Want to develop your employees? Get yourself a coach

Manager-as-coach leading seminar

Once upon a time, a company looking to develop their workers into star employees would bring in a coach, professional development instructor, or a trainer. They would work with the team, assess knowledge gaps and other challenges, and help individuals come out the other end smarter and better.

But times are changing. Companies are getting smaller (98 per cent of employer businesses in Canada have less than 100 employees), management is getting flatter, and budgets are getting tighter.

“If you’re an owner of a company of 50 people, you’re not going to be putting a lot of people through different training courses like you might have done 20, 30 years ago, because you just don’t have the money for it,” says Mike Morrison of U.K. consulting firm RapidBI.

The thing is, employees, especially younger employees, want that training. Gallup research shows that development is important to 87 per cent of millennials, in fact. But what can a small business owner to do attract and retain top talent if the budget doesn’t have room for employee development?

The answer: make the manager the coach.

Understanding the manager-as-coach approach

The manager-as-coach approach is fairly simple. Rather than break the bank putting all your employees through coaching or training, focus on getting trained yourself – and then commit to imparting that knowledge outward to the team.

And while one might think that imparting knowledge should be standard practice for anybody in a leadership role, there’s a difference between being a manager and being a coach.

“Managing is all about telling, directing, authority, immediate needs, and a specific outcome,” explains Forbes. “Coaching involves exploring, facilitating, partnership, long-term improvement, and many possible outcomes.”

And, in a perfect world, a leader does both.

The challenges of manager-as-coach

“I think that the manager as a coach is a good thing because it puts some responsibility on managers for developing their own people,” says Morrison. “That assumes, of course, that the managers have got the right attitude in the first place.”

Meaning, that you have to want to turn your team into superstars.

“If they believe that their goal is to develop their people almost to replace them, and they can do that, then it works quite well. If, on the other hand, the manager is quite fearful and won’t grow the person to the best that they possibly can, then that’s bad for the business – and potentially bad for the employee,” he says.

And the challenges don’t end with attitude. It can also be hard for managers to make time for coaching. Harvard Business Review explains it nicely:

“Historically, managers passed on knowledge, skills, and insights through coaching and mentoring. But in our more global, complex, and competitive world, the role of the manager has eroded. Managers are now overburdened with responsibilities. They can barely handle what they’re directly measured on, let alone offer coaching and mentoring.”

Making manager-as-coach work for your company

The key to making manager-as-coach work, according to Harvard Business Review, is support: “Organizations need to support and incentivize managers to perform this work.”

If you’re looking to coach your team yourself, make sure you’re communicating the initiative to the entire team, to get buy-in (and support, and encouragement) from the entire team. If you’re a larger company looking to train your managers to coach their reports, make sure they have all the support they need to get themselves properly trained and ready to disseminate the info outward.

And once the support is there, it becomes a matter of making coaching a part of the company’s day-to-day operations – through stand-ups, one-on-one meetings, weekly or monthly seminars, and so on – to get it ingrained into the process.

It might be a little extra work – especially at first. But bringing coaching into your management style will keep your team ever-developing into better and better employees – and will keep them engaged and loyal to the company.

See also:
The past, present, and future of employee development
How to be a good boss: 7 tips from an executive coach


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