Why Managers Don’t Coach, Part 4

A couple of weeks ago I worked with a manager to develop a coaching plan for her team. We spent quite a bit of time identifying goals, skill gaps and specific steps to help each of her employees improve their performance. She was excited about the work we had done and expressed a great deal of confidence in her ability to carry out the plan. The other day I called her up to see how things were going. Right off the bat, I could tell things hadn’t gone quite as well as they could. The level of excitement in her voice was significantly lower than it had been when we first drafted the plan.

She proceeded to tell me that based on our plan, she had held a series of short meetings with her staff to gain their buy-in and begin the process of working on each employee’s development plan. So far, so good. But the next week someone called in sick so she had to cover for them. And then she got a call that she wasn’t expecting and had to deal with that. And something came up at home that demanded her attention. And so the story continued for several minutes. She didn’t have time.

Excuse #4: “I don’t have time to coach.”

This is an all too familiar excuse. I’ve used it and I’m sure you have too at one time or another. In fact it’s so familiar that everyone uses it for a variety of reasons. The lack of time seems to get in the way of many good intentions. We’re all busy. We all have a number of things that require our attention, and inevitably some of it gets pushed to the side.

But this excuse is rarely about time. It’s about priorities.

When something is really important, we find the time to address it. We make the time. We push other, less important, activities to the back burner so that this task gets crossed off the list. In order to prevent this particular excuse from hindering your coaching efforts, you have to make it a priority. Here are five steps to conquering the time/priority issue.

1. Call the spade a spade. The first step is to honestly assess the priority of your coaching activities in relation to the other items on your to-do list. Laura Vanderkam suggests replacing the phrase “I don’t have time” with “It’s not a priority.” If you’re comfortable with how that makes you feel, then perhaps time really is the issue. If not, you need to …

2. Get your priorities in order. I have a hundred items on my to-do list, with some being more important than others. For every high-priority item, there are 10 low priority activities. But it’s the low priority items that seem to eat up my time. In my quest to mark things off my list, I focus on the quick-and-easy, low-priority items. At the end of the day, I’ve done a lot of work, but often feel like I haven’t accomplished much. I’ve found that I need to tackle the high priority items first, otherwise I’ll get sucked into focusing on the little things and putting out fires.

3. Schedule it or delegate it. The high priority items on my to-do list are typically complex, requiring more time and physical or mental energy. As a result, my tendency is to procrastinate – to put off the more challenging tasks in favor of the easy stuff while proclaiming how busy I am. I’ve learned that there are some things I can delegate to other members of the team. They may not complete the job the way I would have, but if I can live with the result, it’s worth letting go in order to free up time in my day for the items that do require my involvement – like coaching. Important items that only I can address go into my calendar. This prevents others from scheduling meetings or other activities that could pull me away from the important task. Scheduling the activity keeps it in front of me and I’m less likely to forget about it.

4. Pile it up or spread it out. If you have several employees to coach, staring at a long list of activities can be overwhelming. Knowing how you work best can help you manage the work load. If you’re a “pull the Band-Aid off nice and slow” kind of person, tackle your coaching in small chunks. Don’t schedule three employee one-on-ones in the same day. If you prefer to yank the bandage off with one quick yank, schedule a day to focus on nothing but your one-on-ones.

5. Use the buddy system. It’s easy to blow off an activity when there’s no accountability. To make sure you don’t postpone or ignore a coaching activity, let someone else know what you’re planning to do. Find another manager and agree to serve as each other’s accountability partner. Share your planned coaching activities and then call each other up to see how things went. Knowing someone else is expecting a report on your progress will help keep you focused on the right things.

Coaching is a critical leadership activity. It can’t be accomplished haphazardly or on the fly. Effective coaching requires a good measure of discipline and time management. I hope these tips help you give coaching the priority, and therefore the time, it deserves.

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