Managers need to be given the resources to coach employees

Firms like Lidl and Harvey Norman are leading the way in on-the-job training

The benefits of the line manager as coach are considerable. Photograph: Getty Images

The benefits of the line manager as coach are considerable. Photograph: Getty Images

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Some years ago, when I was facilitating a management development programme, I spoke with a number of managers. We were discussing the role of the line manager in assimilating new hires into the operation. And they told me they didn’t have time to coach.

I curbed the jaw drop, the nose wrinkle, and the outburst: “But that’s what you’re for.” For me, the role of the line manager is primarily as a performance coach.

They said they “weren’t allowed the hours” for it, meaning coaching time and coaching activity didn’t figure in their KPIs (key performance indicators) of their roles.

Should coaching be a KPI – a measurable outcome – or is it, in fact, an effective means to achieving the other KPIs?

Increasing appreciation of the benefits of on-the-job training is driving a trend toward placing employee development activity with the line manager.

The benefits of the line manager as coach are considerable. The line manager knows the objectives of the business unit and the organisation, and its current priorities. They are aware of any constraints on the ground, see the strengths, weaknesses and competencies of each employee close up, already have a relationship with that employee and, most usefully, can recognise multiple coaching opportunities as they arise outside formal coaching plans.

Intervene

However much I like to promote the logical beauty of the line manager as performance coach, realities of the context can intervene. Line managers may or may not have the requisite skillset to implement the coaching process effectively.That could lead to an inconsistency of learner experience and unequal access to development.

The operational imperative is very strong at this level of an organisation. Line managers may only undertake operations driven development and longer-term learning needs may be postponed.

And then the line manager may not be able to access adequate resources to develop through coaching meaningfully.

To cap it all, the measurement of the manager may not include development activity, acting as a further deterrent for some to spending time coaching employees.

So what should companies do? My work leads me to suggest that companies should:

– provide access to development around coaching to managers;

– recognise coaching effort by including it as a KPI for the line manger;

– set expectations for coaching to develop staff resources in job descriptions, and;

– in larger organisations, have central human resource development specialists monitor quality and support the line managers in their coaching activity.

The Government, which has recognised the need to rekindle our workplace learning capabilities, is currently investing resources into work-based learning initiatives. Through the Action Plan for Education 2016-18, it aims to grow workplace learning using the apprenticeship mode. The plan refers to “significant evidence of the positive impact of learning which is closely linked to the workplace”.

The 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report says: “Continuous feedback for employees is a critical feature of the new performance management paradigm, yet managers often need help learning how to be full-time coaches rather than part-time evaluators. Companies adopting a new performance management approach should focus heavily on leadership development, building new ‘muscles’ in managers, and creating discipline around feedback, coaching, and collaboration.”

The importance of coaching as a key development tool has long been recognised and is widely practised by some leaders in the retail industry in Ireland.

At Lidl, structured on-the-job training is the foundation of the training concept. Through work-based learning interventions, they develop staff continuously through coaching and, importantly, they have committed considerable resources to developing the managerial capability to implement that vital coaching activity effectively. Included in their various vehicles for management development are modules around developing the competencies of the line manager in terms of coaching for development.

Staff development

The responsibility for staff development is mentioned in the recruitment advertising for management positions, further fostering that expectation and mindset in management recruits.

Harvey Norman also lists in its line manager’s responsibilities the need to “enhance individual and team performance by focusing on awareness and responsibility”. They promote a “culture of ongoing development with a focus on developing knowledge, skills and attitudes to positively influence performance”.

Again, they put resources behind that culture, investing considerably in management development. The company is currently embracing the growing move away from box-ticking formal performance appraisal toward ongoing regular job chats. This focus on continuous coaching, makes the development of those coaching competencies even more important.

To remain valid in the management field, every people manager must ensure they have the competencies to engage in meaningful coaching activity. If you don’t work in a large company with resources to help you upskill in this area, or have a smaller budget for management or self-development, development options can still be accessed.

Skillnets (www.skillnets.ie) helps fund workplace learning by offering subsidised courses directly, and by funding small business networks to access cost-efficient learning options. The Irish Institute of Training and Development offers a professional practice certificate in training and development and the fee can be discounted by registering for Skillnets.

In the meantime, to get started exercising your coaching muscles, do two things today.

1. Google the GROW model of coaching, and;

2. when an employee asks you a question, coach the answer. Take them through the process of problem solving and help them answer the question themselves.

Darina Reilly is a lecturer in human resource development and organisational behaviour at Dublin Business School. She has has consulted the area for SMEs, and has previously held several in-house sales management and training management positions in multinational companies.

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