Stop Making Excuses and Start Coaching

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Apr 29, 2019

Managers are expected to spend about one-third of their day developing employees, but they actually spend only 9% of their time to development.

The problem goes beyond the minimal time investment to a fundamental misperception about what good coaching looks like and what it should accomplish. Too many managers wait for big events like annual performance reviews to coach employees instead of providing ongoing, in-the-moment support. Even if they do give regular feedback or coaching, it’s often instructional rather than the Socratic guidance that takes employees to the next level in their development.

Good managers aspire to provide effective coaching. Good employees want feedback. When regular coaching occurs, companies are more likely to achieve stronger business results. So why don’t more managers coach their employees? According to our data on over 120,000 coaching conversations, here are five common barriers and how to overcome them.

1. ‘I’m too busy’

Managers are working longer hours than ever, equaling in the U.K. on average a full sixth day during a five-day week. And U.K. managers are not the exception. Yet the to-do list keeps growing as teams grow and more complex problems arise. Investing in development often gets put off as a “nice to have.”

Here’s the secret: Employee coaching isn’t an activity; it’s a mindset. Look for bite-size opportunities to acknowledge employees or offer feedback. Set a goal to find 10 opportunities per day to ask questions and prompt employees to solve problems. Or find 10 chances to entrust tasks to employees without providing step-by-step instructions. When you do, take note of the impact. These brief coaching moments will end up adding time back into your day as employees take on more responsibility.

2. ‘I’m the only one who can fix it’

How do you define coaching? Many managers believe they’re successfully coaching employees when, in fact, they’re telling employees what to do. There’s a big difference between solving a problem for an employee and guiding her to discover a solution on her own.

A few years ago, I worked with a plant manager for a major manufacturer. His days were filled with problem-solving. He was working long hours, and so was his team. When I helped him examine his approach, he recognized that providing solutions to employees wasn’t helping them develop their skills. Gradually, he shifted his management style, delegating more and actively coaching his people. They responded by resolving issues on their own. He discovered “extra” time in his day to get his own work done, and the plant went on to win an award for productivity improvements.

To change your fix-it mindset, stop yourself before you offer a solution. Instead, ask questions to help team members find the answer. Once you push past the initial discomfort, you’ll be amazed by the results.

3. ‘I can’t make a mistake’

Most managers are afraid of making mistakes and are likewise afraid that their employees will fail. But mistakes are how we learn: The most painful lessons are sometimes the most powerful. Attempting to control everything and protect employees from getting anything wrong is exhausting and impossible.

To change this mindset, consciously encourage more autonomy. Accept that you don’t need to control everything and that the results others achieve may look different from what you envisioned. One habit that will help you adopt a “let go and trust” attitude is to work on being present in all interactions. Clear your mind so that when you’re with people, you’re completely in the moment. This will foster better coaching and will build trust within your team.

4. ‘I must treat people like I want to be treated’

Leaders frequently assume that others want the same things they want and learn the same way they learn. For example, if the leader doesn’t need recognition, she imagines others find it awkward, too. Or managers who want a lot of freedom will take a hands-off approach with employees. For effective coaching, you need to see each team member as an individual and flex your approach accordingly.

To tailor your coaching, write down the developmental focus for each team member. Choose four to begin with. Think about what you’ve observed, what they’ve told you, and how they’ve responded to coaching. Use that information to understand what type of coaching works best for each person and focus on adapting your approach to fit the individual.

5. ‘I can’t give useful feedback’

The word feedback often comes with baggage for employees and managers alike. Managers tend to associate feedback with criticism and so balk at giving it. However, 65%  of employees want more feedback than they’re getting.

Don’t think of feedback as telling someone what he needs to do better. Focus instead on development, which allows the discussions to center on the employee’s goals and how the skills she needs to develop will help her reach those goals. If you’re still hesitating, try this exercise: Write down the fears that are stopping you. Then, tear them up. Think about specific individuals and what each would want to know about how they’re doing. Offer feedback as if you’re in their shoes.

In the end, it’s probably not about lack of time or not knowing what to say. An honest assessment of what’s preventing you from being the coach you want to be is critical to breaking through the barriers and putting your team, your business, and yourself on a path to greater success.