While recent data suggests many managers aren't active in their employees' development, some organizations have made it a priority to help managers become coaches for their people.
By Mark McGraw
Soon after taking the reins as chairman and CEO of Deere & Co. in 2009, Samuel Allen presided over his first worldwide leadership meeting at the Moline, Ill.-based agricultural machinery manufacturer.
In concluding his first official address to the company's senior leaders, Allen introduced his professional coach, as Dave Whan, Deere's director of global talent development and HR strategy, recalls it.
"He said, 'Here's my coach, Janine, and if you ever have any feedback, you can always talk to her or to me.'
"That was profound," says Whan. "That drove home the point that our top leader accepted the idea of coaching, and that developing others is an important part of what our leaders are expected to do."
Imparting coaching skills to supervisors has been part of Deere's managerial training since the mid-'90s, says Whan, who joined the organization in 1996.
But the coaching concept "didn't really go mainstream" for at least 10 years, he adds. Getting managers' buy-in on a broader level took some doing.
"Years ago, coaching might have had a negative connotation, as if getting coached meant that you needed to be 'fixed,' " says Whan. "So we had to get in a positive mind-set. I mean, [professional golfer and 2015 Masters Tournament champion] Jordan Spieth has a swing coach. It's not about 'fixing.' It's about getting better."
Part of adopting a more positive outlook was embracing the neuroleadership model of coaching, says Whan.
About five years ago, Deere partnered with The NeuroLeadership Institute, a global research organization and "the pioneer of bringing neuroscience to leadership," according to the Institute.
In layperson's terms, neuroleadership's core principles are focused on "trying to move people, i.e., employees, into a positive state," says Whan. "The carrot and the stick doesn't work today, and we're trying to find motivation for why employees want to engage in particular tasks."
To date, about 300 Deere managers have undergone training through the institute to earn their coaching certificate, and "some of our managers say it's the most rigorous training we have," says Whan.
Groups of 12 to 15 managers participate in the 10- to 12-week class -- either in-person or virtually -- completing homework assignments, acting out coaching scenarios and practicing one-on-interactions. At the end of the course, managers must then coach two additional managers through the same process before earning their own certification.
"Then they're cut loose to do coaching work throughout the organization, wherever employees need coaching for a specific purpose," says Whan.
Once freshly minted as coaches, the goal for these managers is to help other employees develop to the point that they eventually become viable candidates for leadership roles throughout the enterprise, says Whan, "and help them to build a plan to get there."
Not every organization, however, apparently puts the same emphasis on helping managers improve their coaching skills as Deere does, at least according to Milwaukee-based Right Management data.
Right recently polled 616 North American workers, with 68 percent of them saying that their managers aren't actively engaged in the career development of their employees.
While many managers haven't yet reached world-class status as coaches, some organizations and their HR functions have reimagined their approach to manager training in recent years, to make coaching skills a crucial part of the training that supervisors receive, and to make their employees' professional development a key part of supervisors' jobs.
Short on Skills
With a job market that's loosening up and potential talent shortages looming, more employers would be wise to help managers become better coaches to their employees, or risk losing talented workers to organizations that will provide them with the kind of professional mentoring they crave.
Bruce Tulgan, founder of New Haven, Conn.-based management training and consulting company Rainmaker Thinking Inc., sees plenty of room for organizations and managers to improve in terms of providing this much-needed coaching to employees.
Since 1993, Rainmaker has conducted research based on interviews with more than 200,000 managers, says Tulgan, who estimates that nine out of 10 "fail to regularly and systematically engage" in a regular, structured, one-on-one dialogue with their direct reports.
"We've found that many leaders and managers don't spend enough time on making employees' expectations clear, collecting feedback, helping their people learn new tasks and responsibilities, providing enough recognition and rewards, and so on."
In other words, "if managers aren't doing enough regular coaching on the work itself, it doesn't surprise me at all that employees report their managers don't spend enough time coaching them on their career development," he says.
With regard to the Right Management poll, the percentage of managers struggling to communicate with direct reports about their career development "likely reflects the fact that many managers, if not most, do not know how to have this kind of conversation," says Lorraine Stomski, New York-based partner and head of Aon Hewitt's leadership-consulting practice.
"With many organizations flattening, opportunities to move into more senior-level roles are becoming tough to come by," Stomski says, "and managers are fearful that coaching someone around career paths means that there needs to be well-defined roles and opportunities. So they avoid the conversation." (See sidebar.)
Not that the blame should be solely placed on managers' shoulders, she adds.
"Many organizations don't have well-defined career paths, so, again, managers are often at a loss as to how to direct employees," she says.
Aon Hewitt has compiled a Top Companies for Leaders list each year since 2001, evaluating traits such as an organization's strength of leadership practices and culture, and leadership development on a global scale.
A key common characteristic shared by many of the 25 companies named to the 2014 list, says Stomski, is a knack for "assessing the whole leader," evaluating leaders' experiences, competencies and capacity for growth within the organization, for example.
A manager or leader's ability -- and willingness -- to communicate effectively and frequently with employees about their development should also be part of appraising a manager's potential, adds Tulgan.
"Otherwise, how can they provide good coaching, unless they're highly engaged in discussions about the work [their employees] are doing today, this week, this month?"
Coaching the Coaches
At Procter & Gamble, managers' coaching prowess has become a vital component of the core training that every P&G manager receives, says Laura Mattimore, vice president of talent at the Cincinnati-headquartered consumer-goods company.
Roughly two years ago, the company sought to revamp its performance-management approach to be more of an ongoing process in which managers take a more hands-on, coach-like role in employee development.
