Clive Johnson says many managers find coaching ‘on the fly’ too daunting and thus ignore opportunities to coach. He says that giving them appropriate training and support is the answer.
Coaching is not just for pre-booked, one-to-one sessions. As a management intervention, a coaching style can also serve very well in day-to-day conversations. But many managers often find coaching ‘on the fly’ daunting, according to our research. That is, if they look for coaching opportunities in the first place.
We recently spoke to more than 30 leading organisations who have well-established coaching programmes, and found almost all felt their managers were not routinely integrating a coaching style into their everyday skills repertoire. Even where evidence of informal coaching existed, it indicated that ad hoc coaching had usually gone little beyond asking more questions.
Lack of awareness
The cause is a lack of awareness among managers of when a coaching style is relevant and a lack of appropriate training to equip them to coach in what are often brief and unexpected circumstances.
The core of most training focuses on the process, basic skills and techniques of coaching. It also assumes that most coaching will occur in closed-door meetings rather than at the coffee machine.
Faced with an unexpected coaching opportunity, many newly trained coaches struggle to understand how and whether to step through their well-practised drills, or just try asking a question or two. Left in a quandary, many just give up trying.
The issue is often made worse by a lack of support after training and the low confidence many managers have in their coaching ability. Many respondents to our survey had addressed this. But most felt that it is easy to forget that without regular practice, many managers wouldn’t adopt a coaching mentality as naturally as a learning specialist or well-seasoned coach.
The good news is that putting this right should be relatively straightforward. The starting point is relevant training. This must address three core issues, which many managers struggle with:
- Helping managers recognise situations where a coaching style is appropriate.
- Giving them guidance and practice for handling brief, ad hoc encounters.
- Showing them the benefits of helping staff.
Also, it’s not just unwilling managers who are at risk of losing interest in coaching. Those with the will but lacking in confidence are likely to resort to avoiding coaching conversations. Their anxiety about coaching informally will be all the more acute if ad hoc coaching hasn’t been addressed by their training. Many questioned said confidence is a real issue, but also reported success stories, where adequate support and encouragement was available to coaches after their training.
Support networks, supervision and continuing training are common for serious in-house coaches, but rarely available to most managers. Yet encouraging mutual networking and opportunities for managers to reflect on their coaching is simple.
So while plugging any gaps in training, it may also be time to talk to managers who coach in the front line. Without ongoing support and dialogue, many managers will shy away from everyday coaching.
Clive Johnson is director of Proactive Style.