Why Managers Don’t Coach Employees – and How to Fix It

Why Managers Don’t Coach Employees – and How to Fix It

Steve Hunt

Creating effective coaching conversations between managers and employees is one of the more challenging parts of performance management.

With this in mind, one objective of most performance management transformations is improving manager-employee coaching conversations. Relatively few managers are promoted to manager positions because of their coaching skills, and as a result coaching does not come naturally to a lot of people who hold managerial roles. Furthermore, effective coaching is not something that can be created using structured forms or calendar-driven performance reviews. It requires changing ongoing habits and behaviors that occur throughout the entire year.

There is no magic formula for improving ongoing, manager-employee dialogue. But, companies that have effective performance management programss have usually addressed the following five questions.

1. Do Managers Know What a Coaching Conversation is?

Managers tend to divide employee conversations into two general categories: “check-in” conversations are used to discuss tactical issues related to job activities and “development planning” conversations focus on the long-term career direction of the employee. Check-ins are often held on a weekly, sometimes even daily, basis. In comparison, development planning conversations are held a few times a year, if at all.

Many managers do not understand that there is a third type of meeting: a coaching conversation. The focus of coaching conversations is not daily tasks like a check-in, nor is it long-term career development planning. Instead, the focus is on revisiting and clarifying expectations about the employee’s current role.

The main question asked in each type of discussion varies. For example:

  • Check-in: “What have you completed?”
  • Development planning: “Where do you want to go in your career?”
  • Coaching conversation: “How is your current role going in general?”

It’s important for managers to stop overlooking coaching discussions and implement them more regularly. A coaching session might start by reviewing the employee’s job goals to see if they need to be revised based on changes in the broader business or company strategy. It could also focus on general challenges the employee may be facing regarding their role. The key to effective coaching conversations lies in having them often enough to address performance concerns before they become problems and identify opportunities for improvement before they have passed. It’s a relaxed discussion of challenges before they have the opportunity to become issues.

2. Do Managers Know How to Coach?

It is important that managers be trained on how to have effective coaching conversations. This starts with ensuring they have a clear agenda about what these conversations are designed to cover. Managers should understand that most coaching conversations are more about role clarification than employee behavior or attitudes. They often start with questions like, “Let’s talk about the five or so major things you are working on. Do any of them need to be updated or refined based on changes in the company or market? What is going well? What could be going better? What might we do differently to be more effective?” It is also important that managers have training to deal effectively with topics that might come up in coaching discussions. One particularly important topic is teaching managers how to deliver, receive, and discuss performance feedback.

3. Are Managers Expected to Coach?

One of the reasons managers do not have effective coaching conversations is because it is not treated as a high priority by their companies. Managers are usually promoted and rewarded based on their technical expertise and ability to achieve operational business goals. Very few companies promote people to manager roles based on their coaching skills. Furthermore, many leaders fail to role model effective coaching to the managers that work for them. I believe most managers tend to manage their employees based largely on how they are managed themselves. If a company wants its managers to spend more time coaching their employees, then senior leaders in the company should spend more time coaching the managers who report to them.

4. Are Managers Reminded to Coach?

Most managers are expected to manage others as well as perform their own role as individual contributors. Managers may forget to hold coaching conversations simply because of hectic schedules. There is value in providing managers with tools that help make coaching a routine part of their schedules. This is where technology can provide a lot of value. Continuous performance management solutions can be configured to remind managers and employees to meet on a regular basis, track topics to address during the sessions, and capture notes about what was discussed so it can be revisited in future sessions.

5. Are Managers Rewarded for Being Good Coaches?

Coaching employees takes time. This time pays off by increasing employee engagement and development. Yet many companies do not reward managers for engaging and developing employees. For years, I have asked companies the following question: “How do you reward managers who encourage high potential employees to leave their teams to take on other roles in the company?” This is what good coaches do. Rather than hoard talent, they develop and share it. But many companies do not reward managers for developing and sharing talent. On the contrary, they often punish these managers by not backfilling their roles. If companies truly want managers to coach their employees, then they need to recognize and reward the managers who excel at it.

Creating a coaching culture is one of the most common and difficult objectives associated with performance management transformation. Most managers know they are supposed to provide coaching, but they struggle to do it. Coaching is not something that people will do just because they know it is the right thing to do. They need to be trained on how to coach, reminded to hold coaching sessions, held accountable for taking the job of coaching seriously, and rewarded for doing it well.

For more tips on performance management, listen to this podcast: Transforming Performance Management: 15 Lessons from 10 years of Customer Engagements.

Steve Hunt is the Senior Vice President of Human Capital Management Research at SAP SuccessFactors.

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