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Don't Overcomplicate the Best Management Practice: Coaching

Don't Overcomplicate the Best Management Practice: Coaching

Story Highlights

  • Coaching is the key to excellence, yet many managers resist it
  • True coaching means having authentic, ongoing dialogue with employees
  • Proven manager development makes coaching approachable and practical

Historically, command-and-control styles have been the name of the game for managers -- bosses who gave top-down orders.

But the world has changed. Today's employees want a manager who is invested in their personal and professional development. They want frequent feedback -- and opportunities to do more of what they do best. They want to consistently grow as they pursue a compelling purpose.

In this new world, the best path to an exceptional employee experience -- not to mention, high performance -- is for employees to have a coach, not a boss.

Today's employees want a manager who is invested in their personal and professional development.

What is coaching, really?

Organizations are spending billions of dollars each year on manager training to upskill managers into coaches. Yet if you were to ask a dozen managers what it means to be a coach, chances are, you'd hear a dozen different answers. And alarmingly, Gallup data show that only one in three managers strongly agree that they have had opportunities to learn and grow in the last year.

Part of the problem is that quick-fix coaching programs haven't made coaching intuitive or accessible.

These transactional trainings don't prepare managers because they lack real-world applications and practical coaching behaviors -- plus, they aren't tied to business performance. As a result, they lengthen managers' to-do lists and leave them perplexed about what great coaching "looks like."

To make matters worse, many managers have misconceptions about coaching, such as:

  • Coaching is like therapy.
  • Coaching is time consuming.
  • Coaching is the same as independent executive coaching.

Understandably, many managers are confused by and resist coaching. And for managers who are overwhelmed with administrative tasks, the notion of coaching seems tedious and tiresome.

Transactional trainings don't prepare managers because they lack real-world applications and practical coaching behaviors.

Who has time for all this?

Leaders must intervene because a manager's ability to coach (or lack of) will influence their organization's performance, engagement, employer brand and more.

It's time to demystify managers' roles as coaches and make coaching more practical and approachable.

Coaching, at its core, hinges on the following behaviors.

Being more curious

Coaching starts with asking more and telling less -- becoming more inquisitive about employees as human beings. What do employees need? What are their strengths? What are their goals?

The best coaches display a genuine interest in the individual by asking coach-like questions on a regular basis. For example, in a 10-minute conversation, a manager might ask an employee, "What's going well for you today (and what isn't)? How can I best support you?"

Then, the best coaches listen to understand. They listen to truly comprehend employees' circumstances, goals, challenges and needs.

Showing support through natural conversations

Coaches are curious for a reason: They use discoveries about employees' motivations, concerns and aspirations to demonstrate care and dismantle barriers to performance and engagement.

Making these discoveries doesn't require sophisticated coaching models or a prefabricated agenda of questions. Rather, meaningful coaching conversations are often informal and flow naturally depending on the employee's needs. For example, a coach might ask about a recent success -- "What are you most proud of about that achievement (and why)?" -- then use that information to help the individual apply their natural gifts more often.

The point is to have an authentic, ongoing dialogue with the individual to identify their top concerns and show support accordingly.

To empower managers in this endeavor, Gallup discovered five coaching conversations that get to the heart of the issues that most influence employees' engagement, performance and development. The five conversations help managers spark natural discussions -- and ultimately, build real relationships.

Focusing on performance, strengths and engagement

Coaching isn't about "taking it easy" on employees or abandoning performance standards. Just the opposite: Coaches set clear expectations and performance goals, and they hold employees accountable for those targets. Coaches are future focused when it comes to performance -- whereas bosses typically look for errors and punish performance mistakes.

Great coaches also focus on each worker's one-of-a-kind strengths, which helps them individualize their leadership style. By emphasizing employees' strengths, coaches cultivate employees' natural abilities and position teams for excellence.

The best coaches also prioritize individual and team engagement -- knowing that their role is to create an environment that energizes and inspires employees. To this end, great coaches track their employees' workplace needs and respond with action and accountability.

At every turn, coaches emphasize what's possible, which fuels development and encourages employees to take ownership for their engagement and performance.

The leader's role

For leaders, preparing managers to coach requires more than asking them to start coaching.

Like all employees, managers take their cues from leaders -- so leaders must create buy-in by providing the resources, development and accountability managers need. Here are three actions leaders should take today:

1. Be a coach for managers.

To abandon traditional bossing and start coaching, managers need coaching themselves from leaders who genuinely care. When leaders support managers, they can make coaching systemic in their organization -- part of "how we do things around here" (the culture) -- and equip managers to succeed.

2. Change managers' job expectations.

Excessive complicated administrative tasks make it difficult for managers to prioritize conversations with employees. And burned out, overworked managers will find it difficult to muster enthusiasm for coaching. In fact, reducing administrative tasks could better engage your best managers. This is why leaders must redefine and clarify managers' role expectations and performance metrics. Leaders don't have to design a whole new management structure; they can just modify expectations and resources to align with coaching goals.

3. Give managers the development they need.

Managers need development experiences that make coaching second nature. When manager development is rooted in science, it reframes their thinking, boosts their confidence and instills coaching behaviors that actually work. Gallup's Boss to Coach Journey transforms managers' coaching abilities, giving them the mindset and skills they need to adopt and implement coaching behaviors.

People join companies, but they leave managers. Because today's employees demand something different from their job, coaching is a must for managers. Plus, coaching creates an environment of high development, which is the most productive type of culture for your business and your employees. Coaching accelerates everything from collaboration and agility to performance and productivity.

But coaching shouldn't feel intimidating. It should be simple, practical, rewarding -- and even fun. The good news is: Coaching becomes approachable when managers have access to proven development. As one Boss to Coach participant remarked, her experience was "unlike any other training program" because it shifted her perspective on coaching and taught her how to coach "in the context of being a manager."

Best of all, coaches have a ripple effect that extends beyond bottom-line measures like turnover. When managers serve as coaches, they can improve employees' lives and wellbeing.

Adopting a "coach" mindset after operating from a "boss" mindset doesn't have to be complicated:


Rohit Kar is a Managing Consultant at Gallup.

Allan Watkinson is a Managing Consultant at Gallup.

Bailey Nelson contributed to this article.

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