HR Management & Compliance, Learning & Development

If Managers Don’t Become Coaches, We Will Fail People’s Careers

These days, we keep hearing about the disengaged workforce and the struggle to retain talent. Coupled with that, Millennials are a growing segment of the workforce (by 2025, they will represent 75% of the global workforce) and are more demanding when it comes to job satisfaction. They are looking for meaningful work, flexibility and autonomy, and connection and mentoring.


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Although some may roll their eyes, the truth is that these demands have resulted in a much-needed change in company culture and how we’ve traditionally thought about employees. We once functioned with a top-down approach that primarily benefited the employer; jobseekers were thus in the weaker position, waiting on companies to give them a coveted “job for life.”

Today, the gig economy is booming, and entrepreneurship is flourishing. Many decide to create their own success and are no longer satisfied with what companies have to offer. This has forced employers to rethink how they position themselves, as well as what opportunities for career development they offer.

A Shift Toward People Enablement

HR has moved toward the adoption of people enablement, shifting from a hierarchical, non-agile approach to empowering individuals and teams to develop and improve more quickly.

In terms of mentality, this means HR and the C-suite need to view their employees as their strongest and most valuable asset, one that is immensely resourceful and can bring a lot to the business.

On a companywide level, this means HR is shifting from a process-driven role to the role of strategic adviser to the C-suite on how to create a holistic and long-lasting employee experience. This also means that the onus of career development has been taken from HR and placed on employees.

To support this vision, managers will play an important role in becoming agents of change within their organizations, developing coaching skills to enable and support individual growth.

Managers’ Role in This Transformation

In the previous hierarchical model, managers followed a top-down approach. They were tasked with telling individuals what to do and leading teams to success, but little focus was put on career development. A look at the Cambridge dictionary definition of “manager” reveals this “dry” business approach:

Noun: someone whose job is to control or organize someone or something, esp. a business

Add to that the traditional performance review process—a formality designed to support compensation discussions—and it becomes clear that managers were not expected to support professional development; rather, this was HR’s role. At best, someone with more experience might have “taught you” how to do your job, which is not very empowering.

If HR is going to drive people enablement, this means teaching managers a whole new set of skills, including coaching techniques.

Why Coaching Techniques?

Coaching entails unlocking a person’s potential to maximize his or her performance rather than simply handing out solutions. This means that managers need to develop an approach to leading that combines performance orientation with a responsibility for developing their team members to their fullest potential.

When done right, applying coaching skills in the workplace also supports greater employee engagement. According to a survey by the International Coaching Federation, organizations with strong coaching cultures benefit from more highly engaged employees (62% in strong coaching cultures compared with 50% in other organizations).

It is often more motivating when you’re empowered to bring your expertise to a situation rather than just being told what to do. However, in a study undertaken by Professor Julia Milner of EDHEC Business School, the research shows that most managers don’t understand what coaching is but know how to use the skills.

Investing in Managers’ Development

How can companies and HR better support managers in becoming coaches at work? The key is to focus on training certain leadership skills, enabling managers to bring coaching techniques into their role. According to Milner’s research, there are nine leadership skills managers need to master:

  • Listening
  • Questioning
  • Giving feedback
  • Assisting with goal setting
  • Showing empathy
  • Letting the coachee arrive at his or her own solution
  • Recognizing and pointing out strengths
  • Providing structure
  • Encouraging a solution-focused approach

One approach would be to have managers take foundational coaching courses or have a portion of their training allowance allocated to that. But not all of the skills above need to be taught under the specific umbrella of “coaching”; HR can also support with internal programs.

For example, if HR is developing a culture of feedback within the organization, this is a perfect opportunity to make managers champions. Start by teaching them how to give feedback so they feel better equipped to have those conversations with their direct reports.

A culture of feedback also supports a culture of recognition. Ensure all employees are encouraged to praise one another, with managers once again acting as champions and role models to others. These simple tactics should help increase the trust between managers and their direct reports, opening the path for conversations around professional development and supporting the transition to more of a coaching approach to leadership.


Ultimately, the key is a shift in mind-set that needs to be driven by the C-suite, lead by HR, and brought to life by managers. We need to believe that putting people first is the only sustainable way to grow business and ensure companies stay relevant and that by doing so, we will be able to re-engage the contemporary workforce, empowering these individuals to find renewed purpose in their roles and careers.

HR’s responsibility is to place increasing focus on the development of soft and people skills in the workplace. Ensure first-time managers have the proper training, recruit people with the soft skills to drive this style of leadership, and reconsider who gets promoted to leadership roles based on their people skills, not just on competencies in their specific field of work.

Bas Kohnke is the Founder and CEO of Impraise, the people-enablement platform that allows you to utilize real-time feedback, check-ins, reviews, and goals to develop your people.