How to Turn Overworked Managers into Empowered Coaches

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Companies spend a lot of money on training… and on tracking the training people complete. The global spend on training in 2015 was $355B with the U.S. accounting for $160B of that spend. Whether your company is part of a Fortune 100 company or a small business employing 30 people, it spends a lot to train and develop its people.

Ironically, after spending all this money on training, too many companies fail to protect and enhance the investment they made. Instead of seeing major improvements, they get little or no return at all. Where training is concerned, companies are still locked into a model of creating and delivering and then being done. An event-based training mindset still prevails.

Lessons Learned from… Landscaping?

To think about the waste that this approach represents, let’s take a look at a non-training example. Imagine that you decide you want to improve your home landscape. You contract with a landscaping company and work with them to plan out the optimal design. You carefully select plants and you pay to have the landscape company install all of it. When the landscaper leaves, the plants, though still small, look great. Whether those plants thrive and yield the lush landscape you envisioned depends on you.

  • Scenario 1: You expend effort to make sure those plants get off to a great start. You set up a regular watering schedule and periodically fertilize the plants until they are well-established, which takes several weeks. You watch for weeds and pests, and you quickly deal with them as you see them emerge. With careful nurturing, you are rewarded with a lush landscape that appears over time.
  • Scenario 2: You wave goodbye as the landscaping truck leaves your driveway and you consider the job “done.” The health and well-being of the plants depends 100% on the weather and the presence or absence of pests. The hardiest plants thrive despite the lack of attention. Other plants hang on, but are stunted in their growth and fail to truly do well. Still others, die. The beds gradually become overtaken by weeds and that $10K investment yields nothing except a bit of an eyesore in the yard.

Employee development operates the same way. Training courses and events enable companies to establish a great foundation, but they do not do a great job of improving performance over the long-term. That comes from consistent coaching in the form of relevant, timely feedback that is highly focused.

Coaching and Feedback are Essential

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Too often, there is no specific, timely feedback outside of the formal training experience itself. We do quick “training dunks” in the form of 15-, 30- or 60-minute eLearning courses or half-day workshops or webinars and assume it will stick. When it doesn’t, we tend to blame the employee rather than ourselves for doing a poor job of coaching, or a poor job of providing performance support tools.

The truth is, we don’t plan for coaching. We don’t give managers tools to do it well, and we don’t emphasize its importance. We grossly underestimate its value in protecting the training investment we make in employees. Today’s employees may have a boss who isn’t even co-located with them. That boss never sees what the employees do or don’t do on a daily basis. If employees go to training, the boss may or may not attend the training with them and post-training follow-up seldom occurs.

This lack of awareness or follow-up is pretty much like giving someone a course in drivers education and then just handing the new driver the keys to the car and saying good luck. An accident is sure to be the result. Companies need to embrace the proven reality that feedback and reinforcement are integral to long-term performance success.

Solving the Problem

So how do we make this situation better and how do we accommodate for the limited interactions most employees will have with a boss? One way, of course, is to design training better. If people are expected to behave differently in their jobs as a result of training, then training must include opportunities to practice and get meaningful feedback. Meaningful feedback comes when there is a clear rubric included within the practice activity to help trainees understand what appropriate performance includes.

But once training is complete, the responsibility lies with the managers. Here are four ways to help overworked managers with the coaching process:

1. Create performance rubrics and coaching guides that reflect the realities of the work environment.

Design the coaching experience to fit within the work flow of the manager and the employee. Don’t over-engineer it and clarify how and where coaching fits into the workflow.

2. Provide annotated examples of good and bad.

Let employees see both extremes, and then create self-evaluation tools that enable employees to rate themselves against these standards of good and bad. Make it easy for employees to self-reflect.

3. Assist managers in figuring out what employees need coaching on.

Use automated reinforcement tools that help reinforce key skills and provide managers with detailed feedback on what employees do and do not know and know how to do. Knowledge Guru is one such tool; others exist as well.

4. Reward managers for coaching.

People will do what they are rewarded for doing. If coaching isn’t valued and acknowledged as important to the organization, it will not happen.

If you want to get a return on your investment in formal training, incorporate follow-up. Don’t skimp with the coaching. It’s actually the cheapest thing you can do and its value is high.