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Leveraging Managers as Coaches to Build a Learning Organization

Remember the good old days when companies could attract and retain the best talent, often by being an industry leader or having a great reputation? Those days are long gone it seems.

Today – as most leaders know well or are realizing, often late in the game – top talent is drawn to organizations that offer the best opportunities for professional growth and learning. Blame the war for talent and all things VUCA, but the implications for managers are huge.

How must managers “show up” differently today, and what capabilities will allow them to keep up with the demands of the workplace?

A conversation I had recently points to how important that question is today.

I was speaking to someone whose organization is exploring how to help managers grapple with and implement a change initiative. The leaders realized that sending managers to a change management program was not enough. They knew that their managers would come out of the training with knowledge about change models, but not yet able to execute on the change that is needed. I agreed: Managers need to know how to influence, coach and support their teams through the change process in order to be effective change agents.

Of course, it’s not lost on many of us that coaching is all the “buzz” today in lots of organizations. The book, The Coaching Connection, says that no single form of training and development gets a businessperson’s attention as completely as coaching. What’s more, according to authors John Hoover and Paul Gorrell, no single form of organizational learning addresses such an individual’s complete range of developmental issues as completely or comprehensively as coaching.

Yet, despite the rise of executive coaching to help senior leaders with their developmental challenges, few companies are building coaching capability across their organization.

And so to answer my question posed earlier: The challenge and opportunity for many companies is to teach managers how to coach their employees – especially when they’re being held accountable for their employees’ performance.

Every day, managers have the opportunity to influence individuals, teams and the organization: they can do this more effectively when they can learn and implement a “coaching style” of managing.

Coaching is a high-impact, individualized development process, usually focused on the employee’s business challenges, individual skills, and personal aspirations. This style of managing yields a number of workplace benefits, including:

Enhanced working relationships – coaching allows time for collaboration which results in trust.
Increased performance – coaching creates a “space” for learning in real time, and developing throughout the coaching process leads to better performance.
Stronger ideas – when managers engage by listening and asking great questions, individuals are more apt to explore new options and come up with innovative ideas for doing their jobs.
Empowerment and accountability – when individuals are given the opportunity through coaching to explore different ways to do their jobs, this leads to empowerment and a commitment for holding themselves accountable.
Creating Manager Coaches

What specific skills are needed to implement a coaching style of managing?

There are many models in our industry today that outline the necessary competencies for managers and leaders. In most cases, “developing others” is always one part of these models.

The question becomes, how does one develop others without knowing how to coach? Cambria believes that managers need the following skills in order to coach in today’s VUCA world:

Demonstrate sensitivity and respect
Demonstrate self-awareness
Build trusting relationships
Demonstrate effectiveness across differences
Listen actively
Ask effective questions
Give candid feedback
Provide insight and suggestions
Elicit possible solutions
Define goals and outcomes
Empower and motivate
Ensure follow-through
How to Get Started

Here’s how to implement a successful manager as coach program:

Start small. Choose managers to train that are credible, have the capacity and commitment to be part of the program, see coaching as an essential tool for achieving business goals, and enjoy helping people develop.
The program must be business driven but HR led. Senior leader sponsorship is essential.
Invest time and resources in the right training. Training should be led by experienced executive coaches who can bring their experiences and stories into the classroom.
Create a community of practice. Once you have a number of managers trained as coaches, create opportunities for them to meet and share best practices. Offer them the opportunity to meet with a master coach for advice and guidance.
So, What’s in It for the Manager?
A more committed team – when employees are included in developing their own goals, getting coached and feedback, they will be more empowered
More time to spend on strategic work – when employees are performing better, a manager has to spend less time telling and directing
Better working relationships – coaching promotes trust, resulting in collaboration and a positive work environment

Organizations will benefit greatly when managers are implementing this type of management style on a regular basis. When it starts to migrate throughout the organization, learning takes place “just-in-time” and a new culture of learning becomes the norm.

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