How to deal with managerial resistance to employee coaching

We held a webinar entitled Coaching: What Really Works several months ago, and since that webinar, i4cp members have been joining me and member services on a bimonthly "coaching conversations" call, where we discuss a variety of issues and specific situations involving coaching, such as how to market coaching internally, use external coaches, engage in peer coaching, conduct coaching training and certification, and handle employees who are resistant to coaching.

Here's an example of the kind of issue around resistance to coaching that has come up on our calls and is pervasive in some companies. A manager at XYZ Company requests that the HR function coach an employee who is somehow alienated. The manager is new in his role, and colleagues observe that he has become "autocratic" since his promotion. The alienated employee is a woman seen as having high potential. Instead of accepting HR's offer to help him be a more effective manager through coaching, this manager resists coaching from HR and wants HR to speak to the employee in question. When the high-potential employee leaves the company shortly after all this occurs, the manager blames HR for not "convincing" her to stay. The manager continues to remain resistant to any coaching for himself, saying he doesn't have time to learn to be a coach to his direct reports. More importantly, his boss hasn't held him accountable for what has occurred. All agree that things have never been as busy in the company with all the competing demands.

This scenario reflects what sometimes happens in organizations. The company states that it expects managers to be coaches. Some managers take to it, others try with varying results and then there's the resistant group – those who reject coaching in any form whether it's being coached themselves, learning to coach others or making coaching part of how they lead. Resistant managers usually won't change unless accountability is built into the process.

Companies that are most effective in creating a coaching culture outline clear expectations for leaders at all levels. They provide focused training and development opportunities that don't use a one-size-fits-all methodology; managers are assessed for their competencies and skills in regard to coaching, and a customized development plan is designed.

There's a good case for installing coaching as a practice in your organization. i4cp, commissioned by the American Management Association (AMA), conducted a global survey of current coaching practices. We found that organizations that reported using coaching more at present than they had in the past are more likely to state two advantages:

  • They're more likely to report that their organizations have higher levels of success in the area of coaching.
  • They're more likely to say that their organizations are performing well in the market, as determined by self-reports in the combined areas of revenue growth, market share, profitability, and customer satisfaction.

Managers who resist participating in a coaching culture that is being established in a company need to be held accountable by their direct supervisors and the organization in general. Reward and recognition systems should align with and support that accountability. If coaching-resistant managers don't get on board over time, consider demoting them to individual contributors, even inviting them to leave. Without the necessary teeth behind your coaching initiative, it can get delegated to HR inappropriately and allowed to flounder.
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Mary Key
Mary Key, Executive in Residence
Author, speaker, and leadership expert, Dr. Mary Key heads the leadership practice for The Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and helps our member organizations improve workforce productivity. Key started Key Associates, Inc., an organizational transformation company that helps leaders and organizations grow. Among others, Key’s clients have included: Ericsson, Nokia, Nissan, Infiniti, Baycare Health System, Baptist Health Care, Bausch & Lomb, Trane, Wyeth Nutrition, CitiFinancial Retail Services, Circuit City, Dorn Technology, Georgia-Pacific, Media General, Quarterdeck Select, Metal Industries, Incarnate Word Health Systems and Lore International. Key has authored several books including CEO Road Rules: Right Focus, Right People, Right Execution and The Entrepreneurial Cat: 13 Ways to Transform Your Work Life. Key received her Ph.D. from the University of Virginia and her BS from the University of Massachusetts. She has won numerous awards and most recently was selected as a finalist for 2007 Business Woman of the Year in Tampa Bay. Key belongs to the OD Network, Society for Organizational Learning (SOL), National Speakers Association, Searchnet, SHRM, ASTD, Berrett-Koehler Authors Co-op Board and the World Future Society. She has lives in Tampa with her husband Lewis and their two cats, Jazzie and Groucho.