Managers need a map

Managers need a map

Stephen Palmer

At the recent Coaching at Work roundtable, participants discussed the topic of managers
as coaches (see Volume 1, Issue 7).

Understandably concern was raised over whether a manager could also be a coach in
their workplace.

But what exactly is this type of coaching from an organisational viewpoint? The New Zealand State Services Commission, in its Coaching –Guidance for managers and their staff on using coaching for development and performance, describes coaching as taking ‘place between colleagues – usually a staff member and their manager – in the workplace. It has two aspects: building work performance, and assisting career progression.’

In the UK, organisations in both the private and public sectors are training managers to coach. Books have been published on managers coaching at work too.

If we undertake a quick Google search, we find there are many courses around the world offering relevant training. The CIPD Manager as Coach course states that: ‘The success of coaching in the workplace is largely determined by the quality and professionalism of managers and their ability to use coaching to deliver and demonstrate value to the individual and the organisation. This highly participative course focuses on developing coaching skills. It looks at coaching models and how they may be applied to maximise the potential of the individual in the workplace. It is intended to give managers the confidence to adopt a “coaching management style”.’
This gives a flavour of what is being provided for managers and executives who wish to develop their coaching skills and knowledge,
and apply them at work.

❛❛ Professional bodies, training providers and organisations need to answer the issues raised by the use of coaching managers❜❜

Yet there are justified concerns with manager coaches. People Management HR columnist Lara Ashworth raised the issue of ‘managers acting as coaches on all levels and presume staff will open up to them’ (15 September, 2005).
Subsequently, a correspondent to PM’s letters page (13 October, 2005) gave two examples in which ‘grooming techniques were used by two manager-coaches over several months. Development and promotion were followed by persistent attempts to “cash in” sexually, which had a devastating impact on the women involved’.

These examples highlight a number of potential problems regarding the coaching manager and others too, including:
● boundary issues;
● process open to abuse;
● limits to confidentiality due to manager-employee relationship;
● lack of organisational policies defining coaching and mentoring, along with their limitations regarding managers as coaches;
● limited supervision available for manager coaches;
● duty of care of organisations training managers to become coaches or managers using coaching skills;
● coaching managers not being members of professional bodies and therefore not abiding by relevant codes of practice.

In the UK and around the world, this issue is becoming important because more organisations are training their managers to coach their staff. The concept of coaching managers may not sit comfortably within certain definitions or frameworks of coaching. However, because this type of practice does occur, it is important that professional bodies, training providers and organisations are pragmatic and develop policies, guidance and codes of practice that deal specifically with the issues raised above.

Perhaps coherent policy guidelines could be discussed at the UK coaching roundtable. 

Professor Stephen Palmer PhD is director of the Coaching Psychology Unit at City University, honorary president of the Association for Coaching and UK co-ordinating editor of the International Coaching Psychology Review.

Managers need a map. Coaching at Work, 2, 2, 19. 2007.