favor of more regular coaching from managers, consistent career discussions, and performance-related dialogue that is focused on future contribution. Slightly less-progressive companies are loosening the restrictions around performance management coaching, and providing guidelines for more frequent conversations. And the most progressive companies already consider performance management a thing of the past, and are equipping managers with the skills they need to effectively coach their employees to higher levels of satisfaction and contribution.


What still remains slightly enigmatic, however, is the “right” way to coach. There are models for how to be a great coach, there are guidelines, systems, and rubrics… There are, in essence, a million ways to coach. But what makes coaching challenging is the reality that every employee is unique, and therefore has unique needs. Are there similarities? Yes. Trends? Absolutely. Best practices? You bet! But at the core, every person is different. Each of us has different drivers, motivators, values, needs, desires, and visions. Buck Blessing (BlessingWhite co-founder) once said, “To some, coaching is a pat on the back; to others, it’s a kick in the pants.” Some employees will need constant feedback, others not so much. Some employees want guidance on how to grow their career; others are content where they are. It’s no wonder managers struggle with this seemingly elusive concept of coaching.


We need to have a bit more empathy for today’s manager. A manager is expected to continue producing as a full contributor, track their team’s workload and capacity, follow management policies and procedures, give feedback, provide training, offer advice, AND coach their employees. How can a manager as a coach be expected to do all of that, with the caveat that each of their direct reports will want and need something different in order to succeed?


Consider these five ways to help good managers become great coaches:


  1. Provide managers with a tool to help them understand what coaching actions are important to each of their direct reports.


How else can the manager know all the variables that contribute to an employee’s unique sense of self? Assessing the importance of specific performance management coaching actions is a great way to start a dialogue around how to be a great coach.


  1. Train managers to have authentic, productive conversations with their direct reports about what they find important.


It’s not good enough to just understand what employees find important; it’s what you do with that information that will truly make the difference in the manager-employee relationship.


  1. Equip managers with a framework or guidelines for how to have effective coaching conversations.


There are a myriad of different performance management coaching models and guidelines; find the one that works for your organization and train managers on how to use it. This will become the language that is used throughout the company.


  1. Help managers focus the type of coaching leadership style they provide to respond to the dynamic needs of the organization and the employee.


Coaching an employee through a performance issue looks very different than coaching them through career growth, which looks very different than coaching them through a merger or acquisition. Providing managers as coaches with tools to focus their coaching on the issue at hand will make for a more meaningful conversation.


  1. Give them time and room to practice their coaching leadership style.


We can’t expect managers to intuitively know how to coach well. We need to give them room to try saying the words out loud, to make mistakes, and to get feedback and help on how to be more effective. As they say, practice makes perfect.


In the end, a good performance management coaching relationship between a manager and his/her direct report can make all the difference. Not only will it increase productivity, learning, and performance, but it will also build stronger bonds and make for a more enjoyable workplace. Those who coach will reap the benefits of an engaged team, and leave work feeling proud to have made a difference.