C Burt
& Associates

The Manager as Coach: An Organizational Perspective


“Leaders are the single most important element in the success or failure of any organization”

If there is one thing we should be able to agree on today with respect to organizations it should be the statement above.Over the last number of years we have experienced all kinds of changes to improve how organizations can increase speed and productivity, innovate, create change, and engage employees.  In the 1990’s technology was going to forever change the world of work by creating the four day work week, the elimination of front-line and middle management with self-managing teams was going to increase productivity and employee commitment, and globalization was going to open the world to new frontiers for the Canadian worker where we as a society would never again be destined to do menial work.Well, as I’m sure you know, many of these expectations have not come to fruition and as a result, people are working longer hours, front line and middle managers are in greater need now than ever before, Canadian unemployment still remains high and employee engagement is now one of the key initiatives for many companies.

The answer in my view is to go back to the basics and recognize the importance our leaders (at all levels of the organization) play in shaping the future. Think about the individual front line supervisor who has five direct reports, that work group has the ability to effectively or ineffectively use resources or raw materials to produce a product or a service. What is it that will tip the scales and encourage them to produce at higher productivity rates than their competitors locally, nationally and globally?  Research shows that higher engagement scores will positively impact profitability numbers enabling them to compete quite successfully. This is but a mere microcosm of the vast organizational world, but now multiply that by the approximate 1.1 million small businesses that currently operate in Canada and you can see the impact. More importantly consider a highly motivated and engaged workforce and how much more powerful and productive they are. Who is the person that has the single greatest impact on that? The front line supervisor! Yet in some companies who are one of the most disrespected, undervalued, and ignored groups; the front line supervisors. They tend to be at the bottom of the managerial pecking order, they do not have the same protections afforded to a union member, they are sandwiched between management and the ‘worker’, and they are provided with minimum development opportunities in comparison to other management levels. And yet who has the most direct contact and impact on the people producing the product or providing the service; the front line supervisor.

I am not trying to suggest that there aren’t other factors that impact productivity and motivation but if research has done anything over the last 50 years it has at the very least highlighted the massive impact that leaders/managers, especially the front line supervisor have on their employee’s ability and desire to carry out their work. We also now recognize the credible role that a supervisor/manager can play as coach.

What is coaching? A systematic process which is goal-directed, results-oriented, in which one person creates an environment of sustained change with another individual or group through fostering the self-directed learning, personal growth, and individual accountability of the coachee (Grant, 2003). Although there seems to be at least some agreement that the manager as coach is valuable, there has been debate as to what coaching is and what the coach should provide. Coaching is not new and its’ history can be traced back informal terms, to the mid 1850’s. In current times it has been suggested that coaches ask questions to help guide employees to self-discovery so that they can uncover what needs to be done. Some of the following questions demonstrate this:

What could you have done differently?

What did you learn from this experience?

What would you do differently in the future?

What’s important to you in the future?

I believe these questions have merit when you are asking your employee to identify the solutions and as you will notice,they all use the word “you”.  I have found, however, that when coaching in an organization, different coaching styles are required.  As a result, I have developed a three pronged coaching methodology that a coach can move in and out of, depending on the employee needs. The model identifies three distinct but fluid perspectives, Advise, Guide, or Collaborate. The ability to move within this model allows the coach to provide the right guidance at the right time.

Some of the key success factors for a  coaching relationship include:

1. Timeliness  (Have the coaching conversation as soon as you can following the coachable moment)

2. Clarity (Make sure you are clear about the topic you want to discuss, focus on behavior – something you can see, hear, concrete and focus on one thing not a long shopping list)

3. Actions (have the coachee develop a list of actions to correct, change, improve, or maintain the performance) 

4. Commit (make sure the coachee commits to the action (s)

5. Set a completion and/or action date with the coachee

6. Follow-up (set a follow up meeting to review and correct where necessary)

In summary, over the last few years coaching has achieved greater acceptance by organizations as another tool that will have a positive impact on productivity, support high potentials growth, increase the depth within the succession pool and reduce turnover of the critical few.  The coaching process should be viewed as a support mechanism for employees and managers, not from a clinical perspective,but rather from a business perspective for improving, changing or sustaining productivity.  Although it is not the only critical aspect of management it is one of the vital roles that the direct manager plays in day-to-day activities.

Authors:  Grant Armstrong, Caren Burt

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