Team leaders are increasingly expected to coach their team members. But can they do this effectively? Is “more coaching” better in all circumstances? Let’s see what the research can tell us about coaching frequency, skills, and effectiveness in organizational settings.
Well-trained external coaches appear to get positive results
There is some evidence that coaching can be beneficial. For example, Tim Theeboom and his colleagues at the University of Amsterdam statistically combined results from 18 empirical studies where coaching was provided by professionally-trained, external coaches. They found that, in decreasing order of impact, coaching improved goal-regulation, performance/skills, attitudes, well-being, and coping with demands. While we know that some external coaching efforts fail, it appears that, on average, well-trained external coaches can make a difference. But what about internal coaches, such as team leaders and managers?
Sometimes coaching frequency matters
Xiangmin Liu from Penn State University and Rosemary Batt from Cornell examined data from over 2,300 call center employees and their respective supervisors. Their study, published in Personnel Psychology, found that greater amounts of supervisory coaching was associated with improved performance (call handling time). One hour’s worth of coaching was shown to improve performance by slightly less than ½%, with an estimated a return on investment of 138%. So in this study, which examined experienced workers (their average tenure was 10 years) performing highly standardized tasks, additional coaching time translated into small but meaningful performance improvements. Did the coach’s “skill” matter? Liu and Batt didn’t examine coaching skill, but a new study did.
But managerial coaching skill is more important than frequency
Jason Dahling from the College of New Jersey, and Samantha Tayler, Samantha Chau, and Stephen Dwight from Novo Nordisk recently conducted a study in a global pharmaceutical company. They examined data from over 1200 sales reps and their respective district managers to assess whether coaching frequency and/or managerial coaching skills were related to sales performance.
Their results, also published in Personnel Psychology, suggest that managerial coaching skill trumps coaching frequency. Sales professionals who worked for managers with greater coaching skills (as measured in an independent skills assessment) demonstrated improved sales goal attainment over time, accounting for about 19% of the variance. This was true regardless of coaching frequency. Perhaps skilled managers can gauge the amount of coaching each employee needs.
Employees who were coached by managers who possessed less coaching skill demonstrated lower sales performance, and the performance of those who received more frequent coaching from poorly skilled managers was even worse! This study can’t definitively conclude that the performance declines were due to the more frequent provision of ineffectual advice. However, based on our experience, and the overall pattern of results in this study, it is reasonable to infer that coaching skills are critical. More coaching does not equal good coaching.
“More coaching does not equal good coaching”
If coaching is an expected part of the managerial role in your organization, it makes sense to invest in developing coaching competence. Realistically, you probably won’t be able to provide team leaders with the same amount of training that certified external coaches receive. But simply asking team leaders to spend more time coaching their employees without building their coaching skills is, at best, likely to be ineffective, and might even result in performance decrements. Managers need “enough” training to be effective coaches. As part of the training, consider teaching them how to assess the amount of coaching an employee needs, rather than simply trying to provide more coaching for everyone on their team.