Bridging the skills gap for coaching teams

Managers want to coach, but don’t have access to the skills. Stuart Hearn explores the processes and training leaders need to put in place to ensure the best development opportunities for employees.

In 2020 businesses faced their most challenging year to date. Leaders have had to move quickly to adapt, and as we move into 2021 with lockdowns and social distancing still in place, the focus is now on how to navigate this new way of working.

An area that has been brought into sharp focus for leaders is performance management. The Performance Management Report 2021 revealed that more organisations are moving their focus to employee productivity and engagement. However, a key part of ensuring your people are productive and engaged, is investing in their professional development and offering opportunities for career growth.

This is where managers play an important role. The role of a manager should be to encourage their employees, motivate them and understand what drives them. It’s the job of the manager to understand how they can support their employees and bring the best out of them.

The COVID-19 crisis has had a significant impact on the way managers and employees communicate as many organisations have moved to remote working. Managers and employees in some organisations are having more regular one-to-one conversations and check-ins.

According to the Performance Management Report, 39% of respondents said they are having conversations more frequently than before Covid-19. There has also been an increase in appetite from both managers and employees to have more development conversations.

Managers need to be incentivised to have better development conversations by making it something that they are measured on

The report reveals that 97% of managers felt that their team would benefit from more regular development and coaching, and 89% of employees also agreed with this.

Although this is a positive change in attitude towards manager and employee relationships, there is still a long way to go when it comes to the training required for making these conversations more meaningful. One of the most surprising findings from the report is that almost 40% of HR leaders don’t think that managers have the skills or training to have development and coaching conversations.

Is the environment right?

You might be able to offer your managers training, send them on a course and get them coaching, but is the environment geared up to allow managers to have development conversations with their teams? Leaders also need to address what needs to be done at an organisational level to make sure all the right conditions are in place to facilitate these conversations.

As a starting point, managers need to be incentivised to have better development conversations by making it something that they are measured on.

For example, you might want to measure them on how often they are checking in with their employees, how often they are giving and receiving feedback and how engaged their team is. It is not enough to send them on training and expect them to replicate what they have learnt when the organisation’s environment and conditions don’t allow them to apply their knowledge.

Do they have the tools they need?

Technology can act as a catalyst for providing the right organisational conditions for meaningful development conversations between managers and employees. Over half of managers currently aren’t using performance management tools.


Many are using standard office tech like Word, Google doc or Excel to manage performance. With such tools, it is easy for things to get lost because there isn’t a clear continuous record of what is going on. Having a system that lets managers and employees schedule check-ins, give feedback, and set clear developmental goals can help make these practices a habit.

Such systems can help managers capture and track personal development goals and feedback, which can be used as a basis for having more meaningful developmental conversations.

Identify your managers and the type of training they need

Not all managers are the same and some will require more training and support than others. Often you get accidental managers, who aren’t natural leaders, who will need more support and coaching to turn them into good people managers.

Then you get those managers that take people management more seriously and are seeking guidance from HR to help them develop their confidence and skills as a good people manager. Finally, there are enlightened managers and for them, their team’s wellbeing and engagement is a priority and a key part of their success.

Enlightened managers can set good examples, and they should be recognised, celebrated in the organisation and used to set a standard. Enlightened managers can share what they do to support their employees’ development.

Give managers the right resources

There are various training programmes and courses that managers can go on to learn more about people management. Investing in providing managers with their own coaches to help them coach and develop their people is a great step.

Giving managers a set of guidelines and prompts to help them in their discussions can also help them have more meaningful development conversations. For example, they could use coaching prompts in their check-ins to encourage managers and give them the confidence to discuss wellbeing and development.

Personal development plans (PDP) are often common place, but aren’t always used as well as they could be. If done well PDPs can be an important step in supporting your employees’ development opportunities.

Managers should be given guidance on how to write the best PDPs. For example, a good PDP often looks at the personal development goals of an employee and how that can be aligned to the goals of an organisation. This is a great way for employees to develop their skills as well as give them a sense of purpose – a key factor affecting employee motivation and engagement levels.

As remote working looks set to stay, managers will have to work harder to ensure their teams are productive, engaged and feel supported. Investing the time and money into the right tools and training for managers is key and will really set businesses apart as we move through 2021 and enter a post-pandemic working world.


About the author

Stuart Hearn is a writer at Assignyourwriter and CEO and founder of Clear Review. Find out more and read their Performance Management Report here.


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