Can your Managers Effectively Coach their High Potentials?

At least one definition of high potential is this: employees – leader and non-leader—who consistently and significantly outperform their peers and have the potential to assume next level roles. As discussed in the Harvard Business Review, high potentials have four discriminating attributes: a drive to excel, learning agility, a passionate spirit, and an uncanny ability to detect opportunities and resolve impediments.

The Data-Driven Value of Coaching In High-Potential Development

The question of how best to develop this mix of four attributes is regularly asked. Many approaches are found among organizations, but high-performing organizations depend on coaching to build the skills of their high potentials and swell their leadership pipeline. In fact, coaching typically ranks in the top 3 to 5 methods alongside formal leadership training, job rotations, and stretch assignments. More than 94 percent of coaching relationships focus on developing the capabilities of High Potentials.

In Brandon Hall Group’s 2014 Talent Management study, 54% of organizations indicated they plan to increase, or increase significantly, their focus this year on the development of high-potential employees. When we asked how they plan to develop high-potentials and other high performers, 43% said by increasing or significantly increasing their utilization of coaching.

When we asked how important  support from one’s manager is on talent development and retention, 51% of organizations indicated it was critical to the business or a clear priority, yet 64% of organizations indicated their managers were just fair or even poor at providing regular, timely, and informal feedback. To make matters worse, almost 70% of organizations said their managers were only fair or even poor at being highly skilled coaches.

So what are the keys to developing managers as effective coaches of high potentials? Organizations should:

  • Establish the purpose of coaching
  • Provide the means to develop managers as coaches
  • Assume responsibility for creating a culture conducive to effective coaching.

The Purpose of Coaching in High Potential Development

Creating managers and leaders who are effective high-potential development coaches stretches beyond offering timely feedback. It is about accelerating high-potential development to optimize the performance and long-term business results. To best enhance the growth of their high-potentials, effective coaches have five specific purposes:

  • To develop the capabilities of high-potentials
  • To facilitate the effective transition of high-potentials into next-level roles
  • To act as a sounding board to high-potentials
  • To mitigate derailing behaviors of high-potentials
  • To enhance the interactions of the high-potential with his or her team

The How’s of Creating Effective Coaches for High-Potential Development

Organizations with managers who are effective coaches of high-potentials are committed to creating a culture of development coaching.

Creating a coaching culture starts with a plan to formally train managers in effective coaching skills. Next, provide managers and leaders (usually at the senior levels because of cost constraints) with personal external coaches. For managers not assigned to a private, external coach, invite them to team leadership coaching sessions during which a group of managers works collectively with an internal coach (usually a senior level business leader or HR/Talent leader) over a series of sessions.

And finally, for all managers at all levels, create peer coaching which builds a rock solid foundation of trust and enables peers to work collaboratively and in confidence around sensitive or challenging issues. This four-tier coaching development model allows managers to learn coaching skills in a variety of situations, to be coached, and to effectively master the skills of high-potential coaching before assuming personal accountability to accelerate high-potential performance with coaching.

The Role of the Organization in Creating Coaches

Organizations with the most successful high-potential development coaches share in the responsibility for creating high-performance coaches. They acknowledge organizational factors that could impede a manager’s coaching effort and eliminate those impediments. Brandon Hall Group’s research points up the following as some of the most common organizational barriers to effective coaching:

  • A fear-based culture
  • Focus on short-term numbers rather than long-term business results
  • Evaluative-based performance management systems that stymy high-potential creativity and innovation
  • Unclear role definition for managers particularly as it relates to manager responsibilities, mentor responsibilities, and coach responsibilities
  • No, or limited, training regarding how to be an effective development coach
  • No coaching model(s) adopted though out the organization
  • Lack of manager accountability to recognize high-potentials’ contributions, commitment, and efforts
  • No measurement strategy to evaluate the effectiveness of the manager as coach from the viewpoint of the high-potential

Our own and other industry research estimates that effective coaching results in an average return of almost six times the original investment. Further, effective development coaching has been reported as increasing employee productivity by as much as 53 percent.

Do your leader coaches improve the skills and capabilities of your high-potentials? If not, what’s missing in your “leader as coach” equation? If so, what do you attribute as the single greatest reason behind your success?

Until next time…


Laci Loew, Vice President and Principal Analyst,

Talent Management Practice, Brandon Hall Group

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