Time for managers to step up to the coaching plate

Like many people, I’ve been glued to the television following England’s fortunes in the World Cup and I’ve been struck by how often Sven-Goran Eriksson and his counterparts are described as team coaches, rather than managers. This reflects a level of importance which, it seems, is rarely matched in the commercial world.

In the past, as a skills development company, we explicitly trained managers who would then go on to deliver regular coaching to their staff.

Today it is much more common for us to be asked to train staff directly – often because managers fail to recognise the importance of coaching as a distinct skillset.

But on the grand scale of things, does this matter? The answer, I believe, is an unequivocal ‘yes’ – from an individual employee’s perspective and that of the longer-term success of the business.

In tight employment markets, holding on to your best people is critical, yet this is about much more than simply being able to offer the best remuneration packages. Good coaching skills are core to a manager’s ability to deliver a clear career path through the organisation and so help staff achieve their personal goals.

Management tends to be highly focused and results-oriented, whereas coaching is focused on how such goals are achieved. It is not surprising that subordinates are more likely to recognise the distinction between management and coaching and respond especially positively to the latter.

Coaches are more receptive to ideas from the team, more participative and willing to let learners take their own decisions and make mistakes. They are more supportive and able to give specific feedback, balancing praise and criticism. They demonstrate a real personal interest and involvement. They set clear targets, with proper preparation and follow-up to any training activity.

All this requires time, and must be recognised and given the appropriate priority and support within the business. All too often, companies expect direct performance improvement from coaching, yet in practical terms merely pay lip service to it. Effective coaching is rarely rewarded: worse still, it may be actively discouraged – often unintentionally – because it takes time away from other management tasks and activities.

Coaching may seem like common sense, yet good coaching skills are surprisingly uncommon: managers regularly take the easy route, by concentrating on recruiting ‘ready-skilled’ staff and so neglect to build their own skills base.

To become effective coaches, there is little doubt that most managers would themselves benefit from specialist training. This would address motivational issues around individual staff development. It would offer a sound strategy for bridging the skills gap – particularly for smaller businesses – by giving managers the skills needed to pass on their expertise to the less experienced.

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