It’s no secret that organizations with the most talented employees win. But, developing talent formally requires huge training budgets, and most on-the-job learning is inconsistent and sporadic.

Enter developmental coaching. A critical, but underutilized, management and leadership tool, developmental coaching builds job-related skills AND engages valuable employees.

Bersin & Associates (as well as other researchers) point out that 10% of all job-related learning occurs formally while another 20% occurs serendipitously as employees perform their work. A full 70% of an employee’s development occurs as employees refine job skills through on-the-job practice. It’s this area where coaching can pay big dividends by shortening the learning curve, reducing inaccurate guidance from others, and simultaneously building productive relationships with employees.

Unfortunately, many employees don’t feel that they receive the coaching they need to improve performance. As a direct result, employees are becoming increasingly disengaged.

So, if coaching is THE way to simultaneously engage employees AND develop talent, why don’t managers coach more (or at all)? The answer lies in how organizations approach developmental coaching. Here are five ways organizations can create a permanent culture of coaching:

1. Emphasize the importance of developing good performance

The goal of coaching is to to make your average performers good and to make your good performers great. Many managers spend 80% of their “people time” dealing with performance problems, which are typically found in less than 20% of their employees. The poor performers in most organizations get most of the attention, with little or no attention devoted to developing one of the most overlooked – but critical – groups of employees: your average to good performers. As a result, productive and high-potential employees are left underdeveloped AND unattended; these are the folks who quietly leave your department or leave your company.

2. Educate leaders on what coaching is (and what it isn’t)

Coaching is one tool to develop the skill and confidence of employees. Unlike training, which is typically one-to-many and in an artificial environment, coaching usually takes place on the job and one-to-one. Unlike counseling, which may include personal issues, coaching is focused on job performance. Unlike mentoring and career development, which are long-term, coaching is tactical and pragmatic. Unlike corrective action, which focuses on performance that falls below acceptable standards, coaching focuses on developing performance that is already acceptable or even good.

3. Train managers how to analyze employee performance

There are many reasons why employees may not be doing what they should. An effective manager is able to analyze an employee’s performance and/or behavior and determine WHY the performance or behavior may not be what it should be AND select the best strategy for addressing the issue.

4. Create a culture where managers can build relationships with employees

Managers cannot effectively coach their employees if the relationship between the manager and the employee is strained. (They CAN provide feedback and conduct difficult corrective action conversations, but coaching requires a relationship with mutual respect, trust, and caring.)

5. Provide simple, easy-to-use coaching models and training for all managers

At its core, coaching is quite simple. Here’s an example: let’s say that one of your sales reps is looking to increase sales. After a brief discussion with you, she believes that she could increase sales most dramatically if she could get past the receptionist and make more appointments with the decision-maker. You agree to listen in on a few of her phone calls and coach her. After listening in on a few phone calls, you and the rep discuss the techniques that the rep used, which of those techniques were effective and which were not, and agree upon the techniques and skills that the rep would focus on in upcoming calls.

Sounds easy, right? Well, it IS as simple as it sounds and, with some practice, it’s as EASY as it sounds. The challenge for most coaches is to ask more questions and talk less. Most untrained “coaches” play the expert and bestow pearls of wisdom expecting the coachee to eagerly embrace the coach’s brilliance. The fact is that most people – even when they ask for advice – are somewhat reticent to receive it. When offered suggestions, many people retreat to a defensive position and try to explain WHY they did what they did, or what they might have done if circumstances allowed. This type of coaching frustrates both parties.

Our experience shows us that most people, when asked, know HOW they performed in a given task; they know what they did well and they know what they didn’t do so well. Our coaching model gives the employee an opportunity to share this insight with the coach before the coach shares it with the employee.

This is critical for three reasons. The first reason is that if your employees critique their own performance – both the good and not-so-good elements – they are much more likely to accept feedback. The second reason is that we want to encourage self-assessment in our employees. The best employees are those who recognize the need for improvement and set about bettering themselves without management’s constant monitoring. This only happens with employees who self-assess – a characteristic managers want to encourage! The third reason is that it gives us as coaches an opportunity to analyze why an employee may not be performing as expected.

At the end of the day, coaching is a…

  • Two-way interactive process of communication, facilitation, and discovery.
  • Method of building courage, self-esteem, responsibility, and cooperation through self-assessment, disclosure, and feedback.
  • Commitment to superior performance, sustained improvement, and positive relationships.
  • Competitive advantage to developing a more engaged and talented workforce.