Why Managers Don’t Coach, Part 1

As a kid, I didn’t participate in many organized sports. I played Little League Baseball for two or three seasons, but don’t recall much about it. I do remember the summer my parents signed me up to play soccer. I only played one year. My fascination with the game quickly waned because of one simple fact – we didn’t have a coach.

We had one at the beginning of the season, but for some reason he quit after only a few practices. Someone might have stepped up to serve as the official coach of record, but we never received any “coaching.” For the bulk of the season, our parents would drop us off and we’d just mill around on the field until the final whistle blew and we ran to the concession stand for our free snow cone. It wasn’t any fun because, without an active coach, we didn’t develop as players or as a team. And we certainly didn’t win.

I believe that one of the most important duties of a manager (if not the most important) is the development of their staff. The primary way this takes place is through regular coaching. Unfortunately, many managers fail to take advantage of the opportunities to maximize the performance of their team by engaging in this critical activity.

Over the years, I’ve heard a number of explanations (I call them excuses) as to why coaching gets placed on the back burner. Through the next few posts, I’ll share some of these excuses and provide some easy-to-implement steps for moving past them. So let’s get started.

Excuse #1 – “I don’t need to coach. They went to training, so they know what they need to do.”

Too many managers falsely believe that sending an employee to a training class will magically result in a significant change in performance. These managers are in for a big disappointment, however, because training alone rarely impacts an individual’s ability or desire to perform. Training is only one tool. And like most jobs, you need more than one tool to do it right.

Millions of dollars are invested in training every year. In fact, developing and delivering training is a big part of what I do for a living. But without the benefit of coaching, most training programs fail. Sadly, when this happens, the blame is placed either on the training curriculum, the trainer or the employee.

Training is intended to provide individuals with the information necessary to perform a certain task. But the ultimate goal is really sustained behavioral change. Following the training class, you want the participant to perform a certain way – to either modify their current behavior, or add a new set of behaviors to their current job role. Training alone simply cannot achieve this goal because information alone is not enough to cause behavior change to take place. As I mentioned in an earlier post on interviewing, there’s a difference between knowledge and skill.

Even if an employee is excited about the material being presented, they won’t remember everything they’ve been exposed to during the class. Studies show that as little as 10% of the material delivered during a typical corporate training session is retained by the time an employee returns to their usual work environment. There are ways to improve this, but you’ll never hit 100%. And remember the goal here. It’s not knowledge retention. It’s modified behavior.

No, transforming knowledge into skill takes time and repetition. For knowledge to evolve into demonstrated skill, it has to be put into practice. And to maximize the potential, this needs to happen as soon as possible. Ideally, the employee will begin implementing what they’ve learned immediately after the class is over. But too many things – customer demands, deadlines, interruptions, peer pressure, and even old habits – present barriers to the immediate integration of the new information into existing work practices.

This is where coaching comes in. Coaching provides the employee with the accountability, motivation and support necessary for them to first begin using the newly acquired knowledge and then to continue down the path toward skill mastery. Here are some steps you can take as a coach to help your employees down that path.

• Perform a training debrief. You ought to know what the training class is intended to teach before sending your team member to it. Therefore, this debrief isn’t for you to gain an understanding of what the course was about. The purpose of this meeting is to ascertain what the employee actually learned. Ideally, the two of you discussed what you wish for them to gain from the session before they attended. Now that the training is over you need to reinforce, or reintroduce, the concepts you feel are important.

• Set some expectations. Let the employee know which aspects of the training you want to see incorporated into their work routine. Reiterate why it’s important that they begin to modify their performance to meet the standards set forth in the class. Ask them what they feel they need in order to be successful and communicate what additional steps you will take to support them.

• Follow up. Especially during the period immediately following the training class, it’s critical to follow up with employees to make sure they are working to meet your expectations. This accountability will help them to focus on their behavior early – while the training is still fresh in their minds. Ignore them during this important window and old habits will quickly reassert themselves and any benefit gained from training will be lost. I’ll present some specific follow up methods in a later post.

Training is an important part of any organization’s strategy. Get the most out of your training investment by coupling it with a solid coaching program. Follow these simple steps and you’ll be well on your way.

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