Surviving Training Heartbreak Via Simple Coaching

Coaching doesn’t have to take that much time in a manager’s day, and the ROI is enormous.

By Richard Lampner, Trainer and Account Manager, Signature Worldwide

My dad was a trainer and not always thrilled about it. I never knew this when I was a kid, of course. Like many ’70s era dads, sharing his feelings and experiences was not a priority. He did “something in Personnel,” my mom said.

But now it’s the 21st century and Dad is all about sharing and advice. “Training is a heartbreaker,” he now says. Really, Dad? Thanks for letting me know 30 years ago when I was making career choices, I think to myself. But I just ask him why.

“Because you give it all you got, and people don’t want to be in the training room in the morning, but then they learn something by the afternoon, and then they pat you on the back as they leave and make profound statements about how they’re going to CHANGE and you’ve made their lives better and easier somehow.”

“Sounds good to me,” I say, already knowing where he’s going with this.

“And then they go back to work,” he says, “to the chaos of their busy lives, and that big CHANGE in behavior you were both so sure about and hoped for? Never happens.”

“And it’s their manager’s fault.” That’s his parting line and then we drop it and talk about cars.

He’s right, of course. That middle manager—who attended the training right along with his direct report—could have followed up. He could have coached by providing simple feedback and recognition. But he got busy, too.

Why Managers Don’t Coach

The sad thing is that coaching doesn’t have to take that much time in a manager’s day, and the ROI is enormous.

I understand the busy part. As I’ve traveled the country during the recession, it seems as if managers are busier than ever. It certainly seems as though they’re being asked to do more with less. The good news is that coaching doesn’t have to be a formal process. It can take three to 10 minutes to deliver a great coaching interaction. It can be highly informal and take less than 10 minutes a day. Or it can be done all at once, say, once per week, in a single, regular 45-minute meeting with an employee. It can be done in groups or individually. It can be done. And not doing it can make a manager miserable. Performance might improve over time without coaching, yes, but it will be much, much slower and more painful.

Other than time management, there are other reasons why managers don’t coach:

  • They don’t see themselves as developers of talent, but rather operational managers only (the classic Leader vs. Manager juxtaposition). It’s a truism that you’ll get out of people what you put in and true leaders will want to coach to get more out, to make their direct reports, and themselves, more successful.
  • They fear confrontation, however productive it might be. Coaching might get into feelings and facing an employee’s true motivation, or lack thereof.
  • They fear failure. “What if I coach and nothing changes?” is the old, better-not-to-try-at-all approach.
  • They think their team is doing OK. Is OK enough? It sort of goes against common sense to assume that resting on your laurels will be motivating and stimulating over the long haul. Doing OK is OK, but high performers want to be on a high-performing team that continues to seek new, higher levels of achievement.

And the biggest reason managers don’t coach? Love. OK, maybe more like and respect. Managers are fundamentally good people and they like and respect their teams—so much so that they go into protective mode. “My team,” they say, “is overwhelmed as it is. Introducing new behaviors and expecting us to train and coach to them is a D.O.A. idea because somehow it suggests my team has the time to experiment with new behaviors (“yeah, right—although they would if I had more people”) and my team isn't good enough as they are (see the bullet, above, on resting on laurels), and, after all, you—The Man—would ask them for the moon if I let you, but I’m here to protect them and their feelings and their work/life balance.”

There are legitimate parts of all these reasons not to coach. Managers have a tough job. It’s a difficult balance. And yet no team wins without a playbook (that’s partly introduced in training) and no playbook will be executed well without a coach. Snap!

As for the ROI of coaching, it can be a block, too. Sometimes you can’t put a finger on an exact number. In sales, it’s easy. Elsewhere, not so much. And yet we know that even if ROI can’t be proven scientifically, we likewise know it can be felt because managers have felt the momentum of effective performance before. In the end, it’s simply about making people feel comfortable with that new thing that was introduced in training. “New” tends to be uncomfortable and the entire study of change management makes one thing clear: Change that is managed is more likely to be accepted, accepted faster, and sustained over the long term.

How to Coach?

There are dozens of simple frameworks for providing feedback and/or recognition. They’re all over the Internet and they’re free and they’re similar. If you can even start managers down this habitual path, you’re less likely to experience the heartbreak of training. A mere sample framework is the 5 Ps model:

  1. Prepare. The manager gives herself time to observe the employee behavior and prep for the next four Ps.
  2. Purpose. Once she starts providing feedback, she steps back and reminds the employee (and herself) what the end goal is.
  3. Perspectives. This is where coaching is a conversation, not a lecture, and this where most managers fall down. Employees remember their execution of the behavior as well as you do. Let them tell you what went right and wrong first. This addresses, in many ways, the manager who’s concerned about confrontation because there’s nothing less confrontational than standing by and letting employees critique themselves.
  4. Plan. Manager and employee have looked at what can be the better behavior and better result for the next time—so what’s the plan to get there?
  5. Progress. The manager checks her employee’s progress. Continue to follow up. And, more important than anything else, give someone a huge pat on the back when he or she has achieved both the purpose and the result discussed in the previous coaching conversation!

Of course, the preceding was the quickest, dirtiest summary, but you get the idea. And there’s a plenty of training out there to learn more.

Now, returning to my dad’s conception of training as potentially heartbreaking: Once a manager knows how to coach, that doesn’t mean he’ll actually do it. It represents a change in routine, after all, and we all know how we feel about change. If a manager doesn’t want to coach, a trainer or training company can offer to coach for them. You say they’ll say it’s “too expensive”? Maybe. But it’s also expensive not to coach. Think of the gazillions of dollars in lost opportunity costs from training that is never properly sustained or followed up—think about all of that heartbreak. Therefore, it’s worth asking the question. Any service that will protect the training investment is probably worth it and any service that’s very likely to increase performance will pay for itself. There’s no better way to avoid heartbreak than following up on your own training. So ask.

Richard Lampner is a trainer and account manager for Signature Worldwide, a Dublin, OH-based company offering sales and customer service training, marketing, and mystery shopping services for a variety of service-based industries. For more information, call 800.398.0518 or visit www.signatureworldwide.com. You also can connect with Signature on Twitter @SignatureWorld and on Facebook.

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