ATD Blog

The Role of Managers in Coaching

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The previous article in this blog series explored how coaching must evolve to meet the demands of today’s work environment. Specifically, coaching cannot function as merely a managerial activity—instead it must leverage employees’ broader networks.

In this blog article, we examine the role that the manager must play in coaching to ensure maximum return on critical talent outcomes.

According to CEB research, three-in-four managers believe employee development is integral to their jobs, and on average 21 percent of a manager’s time is spent developing direct reports. Our research also shows that much of this is wasted effort, as less than half of employees (45 percent) feel that their managers are effective coaches.

Managers are a key piece of the coaching puzzle. To build effectiveness. the best L&D teams focus on increasing managers’ return on time spent developing direct reports—not how much time they spend. For example, they enable managers to coach employees on soft skills, not just job tasks.

We have identified the following as key competencies: teamwork, organizational awareness, influence, managing others, creativity, systems thinking, collaboration, adaptability, cross-functional expertise, and networking ability. These soft skills define performance today, and managers must actively coach employees to develop them.


L&D can assist managers in connecting employees to additional sources of support. Managers often have a wider network than their reports and should use their connections for the development of their team.

For example, we work with a financial services L&D team that helps its managers identify networking partners for their direct reports based on commonality of experience and observed success, rather than degree of expertise. The company found that it is easier for employees to coach others when they have worked on a similar problem and can easily understand the context of the problem with which their colleague is struggling. Traditional experts may lack these contextual cues, which makes it harder for them to teach a solution.


Finally, L&D can help managers deliver coaching content that aligns with employees’ daily work. Day-to-day work is not just one opportunity for managers to develop employees; it’s the best opportunity. According to our research, on-the-job learning drives nearly three times more performance improvement than formal training approaches.

For example, managers at a leading aerospace firm use a 15-minute action planning meeting at the start of each shift to do three things: create an opportunity for active listening, exchange constructive feedback across the team; and identify solutions to emerging challenges in a collaborative way.

Check back next week for the third article in this blog series, in which we’ll examine the second of the three critical coaching connections, Peers as Critical Coaching Partners. Also, learn more about how leading L&D teams enable greater returns on employee development at

About the Author

As Talent Solutions Architect at CEB, Jean Martin directs the development of talent management solutions and insights across the company with heads of human resources at some of the largest global organizations. Specifically, Jean spends time working on issues relating to driving breakthrough organizational performance, and assessing, engaging and retaining the best employees.

About the Author

Thomas Handcock, is senior director at CEB. A researcher at heart, and passionate about learning, Handcock is focused on working with CEB’s global network of clients to unlock the potential of their employees and leaders. His research on areas like on-the-job learning, coaching, training design, L&D strategy, and staff capability, and the hundreds of discussions he has each year with L&D executives and their teams, have only served to reinforce his belief that human capital development is one of the most powerful levers the modern enterprise has at its disposal.

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