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July 24, 2014

HBR: The one skill most managers need to go from 'good' to 'great'

Daily Briefing

Editor's note: This story was updated on March 23, 2018.

Many managers don't want to invest the time and effort—but to get the most out of employees, they must learn how to "coach" their staffers, writes Harvard Business Review contributor Monique Valcour.

Learning how to coach a staffer requires taking time to understand the person's motivations and have regular conversations with him or her about personal development. Those conversations can be responsible for about 70% of on-the-job learning and development across many industries, and an incredibly important factor in employee engagement, Valcour writes.

But most companies do not actually expect managers to coach their employees, according to Valcour, and many bosses don't invest the time—or have the skills—to do so.

As a result, many individual staffers often come up well short of their full potential, which ultimately affects their manager, too.

Valcour offers five steps for how to have meaningful coaching conversations with employees:

  • Listen deeply. Actively listen to what the person has to say and keep an "open mind and an open heart" to create a "high-quality connection." Such a connection, writes Valcour, will allow the employee to open up and think creatively.
  • Ask, don't tell. Although it can be tempting to give employees answers, it is essential to "restrain your impulse to provide the answers." Instead, she says, ask open-ended questions which allow the team member to articulate their goals and challenges.
  • Create and sustain a 'developmental alliance'. Valcour writes that it is important to provide your employee with the authorization, space, and resources necessary to achieving his or her developmental goals. She adds, the more you follow through on supporting him or her, the more effective your coaching becomes.
  • Focus on positively moving forward. While it can be tempting to vent with an employee about frustrations he or she is experiencing, it is more important to acknowledge the frustrations and then encourage him or her to think about how the problem can be mitigated.
  • Build accountability. Valcour notes that accountability increases the "positive impact" of coaching and helps him or her to officially formulate and implement developmental plans that the two of you may have created together (Valcour, Harvard Business Review blog, 7/17). 

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