Updated: Mar 15
Coaching is one of the most vital differentiators of success in organizations. It is curious that we embrace this with sports teams of any kind. It is obvious and expected that players need coaching to be successful. On paper, we agree with that concept in organizations as well. Yet, one of the biggest items that repeatedly appear on employee engagement surveys as needing attention is the issue that employees are looking for more coaching.
What is the disconnect? There are ten big reasons why this is happening.
Coaching is viewed as something you do, usually when there is a problem. That’s setting us up for failure to look at things in that regard. Who would want to be part of something that only happens when there are problems? Coaches should be who we are, not something we do.
They don’t fit the “image” of what a coach looks like
We look at the great coaches of the world, and they often have an outsized personality to go with it. Even the ones who don’t, Bill Belichick, for example, is known for not having an outsized personality! The reality is one has nothing to do with the other. Great coaches can also be those who are humble and more introverted. Because of this image, many people don’t view themselves as having the capability to be a good coach.
Lack of Skills
They don’t have the skills. The second factor is we have low skills. Most people simply haven’t been trained on how to be a good coach. Like any other skill, such as your golf swing, it is critical to learn the tactics and tricks that make you successful in that area. Not only are people not trained well in this area, but there is also an assumption because you have a manager title that you somehow, (through osmosis maybe?) have the skills to coach people. It’s quite absurd and illogical. People need good training.
We need coaches to coach the coaches.
It is often the case that leaders don’t get the practice on how to do it well before its “counts.” We need more leaders who are coaching the coaches to help them develop their skills. As we mention above, people need training; they also need practice. As adults, we don’t create room for those learning new skills to practice enough. It is almost as bad as not teaching people. Think again about athletes and how much time they put into perfecting a technique. Do our managers put 1% of that time into developing the critical skill of coaching? The answer is a hard no.
People need to be more demanding of coaching.
While employees talk about wanting to be coached, most don’t put on a full-court press and squeeze coaching from their leaders. That happens for many complicated reasons, but they all end up in the same place. They are left wanting more coaching. Athletes who want more ask for it or hire additional coaches to help them perfect their trade. They know their success depends on their optimal performance, and they will push on the resources to get there.
This one is an easy one to point to base on everyone being so busy. But we simply need to be better than that excuse. We have time for everything else. Also, if you do it well and make it part of your habits and more of an iterative conversation, it does not take a lot of time. The time one doesn’t fly with me. Everyone is busy, but we manage to get to the grocery store generally once a week because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t have food. Yes, there are alternatives such as takeout, but most don’t get takeout for every meal for every day. With a small investment in time grocery shopping, we reap the benefits throughout the week. Coaching is the same in that small investments pay dividends in the future.
Lack of accountability
In most organizations, results are measured, and leadership is not. The more sophisticated and higher performing organizations measure leadership effectiveness through the quality of the team one leads and the development of those team members. When I was at Bank of America, we created a set of management routines for Brian Moynihan. He would meet with his direct reports once a month (and, of course, in between as needed). Each quarter, the first month was a focus on the business, the second month was to discuss the talent planning commitments made about that person’s team and how that leader was going to work on improving the team, and the third month was on that leader’s personal development. The expectation was quarter to quarter, and there would be an improvement. We need accountability that has teeth in it to get leaders to spend time in this area. Otherwise, there are too many other distractions to pull them from spending time there.
Coupled with a lack of accountability, there is a lack of reward
The reward is more intrinsic and longer-term, if there at all. Logic would suggest that if the team individually gets better, then collectively, we should get better results. However, as mentioned above, there are many factors that pull people away from this work that actually is linked to a reward system, such as the achievement of hard results. Seasoned and effective leaders know the “joke on talent” and the relationship between these things, but those leaders still operating as (now overpaid) individual contributors don’t get this joke and, consequently, don’t spend time coaching.
Not enough role models
A big part of the problem is we don’t have enough role models who coach well and consequently enjoy a greater business result. The fact of the matter is we have a leadership crisis. The root cause is we are not competent enough in determining leadership potential. The outcome is we have too many leaders in place who either should not be there or are under skilled.
We have leaders at the top that don’t have strong talent management backgrounds
Having just finished a study with 50+ CEOs on determining leadership potential and having worked in some capacity with more than 300 companies, the CEOs and C-suites who understand talent management and those who do not are light years apart. CEOs in my study, such as the CEO of Target, Ulta Beauty, Panera, Build-a-Bear, Footlocker, Athleta, etc., have orchestrated incredible business results as a consequence of the deep understanding of talent management. Having just finished a conversation with a C-suite member who thinks he understands this and is responsible for this work but clearly has no idea…I’m reminded of how many senior leadership teams simply don’t know what they are doing in this space. It’s THE difference-maker for organizations, but not many are highly skilled or see it as their area of competence.
The fact of the matter is a culture of coaching makes organizations effective. There are many reasons why most organizations do not have a culture of coaching. Each one of the reasons listed has a specific counterpoint on how to solve the issue. It’s not hard, but it is specific and disciplined and takes commitment. It’s worth it.