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Internet Survey Results

When To Coach and When Not To Coach
Matt M. Starcevich, Ph.D.

(For individual usage only, not to be used in team building, organizational publications
or training programs without written permission.)

Caring managers will invest the time in coaching their employees.  However this is only one way of helping. Not all opportunities or challenges faced by employees call for coaching. If the employee needs something else the manager and employee will be extremely frustrated if coaching is the chosen course of action. Knowing when and when not to coach is an important skill. Coaching is not a panacea for all situations. But, what are the right situations?

During the first quarter of 2011 we posted on our internet site a survey with nine hypothetical situations that could be faced by an employee. Respondents were asked to indicate for each situation whether ?Coaching Is Appropriate? or, ?Something Other Than Coaching Is Required.? Ninety-nine individuals responded, the overall results indicate that there is confusion over when coaching is the appropriate course of action.

 Coaching is a discussion process aimed at exerting a positive influence and action to help another person be as effective as possible. There are three reasons employees need help from their manager:

  1. Aptitude: They lack the skill or ability to complete the task at hand. If this is the situation providing the training is the appropriate action not coaching.
  1. Attitude: They lack the motivation, confidence, commitment, mind set, feelings, focus or manner of working with others and/or completing the task at hand.  This is coaching country, help the employee become aware of what they are doing and develop an alternative plan that will lead to better results.
  1. Outside Factors: Their performance is being affected by things outside of their control e.g., available resources, change in company priorities, uncooperative peers or external suppliers, lack of support or time from their manager, and changing market conditions. No amount of coaching will fix these conditions.

 With this in mind, which of the following nine situations did our respondents think were appropriate coaching situations and which were not?


Ninety-nine Participants Responses



Coaching is Appropriate

Something Other Than Coaching is Appropriate


The other person lacks the computer programming skills to complete a data based program.




The other person doesn't follow up on personal commitments they have made to the manager or the team.




Economic conditions have caused a cut back in available resources resulting in the other person's project falling behind schedule.




The other person just won?t deal with the newspaper press when a major event occurs at her facility.




The other person is the "go to person" in the unit and over commits to requests and can't seem to focus on what is really important.




The other person is required to interface with a department that has been antagonistic toward his project. He just doesn't seem to know how to overcome this obstacle.




This is the other persons first time in a project manager role and doesn't seem to grasp the difference and requirements between being an individual contributor and a project manager.




The other person just seems to be rocking along without much drive or motivation, if they could just turn it up a notch they would be surprised at how much they would personally gain.




You just don't have the time to support the other person; they are going to have to figure out how to get it done without your involvement.



Situations where something other than coaching is appropriate: 1, 3, 6, and 9

Situation 1 is an aptitude issue; training not coaching is the appropriate course of action. Thirty-five percent of the respondent felt otherwise.

Situation 3 is being caused by factors outside of the employee?s control, reality check time not coaching. Thirty-nine percent of the respondent felt otherwise.

Situation 6 is caused by the lack of skill in conflict resolution; if this fails to work it is then outside the employee?s control and an outside mediator might be the solution not coaching. Wow, seventy-seven percent of the respondent felt this situation could be resolved with coaching.

Situation 9, coaching cannot produce more managerial time or support. If the employee doesn?t know how to continue without the manger?s time, additional resources or training could help the employee act more independently, not coaching. Forty-two percent of the respondents think the manager can coach their way out of this situation.

Trying to have a coaching dialogue in these situations will be frustrating for both the manger and employee. Besides driving the manager crazy and loosing employee confidence, coaching in these situations is a waste and inappropriate use of the manager?s time.

Situations where coaching is appropriate: 2, 4, 5, 7, and 8

All these situations deal with the employee themselves and how they are performing the required task. These are all ripe for coaching and this is the appropriate response from the manager. The respondent?s were spot on in assessing these situations as calling for coaching from a low of seventy-four percent to a high of eighty-four percent. Building awareness and a plan of action for employee?s commitment, mind set, focus or manner of working with others can be done with a skillful coach.

A simple three question test:

  1. Can the employee do it? If no, it is a lack of skill(s) not a coaching situation.
  2. Is it about the employee?s attitude? If yes, coach them.
  3. Is it about factors outside the employee?s control?  If no reassess your answers to questions one and two. If yes, the problem lies with something or someone other than the employee and will require different actions or just living with the reality of the situation.


Contact Matt Starcevich, matt@coachingandmentoring
Copyright, Center for Coaching and Mentoring