April 30th, 2021
    Learning Management, Managed Learning Services

Coaching or training? A Manager’s Guide

cgaborit 4 min read

We have put together a manager’s guide on what they are, and when to use them.

Coaching, training, mentoring, counselling… all words that can be used to describe guiding employees from one behaviour or activity to another.

Think you know the difference? Try writing a few bullet points about each one, and you’ll probably find a good deal of overlap.

You might realise you’ve been using them interchangeably. Well, it’s a good idea to challenge your own ideas about what each term means, and really understand how to deploy them. That way, you’ll know instinctively which technique is right for the circumstances.

Here, we’ll focus on the two most-used development techniques in modern management: coaching and training. Think you’ve mastered using each one in the right ways? You might be surprised.

Training: the basics

Training is about transferring knowledge. It’s about getting a learner from the current point A to the desired point B – with the necessary skills to succeed. Point A might be joining the company; starting a new role; learning a new system or process. Point B is where that person can demonstrate that they have understood and retained that knowledge, such that they can apply it to complete the new challenge.

Easy enough to understand. Training is a form of development that equips employees with appropriate skills for their job. It can be carried out online, in a classroom or informally via social learning.

The right time to use training to help develop your team members

By its nature, training has the potential to be a one-to-many activity. Knowledge can be transferred to a group of people all at once. It can also be an individual experience, in the form of eLearning. The version you choose depends upon the situation: should you focus on assessment to test the understanding, or discussion to embed the knowledge?

Timely, relevant, engaging training should be deployed when you have something new to “tell” your employees, and you need to convey that message consistently. Careful consideration should be given to the format, content and design of any training – online or otherwise – so that the individual feels engaged.

When training might not be appropriate

In the not-so-distant past, traditional personal development plans would be full of training courses that interested the manager or the individual. They may or may not be driven by a weakness in the employee’s skills, or by something they are passionate about. The focus for the next year would be, broadly, on meeting objectives and attending training. If you attend all the courses, you get a tick in your review.

The issue, here, is that it’s a very limiting approach. There’s no real focus on career or personal goals, and there isn’t much opportunity to assess how well skills have been embedded and behaviour changed. Strange as it seems, training on its own has the effect of keeping the individual static: good at what they are doing now, without striving for future growth.

Coaching: the basics

Coaching is an ongoing, collaborative, personalised discussion with a focus on developing individual talent. It’s a one-to-one scenario, with probing questions to help the individual come to realisations, decisions or conclusions. It isn’t about transferring skills from one person to another: it’s about deepening the understanding or knowledge of an employee in a way that is unique to them.

Coaching takes the form of informal discussions that can be scheduled as required. It is dependent upon the willingness of the employee to be open and honest, and a desire to resolve a certain challenge.

Where training is about the new, coaching is about developing what is already there.

The right time to use coaching to help develop your team members…

Coaching is most effective when put in place as part of a mutual discussion between an experienced employee and their manager. Whereas the focus of a new team member is on gaining skills, for an experienced team member coaching is best employed as a tool to aid through challenging patches.

For example:

  • When a new skill has been acquired and your employee needs help in implementing new behaviours or ways of working in the real world
  • To boost and recognise excellence in performance
  • To help an employee improve or change their behaviours or performance
  • To guide the employee through an uncertain situation

Coaching helps build confidence, motivation and drive.

Generally, if the employee has the right skills but lacks the capabilities – or the right attitude – to implement them correctly, then coaching is the ideal solution.

When coaching might not be appropriate…

If your employee is struggling with a task they haven’t done before, then you need to make an assessment: have either or both of you assumed that this person already had the required skills to do this work? If, through discussion, you learn that there is a skills gap, then coaching will not solve the problem. Train the employee to embed the skills, and then coach them afterwards to implement the new ways of working in the team environment.

Your employees need to benefit from your experience… as well as grow as individuals

The trouble with a training-focused personal development approach is that your employees will become experts in the theory. And in a coaching-first style of leadership, your people will emulate your approaches.

The key to great management is finding and supporting the greatness within. The truly effective manager will provide challenges in their current role as well as stretching opportunities in their desired skill set. Because doing this role well is only part of the journey. For a successful career, individuals need to plan for the next step and the one after that.

Your responsibility, therefore, is to build their confidence through excellent support now – that means training – and digging deep to assess their capabilities – through coaching. The rest is all about experience: 70:20:10 – 70% experience; 20% coaching: 10% training.

Be mindful about the choices you make in your personal development role. Deploy the right technique in the right circumstance, and you will see the benefit in your team’s performance.

An effective manager will provide challenges for their current role as well as stretching opportunities to enable learning around their desired skill set.

At The Learning Factor, we simplify the business of learning. We craft exceptional training solutions that solve critical business challenges across all touchpoints, screens, and devices.

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