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How to... train managers as coaches

Coaching is frequently recognised as a key tool in helping individuals, teams and organisations to improve performance and develop skills. However, the cost of external coaches is increasingly beyond the budget of many companies, while the more affordable option of developing internal coaches is too time-intensive. But Shaun Lincoln explains how to develop line managers as coaches to achieve cost-effective benefits in today's economically uncertain times.

1 Set out a clear case

Explain to managers why you think they should add coaching skills to their existing toolkit. Tell them about the difference it will make for them and their direct reports and the results they are likely to see. This should include clear business and personal benefits that managers can relate to.

2 Keep it informal

Coaching through a manager is informal and can be used in everyday conversations as and when useful. It often takes the form of asking questions rather than telling someone what to do. In the same way that managers don't tell their team they are leading them, they don't need to say when they are coaching them.

3 Demystify the process

To ensure people are not overwhelmed by the idea of coaching, present it as just one more tool in a manager's toolkit. To get them started, encourage managers to recognise what already works in terms of engaging, motivating and managing their staff. Ask them to identify how coaching can add to this and fill any skills gaps. For example, ask them: what is the best way to appreciate top performers? Or, how would you give cautious performers confidence to take on more responsibility?

4 Focus on what works

Make sure initial coaching training is practical, relevant and produces immediate results that managers can use as examples and share with each other. During training use real situations for coaching conversations rather than made-up role-plays. This will help managers develop their coaching skills confidently in a safe environment.

5 Build in sustainability

Make the initial training as short as possible, ideally one or two days maximum. Bring the group back together after six to eight weeks to review their progress and share and learn from successes. Use this session to ask managers to highlight any tangible returns on investment they've made through coaching, as well as making it an opportunity to share tips and techniques. Ideally this process will run for six to nine months with managers meeting for a half-day every two months.

6 Emphasise success

Make a point of highlighting successes every time the managers come back together, and at a final review event. Include feedback from staff on how coaching has made a difference for them. Ask, if appropriate, for staff to provide examples of how this type of coaching has increased their motivation, communication, morale and results. Staff surveys are usually the easiest way to do this.

7 Coaching is not for everyone

Be clear about when to coach and when not to coach. As a guide, outline the situations that are best suited to coaching. Pilot schemes are a good way to start as enthusiasm for coaching in an organisation often develops virally via word of mouth. Managers are more likely to be convinced that this is the tool for them if they hear colleagues talking about how it has made a difference in their team or department.

Key points

- Be clear about why you want to use coaching. This will help to avoid accusations that it is a fad
- Show managers how it will benefit them by increasing motivation, confidence and results
- Focus on simple tools that can be used every day
- Build in sustainability by encouraging managers to share tips
- Make managers coaching advocates - on the organisation's intranet, in lunch sessions and as coaching champions.