Are Your Company’s Managers Also Coaches?

Finding a manager who knows how to provide more than top-down direction is difficult. In my 15 years in the workplace, most of the managers I’ve met are equipped to deliver results to their boss, but they don’t concern themselves with the development of the employees under them. If they can deliver results by limiting the professional growth of their underlings, then that’s what they do. In fact, that often happens today, with so many companies in hiring freezes. An employee who performs well in a particular job role often is kept doing repetitive tasks because they’re dependably good at those things and the company doesn’t want to invest in another employee to take on those duties.

So, with all this in mind, I saw that a report recently was released on the importance of creating managers who also serve as coaches. The new report, The Coaching Approach: A Key Tool for Successful Managers, examines the use of coaching as a managerial tool, and provides insight on how learning leaders can more effectively develop and sustain successful coaching programs. According to the report, “for coaching to be an effective tool for enhancing performance and developing employees, it must be recognized not only as a skill needed by managers, but also as an integral part of an organization’s talent development strategy.”

The report’s authors must realize, as I do, that limiting the growth of successful employees for short-term results hurts the organization in the long run. Using this limiting strategy, you end up with employees with stunted professional growth. A workforce of professionally stunted employees adds up to a company with stunted growth. Not nurturing employees to learn new skills and take on new assignments means your company is giving up a source of new ideas and growth.

A common challenge today is the work group that’s so small that managers may assume there’s no way to coach employees into larger or more important roles. For instance, in my current situation, I have just one other person—my manager—with whom I work. Well, ostensibly, I work with him, but actually I do about 90 percent of the work and he drops in for a weekly critique. Anyway, the point is, whatever his value to the company, he’s not going anywhere. So, I often wonder if I should search for other employment options as a means to growth, or whether, given our frightening job landscape, I should stay in a position that appears to be secure. If my boss had at least yearly conversations with me about possible growth opportunities (and a raise wouldn’t hurt either), I don’t think I’d be having these thoughts. Do you think some of your company’s employees are in a similar situation to mine, and having the same thoughts as me?

One barrier to enabling employees in companies with limited budgets to grow may be managers like mine—those who don’t share in the responsibilities of getting the work done, despite the work “group” only consisting of two or three people. When a manager is so critical yet standoffish, the one or two employees who work under him are left without an opportunity to grow because their plate is too full of the same tasks. If the manager were a partner in the workload, some of those repetitive tasks would be lifted, and the employee could stretch professionally—and do an even greater favor to the organization.

I have a lot of ideas that I mention in passing and may get a “That’s a good thought, but…” response to because my boss knows there is no way to allow me the time to do those things. He isn’t able to coach me to anything greater than ensuring I have his back covered—so he won’t have to expand his workload. Does this scenario sound familiar? If it’s playing out in your organization, how can trainers and Human Resources managers help? Is there a way to force managers to take on the role of coach, rather than simply trying to preserve their freedom from a heavier workload?

How do you train your company’s managers to serve as coaches to employees? Are you concerned that your best employees are stagnating due to managers who want to protect their own comfort?