Introduction to Coaching

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

By AMA Staff

What exactly is coaching?  Here is how AMA defines managerial coaching:  “An interpersonal process that helps employees to deliver expected results and enhances their capacity to deliver improved business performance.”

The idea of coaching is as old as ancient Greece. Talented athletes competing in the first ancient Olympic games sought a performance edge by employing well-paid coaches to improve their skills, refine their techniques, and increase their competitive prowess.

Since those beginnings in antiquity, the discipline of coaching for performance improvement has found a place at the top in many modern disciplines: Team and individual sports, music, and the upper echelons of business (which has an entire industry of “executive coaches” supporting performance in the executive suite).

Today, in modern business—and sports—just like in Ancient Greece, the coach’s role is to help those actually playing the game. Coaches add value not by doing but by helping to improve those who do.

In its essence, managerial coaching is about information gathering.  Managerial coaching enables you to exchange information with your teammates using a special process of inquiry and dialogue. Coaching as a manager is leading by asking and listening.

Coaching isn’t a technique you use when you detect a problem. Coaching becomes your routine way of managing effectively; it’s not a method you deploy because you believe someone "needs" coaching.

When you and your teammates regularly engage in coaching conversations, you change the conversation—and your collective actions. So you change performance.

When you employ coaching as a central part of how you manage, expect to discover what many managers all over the globe are finding: Coaching impacts your team's performance—and your organization’s results—positively.

Coaching IS:

  • Asking about (inquiring)
  • Evoking commitment
  • Exploratory
  • Purposeful
  • Conversation focused on employee goals
  • Co-created goal-setting, solution finding
  • A service freely offered and received by choice (or freely requested)

Coaching Is NOT:

  • Directing, problem solving, answer giving, advice giving
  • Persuading
  • Scripted
  • Chit-chat
  • Conversation about compensation, corporate policies, and other topics unrelated to the employee achieving desired outcomes
  • Undertaken with pre-determined means or outcomes
  • Mandatory for either partner

How is managerial coaching distinct from periodic performance feedback?

—reviews and assesses or judges past performance
—takes place, usually, after a regularly scheduled interval, sometimes after a lengthy delay

—is future performance oriented
—takes place ad hoc, perhaps as often as daily or even more frequently

How is managerial coaching distinct from training?

—transfers knowledge or skills:
—is usually in a non-personalized interaction
—is not closely related to specific need or optimum timing for the transfer

How is managerial coaching distinct from performance management?
Performance Management:

—reviews performance over an extended time (often several months or annually)
—ties assessment to compensation, job assignments, and so forth

(Note:  A good PM program may encourage development, thus opening the door to coaching.)

How is managerial coaching distinct from employee counseling?

—usually involves an expectation that unacceptable personal behaviors by a team member need to change
—often is undertaken as part of a regimented and well-documented organizational process
may take place as a condition of continued employment

While coaching methods can be used effectively to help the team member address the behavioral issues that trigger a formal counseling process, such counseling is distinct from regular, day-to-day managerial coaching.

How is managerial coaching distinct from coaching by a non-supervisory coach?
—the lack of a reporting relationship (no disparity in power)
—an expectation of confidentiality
—an absence of judgment as to the employee’s work quality or pace of change or commitment to change
client-centered emphasis in the coaching agenda
—frequency of contact

How is managerial coaching distinct from mentoring?
The mentoring relationship:
—traditionally is non-supervisory
—likely involves more personal and emotionally-based interactions
—focuses on the employee’s agenda not the supervisor’s or organization’s
—centers on career issues and not job performance, task accomplishment, or goal attainment.

To becme an effective managerial coach, follow the AMA “G.U.I.D.E.”:
G:  Gather data on performance

—What happened?
How do we know?

U:  Understand the impact
—Why is this important, to me, the manager, to the organization, to the team member?

I:  Interview to discuss recent performance
1. Actions.  What was your role in creating the outcomes?
2. Motivation.  What were your thoughts and feelings that led to your actions?

D:  Develop an action plan
1. Targets.  What new results do we want?
2. Changes.  What new behaviors are necessary to support the targeted results?
3. Learnings.  What knowledge and skills are needed to achieve the changes?

E:  Execute plan; examine progress
1. Commitments.  What commitments to action are you making?
2. Support.  What support are you requesting from me to succeed (my commitments to you)?
3. Follow-up. When will we follow up to assess our progress?

The information in this article was adapted from AMA’s seminar Coaching and Counseling for Outstanding Job Performance.

© American Management Association.  All rights reserved.

About The Author(s)

American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.