Sunday 6 May 2018

Senior Leaders and Coaching: Are you doing more harm than good?

A recent article in the May-June 2018 edition of the Harvard Business Review reports on research conducted by Gartner, which found that a certain type of coaching - the Always on Manager - does more harm than good, with a negative impact on performance.  In addition, the Gartner study found little correlation between the time spent coaching and employee performance.

For the research Gartner, surveyed 7300 employees and managers across a number of industries, along with interviewing or surveying 325 HR executives and found four different approaches to coaching:

Teacher Managers – coach employees on the basis of their own knowledge and experiences, providing advice oriented feedback and personally directing development.  Many have expertise in technical fields and spent years as individual contributors before working their way into managerial roles.

Always on Managers provides continual coaching, stay on top of employees’ development and give feedback across a range of skills.  Their behaviors closely align with what HR professionals typically idealize.  These managed may appear to be the most dedicated of the four types to upgrading their employees’ skills – they treat it as part of their daily job.

Connector Managers give targeted feedback in their areas of expertise; otherwise, they connect employees with others on the team or elsewhere in the organisation who are best suited to the tasks.  They spend more time than the other three types assessing the skills, needs, and interests of their employees, and they recognise that many skills are best taught by people other than themselves.

Cheerleader Managers  take a hands off approach, delivering positive feedback and putting employees in charge of their own development.  They are available and supportive, but they aren’t as proactive as the other types of managers when it comes to developing employees’ skills. (Harvard Business Review

The article goes on to note that:
  • The four types are more or evenly distributed within organisations, regardless of the industry
  • Whether a manager spends 36% of 9% of their time on coaching and employees development – it did not seem to matter – it’s more about the quality than the quantity of coaching
  • Hyper-vigilant always on managers appear to do more harm than good .
The article highlights three reasons why Always on Managers have a negative impact on performance 
  1. The continual stream of feedback is often overwhelming
  2. They spend less time time focussing on employees’ needs and more time on issues that are less relevant to employees real needs
  3. They fail to recognize the limits of their own expertise and is effectively making it up as they go long
On the other hand, employees manged by Connectors were three times more  likely to be high performers than employees managed by the other types of coaches.  The article notes that form  the research this seemed to be explained by Connectors doing four things:
  1. Asking the right questions
  2. Providing tailored feedback
  3. Helping colleagues connect and network with other colleagues who can help them
  4. Recognise the limits of their own skills 
The Gartner researchers then go onto recommend that managers should take the following action
  • Focus on quality of coaching not the quantity 
  • Find out about your employees’ aspirations for the future and the skills, knowledge and experience they need to achieve those aspirations
  • Have open coaching conversation, shifting the focus from one to one conversations to team coaching, where colleagues learn from one another, particularly those with specific skills
  • Try and extend these activities across the organisation
So what are the implications of these finding for senior leadership teams?

It seems to me that there are several implications.
  • A bit of humility goes a long way – it’s ok as leader to admit that you are not an expert on something and point colleagues in the direction of others – and requires the development of a culture of trust and mutual vulnerability.
  • Your most proactive coaches and line managers, who are constantly given feedback may inadvertently be making things worse.
  • Give some thought to the types coaching currently evident in your school and reflect on whether they are doing more harm than good.
  • Focus on the quality of the coaching being given given rather than the quantity.
  • Line Managers may not necessarily be in the best position to be coaches, unless they have the appropriate skills
  • When appointing staff to senior roles, you may wish to ask interviewees to give examples of how they have gone about coaching others and look for evidence of ‘connecting’ activities
  • When developing your own career, you may wish to look to work for leaders and managers who have a connecting coaching style.
And finally 

As Professor Steve Higgins of the University of Durham said when commenting on a meta-analysis on coaching by Kraft, Blazar, et al. (2016) – ‘it aint what you do it’s the way that you do it’


It’s important to note that this research was not conducted in schools – so there are issues as to the applicability to schools in England.  In addition, with both this type of research and reporting – there would be some merit at looking at the original research conducted by Gartner, which to be honest I have not been able to do.


“Coaching vs Connecting: What the Best Managers Do to Develop Their Employees Today’ – Gartner, White Pape
Managers Can’t Be Great Coaches All by Themselves. Harvard Business Review. May- June, 2018.
Kraft, M. A., Blazar, D. and Hogan, D. (2016). The Effect of Teacher Coaching on Instruction and Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of the Causal Evidence.


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