Managers coaching staff - what can go wrong and what to do about it

Aly McNicoll

According to a recent Chartered Institute of Personnel Development survey in the UK, most coaching is delivered by managers, but NZ organisations we talk to are struggling to get managers to play this vital role. This article identifies common barriers to managers coaching and suggests common-sense solutions to overcome them.

So what are the benefits of getting managers coaching?

Resourcing is the number one benefit.  Funding external coaching for all those who need it is a challenge and organisations are increasingly relying on the impact that one to one coaching has on creating high performance cultures.  Managers, being part of the system, often have the power to support people with the changes they decide to make. Getting to know staff at a much deeper level has been cited by managers as a key benefit. Having a coach who knows the big picture can add power to the coaching process and ensure individual and team goals are aligned with the direction the organization is heading. Building a learning culture in the team or organization means people are constantly reflecting on the results they are getting and learning from their own and others' experiences.

What are the barriers to managers coaching and what do we need to do about it?

There are several common issues that need to be overcome for successful coaching by managers to occur.


There is an inherent conflict of interest for managers coaching their own staff. 'Their problem is my problem' one manager said to us when asked how easy it was to adopt a neutral position as a coach for a staff member.


The power imbalance in the relationship affects the levels of trust and rapport required for constructive coaching conversations to take place.


Most managers find it hard to dedicate the time for regular coaching conversations with staff.

Lack of Reward

Failing to reward managers for spending time coaching means this aspect of their work may fall down the list when the going gets tough. Making coaching count is essential if we want managers to make it a priority.

Follow the Leader

Most managers we speak to are expected to coach but don’t always receive good coaching themselves.

Solution focused

Managers are problem solvers and sometimes find it hard to step back.

Lack of skills and confidence

The one-off ‘sheep dip’ approach to training is not enough.

Reputation drag

The opposite to the 'halo effect', reputation drag refers to the inability of managers to observe positive changes in behaviour or competency in those who report to them. Recent research from analysing 360 degree feedback results has shown that those senior to an employee are less likely to see improvements than peers or subordinates.

So what do organizations need to do to overcome the barriers and maximize the benefits of managers coaching?

Training is essential

Obviously, managers who are expected to coach must be trained in the skills to do so. The UK standard is 5 days initial training for workplace coaching skills. Also consider training staff in how to best use coaching for their own development.

Follow up and support for coaches

Get managers together on a regular basis to review their coaching practice and learn from their own and each others' experience.

Give them good coaching

Ensure that managers get good coaching and support from their manager. Have a cadre of master coaches in the organization who have the expertise to support coaching practice, trouble shoot and ‘coach the coaches’.

Make coaching count

Reward coaching in the performance appraisal system, hold people accountable for coaching staff, have it in job descriptions and see it as an essential part of the role. Measure and treasure the real results of the coaching process by using good evaluation processes. Show the benefits of investing time in staff by tracking improved results, retention rates, engagement surveys and career development paths.

In summary, getting managers coaching takes more than a simple one-off training approach. Organisations need to provide follow up and support if they want to reap the benefits of this powerful professional development process and not give up at the first hurdle. Creating a coaching culture may take more than one attempt and is of course a process of continuous improvement.

The NZCMC has a Managers as Coaches training programme to ensure managers have the skills and confidence to adopt a coaching approach to managing staff as well as a 5 day certificated course for workplace coaches.

Aly McNicoll

Recent Articles