Thus, the PEAK performance concept -- Prioritize, Evaluate, Assess, Know (and Grow) -- was born. The new performance-management program, implemented in 2013, "is our way of defining the different elements of the performance-management cycle," says Mattimore. For managers, the most critical component of this cycle is "the key conversations that the manager and the employee need to have over the course of the year."
As the acronym indicates, PEAK focuses on four areas.
The "Prioritize" phase is "setting stretching but achievable goals," says Mattimore, "and teaching managers how to help employees focus on their most meaningful work." Second is the "Evaluate" stage, in which managers have an evaluation discussion on what and how results were achieved during the year. Managers evaluate individual team members' growth potential in the "Assess" phase and develop individual development plans at the final "Know and Grow" level.
"PEAK provides the framework for managers to become coaches," says Mattimore. "Our job is to provide the tools by which we can make sure the highest-quality conversations are taking place on those four subjects."
One way Mattimore and the HR team offer these tools is through a video series known as "A Peek Behind the Scenes of PEAK Performance."
On the heels of implementing PEAK, "we developed a series of workshops focused on managing others, enabling quality discussions throughout the various elements of the performance cycle," says Mattimore.
The 10- to 15-minute videos serve as the workshops' centerpiece.
In each video segment, actors, who write the scripts and play the parts of employees, act out a common coaching scenario -- such as a conversation on goal-setting or how to give effective feedback -- with the manager often "doing it ineffectively, providing too many goals or vague feedback, for instance," says Mattimore. At that point, the "director" intervenes, stops the scene, enters the frame and shows the "manager" how the situation should have been handled.
These coaching videos and corresponding workshops are part of P&G's broader, base-pyramid coaching model, she says.
The first of the pyramid's four levels are training and coaching opportunities, available to all employees in the form of a two-day workshop, including a coaching session with one of P&G's certified coaches.
The second level is strictly for managers, and includes New Manager, Emerging Leader, a two-day, in-person or online course for first-time managers that concentrates on coaching fundamentals such as the GROW model (Goals, Results, Options, Way Forward).
"Then you get into the executive-coaching-certification levels," says Mattimore. P&G, with help from Lee Hecht Harrison, offers the certification opportunity to senior to top-level HR managers, each of whom is trained by a certified executive coach, and must demonstrate and document coaching proficiency.
Once becoming experienced executive-level coaches, P&G "master-level" coaches can complete an additional curriculum, "so they can then train others, and help mentor our coaches within the organization," says Mattimore, noting that two P&G managers have achieved master-coach status, while three are in the process of completing their training. In total, P&G boasts 84 certified coaches and an additional 89 who are in the midst of the certification process.
Providing this type of consistent, comprehensive training to managers across multiple locations is indeed a challenge. Adding multiple countries and languages to the equation adds yet another degree of difficulty.
Singtel Telecommunications, a Singapore-based wireless and fixed-line communication service provider with four U.S. locations, has implemented a series of core programs across the organization, but has "made some adjustments, based on cultural requirements or the competency level of the existing managers," says Cara Reil, vice president of group talent management and development at Singtel.
"We're a global company, and some leaders manage global teams, [so] it is important that there's consistency in the program structure, so everyone is 'speaking the same language,' " says Reil. "But we allow for some flexibility in how the program is delivered [in order] to cater to local needs."
Singtel has tailored coaching scenarios for each country in which it operates. Take Asia, where "employees will tend to not openly question the decisions made by their leader," says Reil. "So we have managers focus on asking questions instead of just providing the answers."
One such initiative that Singtel has put in place across its business is The Leader as Coach program. Implemented in 2014, the program consists of three modules -- Coaching Conversations, Feedback Conversations and Courageous Conversations -- and was developed to provide leaders with skills to improve as coaches and better communicate with employees about their development.
More than 500 leaders have attended the course thus far, says Reil, noting that participants also form "coaching circles" between modules, where they can practice coaching skills, and are provided with examples of types of questions to ask in various scenarios with employees.
Of course, the organization encourages its 23,000 employees to take responsibility for their own career development, and to acquire the coaching skills that will, hopefully, someday benefit them in management positions with the company.
To help set young employees on this path, Singtel -- like P&G -- provides senior managers/coaches with coaches of their own.
"We've recognized a need to provide coaching for our young talent, i.e., management associates, to help assimilate into the organization," says Reil.
"We also have some seasoned leaders [who] wanted to transition into retirement," she says. "So we provided them with external coaching training [and the opportunity to earn] executive-coaching certificates, and they are now part-time coaches for our young talent."
To date, four Singtel staff members have completed the coaching-certification program. Internally, managers who serve in this type of coaching capacity are known as "talent builders," meaning that they regularly provide feedback to -- and support the development of -- Singtel employees, says Reil.
And, the "talent builder" designation must be earned, she adds.
For example, key-performance indicators for Singtel managers include talent retention, with managers expected to maintain a level of talent attrition that is 50 percent of the company's average or normal rate. For instance, if overall or average attrition is 8 percent, then their talent attrition must be less than 4 percent. In addition, at least 30 percent of the organization's talent pool "needs to move each year," says Reil, in the form of, say, a promotion, a lateral move or a new assignment. Employee-engagement target scores must be met on an annual basis as well.
Ultimately, the goals of such objectives -- and the aim of the Leader as Coach program -- are to "provide leaders with better skills to have conversations at every level," says Reil, "and to take more of a coaching [approach] than a directive- or task-based approach to conversations with their teams about their performance and growth."