Winter 2021
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CTDO Magazine

Not All Coaching Skills Are Created Equal

Friday, January 15, 2021

To establish a strong coaching culture, prioritize training for managers on coaching competencies.

Companies want coaching. According to the Association for Talent Development’s recent report Managers as Coaches: Boosting Employee and Organizational Performance, 90 percent said they want supervisors to coach direct reports.


The allure is obvious. Three-quarters of the 412 responding organizations associated a strong coaching culture with better employee performance, and more than half tied it to better retention.

However, nearly all admitted that building a coaching culture is challenging. In fact, all but 5 percent of respondents said that their organization has faced at least some barriers to effective coaching, with more than half citing a lack of coaching skills among managers as a key issue.

Part of the problem may stem from the way some employers define coaching and the influence those definitions have on how the companies develop managers’ coaching skills. And experts agree—for the report, researchers interviewed three experts: the author of a book on coaching, a talent development leader who has built a successful managers-as-coaches program, and an ATD Expert Coach program facilitator.

They point out that too many organizations teach managers that coaching means having regular meetings with direct reports to give feedback and guidance on how to improve their performance. They characterize that approach as manager driven.

Instead, the experts advise companies to cultivate a performer-driven approach, because employees are more likely to follow through on aspirations and action plans that they create for themselves. Employers should promote coaching that involves using powerful questions and nurture a safe environment that facilitates direct reports’ ability to identify their own challenges and solutions.

Managers as Coaches findings support the experts’ insights. The report identifies seven critical coaching skills. Of those, two—helping coachees develop their own action plans and solutions; and ensuring a positive, safe coaching environment—are capabilities that managers are least likely to receive training on.

And while training managers on any of the seven skills has a statistically significant connection to better organizational performance, implying the connections would likely appear again if the study were repeated, training on those two skills made the greatest difference in an organization’s probability of being a high performer.


It’s clear from the data that employers should prioritize those two skills in manager training if they want to realize the benefits of a coaching culture. They can start by covering them in a mandatory training course early in each manager’s tenure.

The report also found that when organizations required all managers (internally promoted and externally hired) to undergo coaching skills training within six months of starting to manage others, they were significantly more likely to be high performers than those that did not.

Source: Managers as Coaches: Boosting Employee and Organizational Performance, Association for Talent Development, 2020

Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

About the Author

Alex Moore is a research analyst for the Association for Talent Development. Alex returned to ATD in 2019 after spending a year living and working in Chile. Prior to moving abroad, Alex was a writer/editor for ATD working on TD magazine, a research coordinator at ATD, and a customer care advocate at ATD. He graduated from Virginia Tech in 2015 with a B.A. in English.

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