Why Coaching Matters

Every now and then, the results of a survey provide an interesting angle or two into the insights of human behavior and expectations.  Witness the following answers to a recently completed survey on “Coaching in the Workplace”:

1. 66% of respondents said that coaching had “great impact” on career success, while 52.20% also stated that this is the amount of time they spent “micromanaging.”

2. While the top coaching challenge was that there was not enough time to coach (34.40%), when done, 46.20% said they spent too much time coaching their lowest performers.

3. Finally, while 45.50% overall felt that a lack of coaching attributed to not getting the desired results, 52.70% said they had no measurement tools in place to measure the results of coaching.

So what do these statistics really tell us about the value of coaching and the basic human behavior of most managers/coaches?  Well, for starters, it globally tells us that we often know the right thing to do, but don’t always do it or make enough time to do it.  Whether that is a true reflection of human behavior or the result of a non-supportive corporate environment is open for discussion. Let’s take the learning points one at a time.

1. If so many truly believe that coaching has great impact on career success, why do so many managers still resort to micro-managing? Perhaps it is because most managers feel it is quicker and more efficient to “manage it all.”  Perhaps it is the desire to maintain control over everything so that nothing goes wrong. Or perhaps it is how they are currently being managed and know no other way to do it.  Whatever the reason, it is taking too much time away from coaching, the one developmental tool they have to accelerate an employee’s learning and effect behavioral change.

When managers complain they have no time to coach, they need look no further than the door of their own offices to figure out why. Trying to “do it all yourself” only creates chaos and resentment amongst staff, since none of them like to be micro-managed either. Managers need to build an environment where trust and belief that people can and will do their jobs is a priority, and where management spends more time developing and growing people vs. doing the jobs of everyone. This leads directly to the second point that needs to be made.

2. While the top challenge is finding more time to coach, when it is done, the lowest performers get the bulk of the manager’s coaching time, and therefore, attention.  While no employee should be deprived of coaching, not all employees are created equal and some are clearly more deserving than others. Experience shows that many low performers are also behavioral problems. Giving them more attention is akin to giving the misbehaving child at home more attention. They continue to misbehave, or not perform, as a method to getting the attention they crave from the person they crave it from the most—the parent or manager.

Of course, this is not universally true, and if a low performer is truly trying and has the will to improve, they deserve appropriate amounts of developmental time. If, however, this is not the case (or the employee turns out to simply not be the right fit for the job), spending too much coaching time here is counter-productive. Managers need to distribute the bulk of their coaching time to those performers who have the greatest opportunity to show ongoing improvement.  Low performers often do not deserve this time and high performers often don’t need as much, leaving the middle performers the most in need. The best coaches (and managers) strike the right balance.

3. We all know that coaching can improve results and a lack of it can contribute to a lack of achieving those desired results.  Without any measurement tools in place, however, how can any company (or individual manager for that matter) know the true impact on the bottom line?

Athletes see it every day and in the daily statistics provided for them. If a new batting coach gets the hitter out of a slump, we see the batting average go up accordingly.  In a corporate environment, such tools are also needed to ensure progress is being made. If no one is consistently tracking numbers or outcomes, how can you know when something is working or not? Progress does not need to be instantaneous—it takes time for people to alter and change their current behaviors, which often impacts a manager’s ability to be patient and tolerant while new habits get formed. When managers don’t see instantaneous change or improvement, they resort back to micromanaging to exert some sort of control over the situation. The simple answer is to find time to coach and have a few core measurement tools in place to monitor progress. Simply put, if a person’s sales numbers go up, you know the coaching is having the desired impact.

As human beings, we want to succeed and produce and thrive. Given our hectic lives (both personally and professionally), we often expect things to happen over night, resulting in behaviors that create a negative impact on our ability to succeed. The cycle needs to be broken and managers need to slow down and focus on the varying developmental needs of their people in order to produce the results they want. Coaching can have great impact on career success, but first it has to happen.