5 Tips on Transforming Managers into Coaches

In years gone by, high-performance organizations engaged external coaches to fix dysfunctional behavior, mostly occurring in the top ranks of leadership. Today’s high-performance organizations develop managers to be effective development coaches to optimize the strengths of high-potentials, other top performers, and employees at large.

However, the transformation from good manager to great coach is no easy task. Our 2014 State of Performance Management Study showed that developing managers to be effective coaches is the biggest challenge for organizations trying to improve the performance of their employees and their business. Yet, the bottom line is that coaching is a business tool that has the power to manage change initiatives, prevent derailment, improve individual performance, and most importantly, increase business impact.

In order for coaching to have business impact, however, the leadership behaviors that are the focus of coaching have to matter to the business. The key is figuring out what coaching circumstances and activities improve “leader as coach” behaviors in your managers. Brandon Hall Group’s research suggests there are at least five:

  1. Take an organizational stand on “leaders as coaches.” Before managers can learn to be effective coaches, the organization must make it clear that development coaching is an enterprise-wide philosophy and expectation, a primary and non-negotiable responsibility that is woven into the culture of the organization.
  1. Teach coaching skills. Most good managers are not naturally great coaches. Effective coaching is a learned skill. Fundamental coaching skills are listening, asking questions, building rapport, gaining trust, showing encouragement, offering support, and holding employees accountable for performance. The key to developing these skills is providing managers formal “leader as coach” training through a workshop, a mentoring relationship, peer coaching networks, and/or opportunities to shadow exemplary coaches. By participating in formal and informal targeted training, managers improve their knowledge, understanding, and ability to be an effective coach.
  1. Provide support systems. Like most people, managers often learn best from each other. Supporting their growth as effective coaches includes scheduled sessions in which managers and their peers discuss what’s worked and what hasn’t as they master new coaching skills. It includes online performance support tools in which managers can engage in risk-free “what if” scenarios to practice newly learned skills. It includes opportunities for managers to be hooked up with their coaches for the sole purpose of trying on their newly acquired coaching skills in a simulated real-life coaching session.
  1. Require accountability. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the manager’s role as coach is to hold their employees accountable when guiding them toward successful performance. In fact, in our 2014 State of Talent Management Survey, 39% of organizations said that their focus this year on manager accountability would increase or significantly increase. One of the biggest challenges in creating a coaching culture is holding managers accountable for acting as coaches. Doing so involves everything discussed above, plus selecting a handful of metrics (e.g., engagement score, turnover rate) to measure for coaching impact.
  1. Reward those managers who are the best coaches. Leaders who are effective development coaches will generate the best performance in their employees. Top-performing employees will make the greatest contribution to business results. Rewarding those leaders who developed those employees is requisite to ongoing and effective coaching.

Investing in training managers to coach their employees, allowing them to practice coaching skills, and holding them accountable are the ingredients that transform good managers to great coaches at high-performing companies. Organizations with great coaches have stronger collaboration and stronger performance. IBM’s VP of OD Tanya Clemens said, “We have done lots of research … and we have found that the leaders who have the best coaching skills have better business results.”

Do you have good managers? Or great coaches? What is your organization doing to accelerate the transformation of your managers to coaches?

Until next time…

Laci Loew, Vice President and Principal Analyst,
Talent Management Practice, Brandon Hall Group

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