Are Managers Cutting It As Coaches?

In late June of this year, I was dispatched to General Electric’s famed Crotonville campus in Ossining, N.Y., to attend Aon Hewitt’s Top Companies For Leaders Think Tank.

My main objective there was to meet one-on-one with representatives from some of the 25 companies that were on hand to be recognized as one of Aon Hewitt’s “Top Companies for Leaders.”

(Click here to find out who these organizations are, and how they landed on the most recent list, the first iteration of which appeared in 2001).

In these conversations, I was struck by how often HR executives returned to the idea of helping managers adopt a “coaching mind-set” as a key component of their companies’ leadership development strategies.

I was so struck, in fact, that I wound up writing a 2,300-or-so-word feature story on this topic for our September print issue, in which “Top Companies for Leaders” such as Procter & Gamble and Singtel Communications discussed how they’ve made it a priority to impart coaching skills to supervisors as part of their managerial training.

Some new data, however, suggests that most organizations haven’t warmed to the concept of making coaches out of managers in the way that “Top Companies” have.

In a survey of 117 vice presidents of talent management, vice presidents and directors of HR, directors of personnel and CHROs, talent-management software provider SilkRoad found 45 percent of these respondents saying their managers lack the skills to coach and develop employees.

Maybe finding out that nearly half of managers are coming up short in terms of coaching and fostering the professional growth of their people isn’t that shocking.

Heck, a 2015 Right Management poll found 68 percent of 616 North American workers saying their managers weren’t actively engaged in the career development of their employees.

Bruce Tulgan, founder of New Haven, Conn.-based management training and consulting company Rainmaker Thinking Inc., certainly isn’t surprised by such statistics.

I had a few conversations with Tulgan in the course of writing the aforementioned HRE feature. Not all of his thoughts found their way into print at the time, of course. But he had plenty to say on the subject, and his take in September seems just as relevant to this HRE Daily installment.

He described Right Management’s findings, for instance, as “very much in alignment” with what he and Rainmaker have uncovered in 20-plus years of research based on interviews with more than 200,000 managers.

In studying “undermanagement” and its root causes, he says, Rainmaker has frequently found that many managers and leaders don’t spend enough time interacting with their reports, spelling out their expectations and coaching employees on their career development.

“Managers, of course, are under pressure to have regular conversations with their teams about the actual work,” he says. “But providing this sort of career guidance is also part of the manager’s job.”

For their part, HR leaders can help managers set the parameters for these career-development chats, says Tulgan.

“For example, how often should [managers] be meeting with their people? How long should those conversations be, what should they be talking about and what are managers doing to prepare for those conversations? And what are they asking direct reports to do to prepare for those conversations?”

As is ultimately the case with the employees they’re charged with nurturing, he says, “you can’t hold managers accountable if you don’t tell them exactly what’s expected of them.”