Opinion: Ignorance about coaching is leading to managers’ downfall

26 Sep 2017 By Michael Brown

Misconceptions need to be dispelled if line managers are to get the best out of their people, says Michael Brown

Imagine sending out a survey to all the managers in your organisation with this simple question: what is your number one priority as a manager? What percentage would answer ‘to develop my people’? I’ve met thousands of people managers during my 18 years as a consultant, and I can confidently predict that that number would amount to less than 10 per cent.

In 2011, Google published the results of internal research into what constitutes an effective manager. The results make startling reading, judging by the reactions I get when I present it to those in the job. They are particularly unnerved by the discovery that the number one habit is ‘be a good coach’. They also find it worrying that ‘have key technical skills’ is bottom of the list.

Most of the managers I have met believe their number one priority should be to meet goals. They are not so concerned with how they go about it, or in equipping their teams to meet and then go beyond them – delivery on this year or quarter’s goal is all that matters. This is the equivalent of using last year’s seed corn to meet this month’s bread production target. It is short term and results in disengaged, under-developed employees, which will impact on productivity, efficiency and, potentially, lead to the loss of good team members – but that’s ok because it’s HR’s problem. Or is it?

Far too few managers see coaching as an important activity. This in itself is worrying, but, theoretically at least, quite easy to fix. More troubling is the fact that even if they were to invest time in coaching their people, they have little idea about how to do it effectively. They have misconceptions about what coaching is. Most of them think it is what I call ‘one-to-one training’; ie giving people the answers to their ‘problems’, rather than helping them to work out answers for themselves. They use a directive style of coaching: the minute they identify what they think the problem is they jump in with a recommendation or, worse, an instruction.

Why do they do this? Because they think it is efficient. Why dither about when you can cut straight to the chase? They see their job as being, in part, to problem-solve. It also helps them to feel good about themselves and fosters what could be described as a parent-child relationship. The result is a conversation that often does more harm than good, causing a sense of overwhelm, lack of self-esteem and often frustration on the part of the coachee.

So how can HR and L&D functions address this? I think there are two paths to pursue:

  1. Make coaching a core activity. How? By defining what you want of them as coaches and write it into job descriptions and personal objectives. Then measure and reward it.
  2. Show them how. Train them using whichever method works best for you. You could set up a ‘coach the coach’ programme, where you get people at the top of the business to coach their teams in coaching, and then cascade it downwards.

Organisations that offer the best coaching environment will attract and retain the best people, while those who carry on as they are will ultimately fall behind.

Michael Brown is founder of training consultancy Real Learning, for a Change and co-founder of How Not 2 videos

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