Organizations Need Coaching on How to Coach: Report

By Garry Kranz

Dec. 12, 2011

The success of performance coaching hinges on the support of top brass, enabling organizations to generate superior business and employee results, a new study shows.

Business results were 21 percent higher among organizations whose senior leaders “very frequently” make an effort to coach others, according to High-Impact Performance Management: Maximizing Performance Coaching, produced by Oakland, California-based advisory firm Bersin & Associates.

Additionally, organizations that reported “excellent” cultural support for coaching had 13 percent stronger business results and 39 percent stronger employee results, including engagement, productivity and customer service, the report notes.

The report is based on responses from nearly 200 U.S. companies. It marks the second phase of Bersin’s study on performance coaching. An earlier Bersin report in August revealed that 70 percent of organizations have jettisoned traditional performance reviews in favor of coaching, but also noted that most managers don’t know how to effectively coach.

“Coaching is the No. 1 performance-management challenge that organizations face, yet most don’t understand its value. They aren’t sure which emotional levers they need to pull to change people’s behaviors,” says Stacia Sherman Garr, a Bersin analyst and the report’s author.

Senior leaders need to engage in coaching to make sure it becomes culturally accepted and a point of accountability, the report concludes. Getting executives to participate is itself a challenge, though. On average, only 11 percent of senior leaders are considered “true believers” that coaching leads to improved performance.

To reverse the perception, leaders who believe in coaching should evangelize others through action, particularly by piloting performance-based coaching programs, according to the report.

Aside from executive support, helping managers understand the impact and acquire coaching skills also is crucial, according to the study. For instance, organizations that effectively prepare managers to coach are 130 percent more likely to realize stronger business results vs. those that don’t prepare managers and 33 percent better at engaging employees than ineffective organizations, Garr says.

Finally, human resources should be involved by creating an environment “that supports, teaches and measures coaching,” the study says.

Two years ago, Archer Daniels Midland Co., a global agricultural products company, launched a Coaching to Win program designed to better equip its 6,000 managers around the globe. The objective is to formalize coaching as an expectation for all managers, says Jane Pierce, the Decatur, Illinois-based company’s vice president, talent and organizational development.

“We believe good performance management really is about coaching for performance. The performance management review process is important, but it looks backward. Coaching gets people to look forward,” Pierce says.

Participants identified three traits to help managers improve their coaching abilities: active listening, reinforcing the desired behaviors, and asking open-ended questions, Garr says.

Generally, though, leaders still struggle when expected to coach, says E. Michael Norman, a Los Angeles-based senior consultant with Sibson Consulting, headquartered in New York. “Leaders are lining up and acknowledging the need. Now it’s a matter of making it a priority as part of the performance management model.”

Garry Kranz is a Workforce Management contributing editor. To comment, email

Garry Kranz is a Workforce contributing editor.

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