Coaching is a Matter of Priorities, Not Time


When you have the confidence, comfort level and commitment, it’s a lot easier to make coaching a priority.

By Mike Esterday

A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to present a session at the HCI Learning & Leadership Development Conference with Sharon Stahr, Chief Communications Officer at Cobalt Credit Union. The session focused on Developing a Coaching Culture for Higher Performance and offered a deep dive into our new research on coaching. We also explored some of the all-too-familiar struggles that organizations have as they try to turn their good intentions around sales coaching into effective activity and measurable impact.

Like our research participants, the majority of the session attendees told us their organizations recognize the importance of coaching and are placing more attention on it. But attention doesn’t necessarily equate to high priority. Many managers who say they understand the value of coaching still manage to find other things to do instead. But even for those managers who do coach their employees, the questions remain: Is it effective? Is it consistent? Is it focused on areas that will create the biggest impact on the person’s motivation, performance and success?

Unfortunately, the answer is often “no” to all of the above.

One of the biggest problems is actually one of the most basic: Managers simply don’t know what it means to coach. When we polled attendees, 59% of them told us that their managers believe they’re coaching their employees, but in reality, they’re mostly just providing feedback. This isn’t surprising when you consider that 23% said their organization has no common definition of coaching. The result: Each manager interprets and performs it differently.

And what about those managers who know it’s important and yet continue to find plenty of other things to do besides coach? Again, our attendees offer a clue to the root problem. Forty-one percent told us their senior leaders aren’t emphasizing that a manager’s success hinges on their ability to coach their teams. If I’m not being measured or held accountable for it, and I don’t really know what it is or how I’m expected to do it, then it’s probably not going to be very high up on my list of priorities.

Establishing a Coaching Culture

Clearly coaching is important. That’s one thing everyone can agree on. But what’s also clear is that it requires more than just lip service. If you want to enjoy the well-documented benefits of coaching, then you have to create a culture that defines and supports it. In the session, we explored what successful organizations do to establish and sustain a coaching culture. It’s a journey from today’s reality to a future state where coaching is part of the fabric of management, performance and business success. More specifically, it’s a transition…

From a culture where people are managed differently and there’s a lack of common leadership goals To a unified company with common people development practices and coaching language.

From a culture where coaching is a low priority focused on “firefighting,” fixing problems and taking care of customers To an environment where coaching is part of the culture, managers are engaged and employees collaborate regularly.

From a hierarchical “command and control” management structure To an organization where coaching is the cornerstone for building trust via two-way communication.

To that last point, many managers, especially those who are promoted from within, tend to assume coaching is about telling someone what to do in order to change their behavior. They don’t realize that effective coaching hinges on a two-way dialogue that helps the manager understand the point of view of person they’re coaching. In the ideal scenario, coaching is a process whereby the employee “discovers” resolution on their own, and that encourages them to take ownership of the change that needs to be made.

What Coaches Say to Themselves

It’s just as important to recognize that there’s more than one dialogue going on. One of the segments that particularly resonated with the crowd at HCI is that there are actually three conversations involved with effective coaching: the conversation the coach has with the employee, the conversation the coach has with themselves and the conversation the coach has with their own coach. All three are critical. However, when we asked attendees to choose which of these is the most important, nearly two-thirds said it’s that inner dialogue — the conversation the coach has with themselves.

To be successful coaches, managers need to recognize what they’re telling themselves about the value of coaching, their ability to do it well and the potential they see in their employees. All of this impacts their willingness to make coaching a priority as well as their effectiveness in those coach-to-employee conversations. A productive inner conversation:

  • builds a positive view of coaching
  • aligns their beliefs and values
  • builds their belief in their own abilities
  • sets clear and motivating goals
  • releases any self-imposed barriers to being an effective coach

A clear majority (73%) of attendees said the “commitment to activities” involved with coaching is the greatest weakness of their management team. In our experience, the managers who have both the coaching skillset and the coaching mindset that’s fueled by this positive self-talk are much less likely to exhibit this avoidance behavior. They’re no less busy than all the other managers out there. They just recognize that getting around to coaching isn’t a question of timing; it’s a question of priorities. When you have the confidence, comfort level and commitment, it’s a lot easier to make coaching a priority.


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