Ask a coach: I’m a manager, and now I’m being told to coach – just when am I supposed to find the time?

This question always comes up in Zoomly’s ‘How to coach your people’ workshop – and it’s a very valid one. Managers, like everyone else, are severely stretched with competing demands on their time and attention. And then ‘coaching’ gets added to the list of things they’re now expected to do – seemingly for the benefit of everyone but themselves – and it just all seems too much.

First, let’s clear a few things up.

There are different kinds of coaching out there. For example, I think there’s a big difference between the day-in, year-out coaching that’s expected of a manager and the deep, intensive coaching that happens with an external executive coach. Both are valid; neither is superior to the other. They’re just different.

External executive coach – Organisations generally use an external coach (usually external, although some organisations have a faculty on the payroll) to work on targeted, business critical development areas for an individual. That could be a significant promotion, someone taking on a role in a new part of the world, or going through major organisational change, to name just a few situations. The coach needs to be highly skilled to work with the individual on delivering against objectives. Coaching sessions can be long: an hour or two, perhaps half a day or more.

Line manager as coach – Organisations ask line managers to coach their people because they want to retain and develop their talent on a business-wide, top to bottom scale. Coaching becomes an additional skill to the many the manager already has. Coaching tends not to be done in long sessions, but rather on the job as it happens.

So having cleared that up, how are you, as a line manager, supposed to find the time to coach?

  1. Use coaching to do what you’re doing already

    Don’t see coaching as something extra that you need to do. Instead, see coaching as a skill set that helps you do what you’re already doing, just differently. Rather than simply telling someone what to do and telling them afterwards how well (or not) they did, change your approach. When you take a coaching approach, you’re still discussing the person’s performance on the job but in a different way, by using coaching techniques and skills.

    Which means everyone will be clearer about what’s expected.

  2. Use coaching to help people step up

    Coaching aims for dialogue by using active listening and skilful questioning to get the employee to speak up. When you’re briefing someone on a task, use coaching questions to give them the mic. As they engage in your work conversations, they can’t help but be clearer about what they’re doing. Instead of mutely taking instruction, when they speak they’ll be using their own words to describe what they need to deliver and how they’ll achieve it.

    Which means you won’t need to waste time micro-managing.

  3. Use coaching to focus on learning on the job

    Coaching conversations are great for getting someone to think through what they’ve done and articulate what they have learned from it. So you’ll have heaps of opportunities to do this in the normal course of a project. We can all take what we learn for granted, so a coaching conversation is brilliant for helping people see how they’re progressing.

    Which means they’re more likely to apply the lessons learned and be more productive, needing less input from you.

  4. Use coaching to address performance gaps

    Now this is one area where many managers confess to not having the time – because they have ducked these conversations thus far. Hmmm… welcome to your job. If you’re a line manager, somewhere in your job description, somewhere in your appraisal objectives, there’ll be something along the lines of ‘develop your team’, ‘set high standards’, ‘manage performance’ and ‘deal with under-performance’. The buck for the performance of those you manage stops with you. Coaching conversations are a great way of dealing with this. Outline – very briefly – specific examples of what you have observed, and then hand over the mic, asking the person to talk about what’s going on for them. Their answers may surprise you: they may have no idea that they’re underperforming in a particular area, and (possibly after some initial hesitation) will be hugely relieved to be able to address it. And you can use coaching questions to help them identify how they’ll do that, getting them to open up and take responsibility for what they’re going to do to improve their performance.

    Which means you won’t have to tolerate sub-standard performance and the drag it can be on your energy and time.

You may also find this blog post useful: Ask a coach: who’s doing all the coaching?

Stuck for coaching questions? Heaps of ideas here

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