Five Steps for Managers to Improve Their Coaching Success

Companies want managers who will build relationships with their employees, give them feedback, coach and develop them and continually recognize them for their achievements.  The once-a-year performance discussion is not sufficient in a business world of constant change. The problem for managers is that they are too busy with the constant change and pressures of their organizations to be good coaches. And, for the managers who are coaching, too few of them are good at it.

One survey of HR leaders found that they expect managers to spend 36% of their time developing subordinates, but a survey of managers showed that the actual amount of time they spend on it averages about 9%.[i]

The best coaching managers are the ones that realize they don’t have all the answers their employees need. Instead of coaching employees themselves for every issue, they connect their employees with experts who can provided valuable information and coaching.

Gartner Research surveyed 7,300 employees and managers across a variety of industries to find out what the best managers are doing to develop their employees. They followed up their survey by interviewing more than 100 HR executives and surveying another 225 HR executives.

Gartner Research identified four distinct coaching profiles[ii]:

  1. Teaching Managers coach managers based on the managers knowledge and experience, providing advice and personally directing development.
  2. Always-on Managers provide continual coaching, stay on top of employees’ development, and give feedback across a range of skills. They treat coaching as a daily part of their job.
  3. Connector Managers give targeted feedback in their areas of expertise. Otherwise, they connect employees with others on the team or elsewhere in the organization who are better suited to the coaching. They spend more time than the other three types assessing the skills, needs, and interests of their employees, and they recognize that many skills are best taught by people other than themselves.
  4. Cheerleader Managers take a hands-off approach, delivering positive feedback and putting employees in charge of their development. They are available and supportive, but they are not as proactive as the other types of managers when it comes to developing employees’ skills.

The most common coaching profile is the Cheerleader Managers, which accounted for 29% of the managers in the Gartner research. The least common was the Teaching Managers, which accounted for 22% of the managers, but the coaching profile that was most successful was the Connector profile. I will explain further.

Gartner researchers found that there is little correlation between time spent coaching and employee performance. Effectiveness comes from quality of coaching rather than the quantity. They also learned that Always-on Managers are doing more harm than good. Their employees performed worse than the employees of the other three coaching profiles. The Always-on Managers were the only coaching profile whose employees’ performance diminished because of the coaching.

Why? First, because their style was overwhelming to employees. Second, because they spent less time assessing what skills the employees needed to upgrade, and tended to coach on topics that were less relevant to employees’ real needs. Third, they often failed to recognize the limits of their expertise. According to Jaime Roca of Gartner Research, “The manager doesn’t know the solution to whatever the problem is, and he or she is essentially winging it and providing misguided information.”[iii]

The employees of Connector managers had the highest performance. These employees were three times as likely as subordinates of the other coaching profile managers to be high performers. Coaching managers appreciate that they do not have all the expertise their employees need, especially in a world with changing processes, technologies and discoveries. So, they bring in experts or refer their employees to experts as the need arises. This is what managers and coaches do in sports. Head coaches may not be experts in conditioning, but they bring in conditioning experts to get the players into great shape for long seasons and to avoid injuries.

Managers who cheerlead, want to coach on everything, or only coach on their expertise sometimes struggle adapting the Connector style. They may have learned that being in charge and giving orders is the manager’s role. They may fear that their lack of expertise is a sign of weakness. They need to spend more time on understanding the development needs of their employees, and less time on the frequency of these conversations.

The first step for managers seeking to improve their coaching is to realize that they don’t have all the answers to every employee development need and it is OK to find another coaching resource. But managers do have the opportunity to hold meaningful discussions with their employees to understand their development needs and to put in place, together, a thoughtful plan they can act on to make significant improvements to performance and employee self-worth.

In addition to speaking with employees about their views on their development needs, managers should also be cognizant of the feedback from their teams about each employee and input from their clients. In addition, managers should look at the performance metrics for the team. Where are the areas of strength? Where are the areas in obvious need of improvement?

With this understanding, managers can have a more informed and in-depth discussion with their team and with each individual to identify the areas for improvement, which goals to set for improvement, and who might be the best coaches for the needed skills. (Or if there is a pervasive need such as new software or technology, which training resource).

I have found that the GROW model provides managers with an easy-to-use set of questions and process to have this discussion and to achieve excellent outcomes.

The GROW Model is an acronym for Goal, Reality, Options, and Will. Here are some phrases to help understand each step in the Model:

  • “G” Establish the Goal
  • “R” Examine the current Reality
  • “O” Examine the Options
  • “W” Establish the “Will”

The GROW model was initially developed in sports coaching by Graham Alexander, Alan Fine, and Sir John Whitmore and was adapted to business. It is an ideal model for connector coaches because it provides the manager the steps to understand the reality, identify the goal, discuss the options to overcome the development issue, including identifying other coaches than the manager, and establishing the will to move forward and be successful.

The GROW Model provides the remaining four of five steps for managers to coach and improve their employees and team performance. Here is a summary of how to work through each step.

  1. Establish the Goal: Work with the team or individual to identify the behavior or skill to improve upon. Once the improvement areas are identified, the individual or team should use the SMART goal format to write their development goal. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-specific. In writing the goal, be sure to identify the conditions that show how the individual or team has achieved the development goal. What will have been learned and how does it show up in performance metrics?
  2. Examine the Current Reality: This is an essential step as too often people may believe the problem is in one area to find it is really in another area. It is useful to use questions like journalists do: the  four “Ws” and “H”. Who, what, where, when and how?  Another good question to ask is what steps have you taken to improve the goal?  Does this goal conflict with other goals? What obstacles have you encountered?  It is always good to examine the results of performance metrics, feedback from surveys and whatever other performance data or analytics you and the team may have.
  3. Explore the Options: Questions here include, what else could you do? What if a constraint was removed, would it make a difference? What resources, training, or individual can help you learn the necessary skill? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each option? What do you need to stop doing to achieve the goal? What factors or considerations will you use to weigh and decide upon your options?
  4. Establish the Will: Here, you need to get the individual or team to commit to specific actions to achieve the goal. Question here include, what will you do now and by when? Then what will you do? What could stop you from moving forward? How will you overcome this? How will you stay motivated? When and how often will we review your progress?

In fast-changing business environments, companies need managers who can diagnose the development needs of their teams and individual team members. Then, those same managers need to bring the right development resources — including training, podcasts, and coaches — to make timely improvements to skills.

Most managers can’t do it by themselves. They need to be Connectors.

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and is a Managing Partner of InnovationOne. He consults and provides “hands-on” support for innovation, global talent strategies, developing agile leaders and teams, and other strategic initiatives. Need help developing managers? I am certified in the GROW Model. See my manager workshops, coaching approach and other training at


[i] “Managers Can’t Be Great Coaches All By Themselves: The Best Ones Are Connectors,” (May-June, 2018) The Harvard Business Review. Pages, 22-23.

[ii] “Coaching vs. Connecting: What the Best ManagersDo to Develop Their Employees Today,” Gartner Research White Paper.

[iii] “Managers Can’t Be Great Coaches All By Themselves: The Best Ones Are Connectors,” (May-June, 2018) The Harvard Business Review. Pages, 22-23.


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