Coaching vs. Managing

Coaching vs. Managing: Developing Your Organizational Coaching Culture

Companies are looking for managers to get better at developing people, not just managing them. This shift is geared toward improving feedback to be more consistent and frequent between employees from managers. 

It’s fair to say that most people do come to work and they want to do a good job. So how do we keep ramping that up? By coaching your employees, however, most companies need some guidance to wrap their heads around the idea of coaching culture. This concept has been on the uptick over the last several years.

 What’s So Hard About Coaching?

Coaching culture has garnered this reputation for impacting performance. It’s the next big strategy. More and more organizations are investing in coaching skills for managers. Over the last five years or more, companies have paid a lot of money to train managers how to coach, but they’re still struggling to achieve change in how managers actually engage in coaching.

The problem for most organizations is twofold. 

First, results always come first and hold the most sway when managers are evaluated on their performance. Did the team deliver on that expectation? Did they reach the target dollar amount in revenue or cost savings? Did they implement quickly and on target? Did they reach their goals? The qualitative data always trumps development efforts. 

Second, managers are rarely held accountable for coaching their employees. They talk a lot about it, and they use the word coaching, but there’s little accountability actually engaging in it. So there’s no doubt that managers are either having difficulty understanding the difference between coaching and managing or are simply choosing not to do it consistently or with any frequency.. 

The bottom line –  there’s increased conversation about coaching, but the conversations aren’t making that big of a difference.

There have been a few studies that analyze the effectiveness of coaching skills for managers and overall the results aren’t great. 

Organizations think it will be tremendously different when they start implementing a coaching culture. They’ve seen it work with external coaches. It’s a proven method and by providing the tools to managers they rightfully think they’ll get amazing results, but it’s proving to be somewhat disappointing when you look at the results of their actual internal coaching effort and the underwhelming return on investment.

Part of it is a semantics issue, which is impacting the expectations and the results that they want. For the most part, people see ‘“coaching” as feedback skills, and those terms have started to be used interchangeably.They might be getting better at feedback, but it really doesn’t translate into performance development or significant improvement. Employees might be getting better information about what they’re doing or not doing, but that doesn’t mean they agree with what they’re being told, or that they’ve been given any support or direction to improve on it.

Coaching Culture is Not the Same as Feedback

Coaching and feedback are not the same things. For example, a lot of large companies have invested in the GROW model training for managers:





It’s meant to simplify the coaching into a conversation that targets the goal, change, or improvement against the reality. What are you doing, and what can be implemented or changed? What are the options? What are the steps for the actual change? Do you, and your team, have the willpower it takes?

There are certain things about this process that initiate a huge conversation. Some managers are intimidated by what that model is asking them to do. It feels messy and time-consuming, and maybe it’s more information than they’re interested in knowing or spending time on. Especially when the pressure organizationally is more about the results not the development–the “what” not the “how.”

The important question is, who owns the coaching culture? Is it the coachee? Is it the manager who owns the coaching? Responsibility is important because this process can feel overwhelming. If you have multiple employees, it could be exceptionally daunting. There’s all this other work that needs to get done, and the temptation to return to managing is real. It’s easier to tell somebody to do something, rather than having a conversation that will motivate them and potentially change their perception of the work they’re doing.

They’ve got to be willing participants. That’s the first role of coaching when you come in from the outside. You can’t start with somebody that is disengaged, because chances are the coaching is too little too late. If you’re looking for managers to engage development, they need a mindset and a belief in the value of it first. You’ve got to have willing participants. They’ve got to be willing to take the time and see it as a l priority. 

The Dilemma of the Internal Coach

One of the issues is that people always want to do it internally. Of course, if possible, you absolutely should. However, especially in big companies, confidentiality and the sharing of information of coaching engagements must be addressed.

With an external coach there’s a release valve there for people to be able to speak their mind, to really get to some of the things that need to be dealt with. Whereas when you’re trying to do that internally, confidentiality can create an issue. For example, if somebody you’re working with says something that could potentially be an HR issue, what then is your obligation to say something to HR? It can get pretty mucky, internally. But the whole idea of the coaching is to have an open dialogue. 

To be able to have open dialogue for topics of a more difficult level, managers need to break through the uncomfortable, unfamiliar level first. Usually, after a company has used an external coach, they’ll want to find out what they can do on their own. If you’ve had good external coaches that have made an impact on the business, it’s a natural progression to want to run it internally.

Employees want more engagement relative to their skill development, as opposed to just being sent for training. Similarly, leadership doesn’t want another no-impact program to add to the budget.  However, they’ll buy-in to coaching efforts as an investment in their management development. Why? Because coaching is personalized and very targeted to specific roles and circumstances, which training programs don’t always provide.

If as a manager you start getting good as an internal coach, it creates a supportive, disciplined environment. It makes it easier when you get frustrated, stuck, or stymied. You’ve got an internal structure to pull a coach in when there’s a problem with a team. 

When we compare coaching to managing, managing is really about the work, tasks, and projects. It’s about setting the expectations, modifying the expectations, giving feedback about how you’re doing against those expectations. Putting that into a basketball metaphor, managing is more like the scoreboard and the referee. How are we doing? What’s the score? Are we fouling out? Are we playing by the rules? 

Coaching, on the other hand, is the conversation that takes place during the timeout to evaluate the situations and strategize the improvements to get better results in the moment. 

When you call that time-out, in less than a minute, everyone agrees and makes the appropriate changes. Coaching culture is disciplined ownership of the input provided. It’s the feedback, but it’s also the acknowledgment and the initiative of the player to take on the subsequent actions and engage the change.

A lot of businesses can do the feedback, but it’s the discipline of engaging the change that generally misses the mark. Feedback is paramount to that coaching relationship: being able to listen, engage, and provide notes for people’s personal development. 

To get ownership of the coaching, you have to understand the “why” of their organization’s desire to move into a coaching culture. Why is your organization doing it? Are they doing it because it’s the flavor of the week? Are they doing it because they want to really shift the organization and move the level of their management staff in terms of their conversational skills? You have to be fully engaged in the internal processes. 

Keeping the Momentum 

If you employ accountability for coaching, you’re probably not employing accountability for managing. If you’re going to shift to a coaching culture, the only way you’re going to get there is to deal with your accountability problems first, because that discipline and accountability is as much a coaching skill as anything else. Usually, that’s why you pay a coach from the outside to come in as they are more likely to hold the proverbial feet to the fire. 

Part of the coaching experience is knowing the rest of the tools in addition to coaching. Learning the communication styles, team behaviors, emotional intelligence, and how to empower others to own their work. 

There are so many pieces that have to be in place to actually make it work, and make it work well. Organizations that get it are able to step back and plan for the transformational shift. It’s not a one-and-done thing. There has to be process and rigor behind it. What is the benefit to your organization to go down this path? When you’re clear on why you’re doing something, it’s easier to put the pieces in place. 

For more on coaching culture, check out the OT Kung Fu Podcast.

Jen is the owner of Management Possible® focused on training and coaching multi-level management and leadership individuals and teams nationally and globally. Sandi is the owner of Satori®  Consulting inc. a global consulting firm focused on helping organizations solve complex problems in strategy, leadership and governance.