The Coaching Approach: Key Findings

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

ATD Research recently completed a comprehensive study on the use of coaching by managers. This summer, 575 learning leaders from a wide range of industries completed an online survey on the status of coaching in their organizations. We also had numerous conversations with insightful and passionate learning executives about how the learning function can prepare and encourage managers to coach.

What exactly is coaching?

The report, The Coaching Approach: A Key Tool for Successful Managers, defines coaching as a process characterized by a manager proactively listening to an employee, asking nondirective questions, and delivering actionable feedback. Ideally, coaching empowers the employee to take action toward performance and self-directed development.

Not surprising, analysis of the survey responses found that more than six in 10 learning leaders agreed that coaching contributed greatly to improvements in each of these critical areas:

  • communication between managers and employees
  • employee engagement
  • transfer of skills to performance
  • productivity
  • speed of skill development.

However, despite their overwhelming belief that coaching is connected to higher organizational capacity, only about one-quarter of survey participants reported that their own organizations heavily incorporate coaching into their talent development portfolio. In fact, almost half reported that their organizations incorporated it only to a small percent or not at all.
What does this mean?

Why don’t more organizations emphasize coaching? And how does a learning leader in an organization that doesn’t emphasize coaching develop and champion managers-as-coaches?

Some answers to the first question emerged when we reviewed the comments submitted by survey participants. Several learning leaders lamented the lack of support for coaching from senior leadership. Other learning leaders pointed out that both managers and employees may be resistant to coaching because it is seen as a corrective process for underperformers.


One leader wrote, “Much more can be done to elevate the importance of coaching, but the term has a negative connotation of being for those individuals who need help in problem situations or for those in a rut.”

To address the second question, ATD Research turned to learning leaders at organizations that have successfully launched formal coaching training programs. One learning executive we spoke to was Colin Pitcairn, the learning and development manager for Keller North America, which recently started training all managers as coaches.

Pitcairn described how Keller’s senior leaders were introduced to the company’s coaching program through a clear, simple one-day workshop. He also echoed the importance of removing any stigmas or fear surrounding coaching: “The goal is to make coaching part of the vocabulary and not a secret to individual contributors. We don’t want coaching to be perceived as something that is ‘being done’ to them.”

Want to learn more?

I encourage everyone to join us for a free webcast hosted by ATD Research on November 18, 2014, at 12:00 p.m.. We will discuss the report’s findings and feature insights from Colin Pitcairn, Learning and Development Manager, Keller North America.

The full research report, The Coaching Approach: A Key Tool for Successful Managers, is available for purchase online. Members have complimentary access to the whitepaper version of the report. 

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About the Author
Maria Ho is the manager of ATD research services. She serves as ATD's senior research program strategist and designer and provides oversight and direction for all of ATD's internal and external, industry specific, and market research services. Prior to joining ATD, Maria was a public policy researcher, data analyst, and writer at the Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, D.C.
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