“Coaching” in the business realm has traditionally been synonymous with course correction and employee performance reviews. There has been a punitive note to the word, a connection with the idea that coaching is only necessary when performance must be improved.
However, when the bigger picture is considered, we see that coaching occurs in any situation where excellence is required, where someone needs to be trained, and to learn new skills or capabilities. Think of Olympic athletes – their coaches teach them, inspire them to new heights, and support development.
The latter idea of support and development is beginning to gain traction in the world of business. Managers are being tasked with coaching employees to improve results through performance management, for instance. The flip side of that coin is that managers can (and should) act as coaches in other areas, including learning and development.
How might coaches support L&D success for employees? What does it even mean to involve managers/coaches in the L&D journey? We’ll explore those topics and more in this post.
The Role of Managers as Coaches
Managers are coaches and they always have been. Think of a sports team – the coach doesn’t only help players develop through practice and drills, but they put each team member in a play position that best suits their skills and abilities. The same concept applies to managers within a business setting.
The challenge here is that once this happens, it tends to pigeonhole employees. It limits their ability to move up to higher, more rewarding positions. So, managers must be able to do more than just identify an employee’s key strengths – they must look deep within an employee and identify their potential.
Managers should also be able to listen to an employee. After all, the manager works with the employee daily. Who better to help flesh out a better vision of not just the employee’s current strengths and weaknesses, but their aspirations and dreams?
Based on these aspects of the employee/manager-coach relationship, we can further define how coaches can support the learning and development process.
Establish the Importance of L&D with Employees
Perhaps the first and arguably most important role of the coach/manager is communicating the importance of learning and development to employees. There are several reasons this is important and may be necessary (rather than optional).
First, it’s about helping to remove old attitudes or misperceptions about learning and development that the employee might carry over from previous jobs. In many companies, L&D is not valued. In some, it may be actively denigrated. It can be challenging for employees to shake those misperceptions once they’re established and become ingrained.
Another reason is to help establish the value of learning and development, not through words, but through actions. Managers should be committed to their learning, and when employees see them embrace those trainings, it becomes easier to see the underlying value of and need for their own training.
Informing the Development Plan
A manager/coach is uniquely positioned to provide insight and information to HR when it comes to creating a development plan for each employee they’re responsible for coaching. With the manager’s insights into an employee’s strengths and weaknesses, it comes possible to create custom development plans that:
- Close skill gaps within teams and departments
- Address key weaknesses of employees and transform them into strengths
- Amplify strengths into specialties that support the organization
A custom development plan goes far beyond mere mandatory corporate training. It speaks directly to an employee’s abilities and capabilities. It can also help them reach higher positions, which leads us to the next topic.
As a coach, managers can help their team members learn, grow, and develop. In the past, employees were hired for a position and often remained in that job or a related position for most of their careers. Today, employees expect (and deserve) more than this. Coaches can help make that happen.
By speaking with employees, learning about their aspirations, and deeply understanding their strengths, weaknesses, and aptitudes, coaches enable the creation of career path development tracks. These lay out what employees need to be trained in at each stage along a career path that might take them far from their current position with the company while ensuring that talent stays in-house.
Enabling Real-World Skills Practice
LMS-enabled learning and development is vital. However, to master some skills, it’s necessary to practice them in the real world. Coaches can make this happen for their team members.
By collaborating with HR and/or trainers, managers can create opportunities in an employee’s daily routine to put newly-learned skills to use. These can be considered “safe to fail” areas that allow the employee a chance to flex their newly acquired skills without worrying that failure will be detrimental. That creates a sense of confidence, as well as psychological safety.
In an organization where it is safe to fail, employees are far more likely to try creative solutions, to innovate, and to take risks. That enables much greater gains and boosts the company’s ability to compete.
A Partner for Trainers
Ultimately, coaches have many different roles to play in the L&D process. They can enable a better understanding of employees, deliver critical information and analyses that enable customized training development, and so much more. Organizations should look to managers as more than just someone who deals with performance management – they should be seen as training partners, and an extension of the L&D team in many ways. Decision-makers must recall that L&D and performance management are two sides of the same coin and they should support and augment each other.
However, coaches cannot partner with trainers if the interrelatedness of L&D and PM isn’t realized. This makes it imperative for executives to understand the important roles that coaches play in employee development and that the organization as a whole embraces learning and development as a key component in the success strategy.