BlessingWhite Study: Managers Lack Enough Time to Coach
This is my site Written by Alora on October 15, 2008 – 7:17 pm

A recent study conducted by BlessingWhite shows that a full one-third of over 2,000 supervisors interviewed “don’t have time to coach” their direct reports.

While I find nothing inherently surprising in that statistic, I do find the reasoning behind it fundamentally flawed: the reason that supervisors “don’t have time” is because they have not made it a priority.

In reviewing the results of the survey, each of the different categories of answers warrants some consideration. In response to the question, “What is the biggest challenge you face in coaching others?” the answers breakdown as follows:

“It takes too long.”
This is a response I find bothersome and a bit lazy. As a manager, your success is directly dependent on the success of your direct reports. If ‘it takes too long’ to coach someone, then that says one of two things to me: either you aren’t doing it well and need some guidance on technique, or you are looking at it as a disparate task instead of an integrated part of your daily job responsibilities. Either way, a manager who gives this answer is not managing their priorities very closely.

“I don’t have all the answers.”
This is the perfectionist’s answer, and it’s one that is hard to get a perfectionist not to rely on. No one has all the answers. That is not what coaching is about. Coaching is about helping and guiding someone else to finding the answers they need — whether it’s because you have them and can give them, or because you help them brainstorm on where else they can go to find them. That old saying about giving a man a fish vs. teaching him to fish is the heart of coaching. Any coach who claims to have all the answers is full of it, and any coach who tries to give someone all the answers isn’t teaching them how to find them on their own.

“I have too many direct reports.”
This one I find to be the most genuinely legitimate of the reasons given: I have seen more organizations than I can count where a person is put in charge of too many people (often along side a long list of other responsibilities that have nothing to do with people management whatsoever) and then told to manage everything on their own. Managing people does indeed take time, thoughtfulness and a sincere effort to learn about the people you are trying to coach. If you have too many direct reports then no amount of prioritizing is going to allow you to be a true coach to all of them.

“I am not sure where to start.”
Two words: Training Issue. Like anything else, getting started is often the hardest part. But the more you focus on how hard it is, the more you paralyze yourself into inaction. Before you sink into paralysis by analysis, start small by asking questions. “What do you like doing?” “What is important to you about a job?” “What do you most love/hate/fear doing as a part of your work?” “If you could make a living doing anything in the world, what would it be?” The heart of coaching well is knowing who you are coaching, and you can’t know how to help lead someone if you have no idea where they are interested in going. So start asking.

“I don’t see the results of my efforts.”
This response strikes me as a bit selfish and, honestly, irrelevant. Yes, obviously we all like (and to some degree need) to see results of our actions to stay motivated. However, if you are not seeing any results then there are two very likely causes: your efforts to date have been too inconsistent to produce results or you are trying to coach people who are not interested in being coached (which, incidentally, are frequently the people most in need of coaching — but that’s a topic for another time). You need to look at that and figure out which it is. You can’t go to the gym and lift weights once per month and expect to see results. If the problem is your consistency, then build yourself a plan that includes regular time spent on coaching activities. Put it on your calendar and build it into your schedule. If the problem is that you are trying to coach people who aren’t interested, then the question arises: are they not interested because they think they don’t need it or because they think you aren’t qualified. And after that, the next question is: are they right?

“I am not comfortable having coaching discussions.”
Again, this strikes me as a training and (ultimately) practice issue. Like anything new, coaching takes practice before you start to feel competent and confident in your ability to do it, much less do it well. But you have to start somewhere. And if you need help, then find it. There are tons of training programs designed to help train managers how to start coaching their staff.

“I don’t like to coach.”
To me this is the inexcusable answer: if you don’t like to coach, then you shouldn’t be managing people. That’s just part of the job. I once had a manager look at me and say that no one ever told him that coaching, mentoring and developing his staff was part of his job description. I was incredulous. Are you kidding me? Having a staff is like having kids: by taking on that role you are accepting responsibility for their growth and development. If you don’t want that responsibility, then don’t take that job. Period.

As I said: nothing about the results of this study surprise me, but it greatly peeves me. When I look back on the most significant coaches and mentors in my career, I see men (and, sadly, one of the downsides of being a career IT person, is that to date, all of my mentors have been men) who had far more work to get done than was ever reasonable to expect them to complete on any given day. And while they were definitely workaholics who were still responding to email at 1:00 a.m. most nights, long after their wives and children had gone to sleep, the fact was that they made coaching their staff a priority. They made the time to get to know their direct reports: what motivated them, what de-motivated them, what their strengths were, and what their Achilles Heels were. They asked questions and carefully considered the answers. They knew when to push and when to back off and let us flail a bit while we found our footing. Not one of these men were drowning in “free time.” They all had supremely (and sometimes unreasonably) demanding jobs as well as families with young children. But they took the time to coach their direct reports because they knew in their bones that it was important.

So when I see that people “don’t have time,” what I really see is managers saying, “I don’t think it’s important enough to make the time.” And that just makes me sad for their direct reports, because everyone deserves a boss who will be more than a task master.