March 3, 2020

Need To Increase Employee Retention? Train Managers As Career Coaches

Written by
Tags: HR

Employee retention is hugely important to most firms, as unemployment dips and high-demand skills come with rising price tags. In response, companies have shifted their strategies to a more nurturing invest-train-promote framework that ensures that current high-value employees have the opportunities they want and the skills they need to improve the company. Training managers as career coaches can facilitate this approach.

In an interview with Forbes, Donna Sweidan, the long-time career coach says of the profession: “The goal is to support people in making informed decisions about their career development and trajectory, as well as offer various tools that they can use—résumés, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles—to meet those goals.”

While a manager may not help their employees write resumes and cover letters, they can help individuals grow in their roles and with the company through an investment in the direct report’s career roadmap. We know that employees won’t stay with a company forever, but if we can provide them with the opportunities they need while they are at the company, then we can go far in upholding our side of the employment contract.

A management style that includes career coaching conversations has identifiable benefits for the individual, who builds direction and purpose into their work, but it also has defined benefits for the company:

  • Succession planning becomes a conversation at all levels of the company, and can be formally integrated into goals
  • Promotion from within shows employees that the company offers a future for employees, that it invests in them, and saves the company on hiring costs
  • Improved company culture, individual employee engagement, and improved employee retention

Getting started with career coaching for managers

Start by asking managers whether or not they want to be career coaches. You can probably guess who on your team is interested in growing their reports—and it may be all of them, but not every company has that sort of culture. Buy-in from the coaches is critical.

Then set up coaching training, conversations, or group support meetings to get coaches talking about

  • The goals of the coaching program
  • How to fit these practices into existing 1:1 meetings and other time management issues
  • How your company wants to see this enacted in practice
  • Issues that may come up while coaching
  • Coaching best practices

Within these initial conversations, you’ll want to cover the ways that coaches can help their reports. Train the coaches through role-playing, informative readings, group discussions, and any activities you feel will get your coaches practicing their skills with one another. Here are some tactics your coaches can use to help their reports.

Logging strengths and weaknesses

Begin with an informal inventory of the employee’s strengths and weaknesses. Try as hard as possible to not make this feel like an interview—remember: they’ve already got the job! Ask the employee to write down a couple of their greatest strengths and a couple of their known weaknesses. By being honest about these skills and gaps, you can have a more honest conversation about the types of work that the individual is best suited to.

Skills inventory

This runs in the same vein as the strengths and weaknesses lists. But whereas that log attempts to identify personality traits that may come into play when choosing the individual’s growth trajectory, a skills inventory lists all the things the individual knows how to do. This list should be as exhaustive as possible, and the individual may want to assess their own abilities in the context of their assigned responsibilities and future growth. Where else are these skills used in the company or in jobs in general, and how can the individual work toward that?

Move from directives to engagement

While it’s tempting to come into the coaching role thinking you have all the answers, teach coaches to refrain from constantly proposing solutions and action items for their employees. When you engage the individual with questions that lead them to propose solutions, the employee begins to learn to think around corners, problem solve, and react independently to issues. These are vital skills you want from your future leaders, and they also protect the coach from fixing things all the time.

Coaches should act as guides, but they’re not the employee’s mom.

Unbiased questioning

The goal of a career coach is to help the individual figure out what is in their own best interest, rather than that of the company. Brainstorm in the coaching group the kinds of questions that help the individual identify the type of work that energizes and engages them, and discuss options that help them move more closely into alignment with that work.

Consider asking the employee to assess

  • How they feel when working alone, in small groups, or in large groups
  • The high points in their working days in the past months or years
  • What work makes them feel drained, uninspired, or frustrated

Don’t stop at the feelings each of these events or activities elicited. Try to get them to talk about the environment, any contributing factors, and connections between the items.

Set clear goals, expectations, and paths to success

A key factor of employee engagement is whether the individual feels successful in their work. While some employees may be adept at finding purpose and mastery in any work they do, many individuals need structure and guideposts to measure their success.

If you haven’t already, set cascading goals for every employee that give structure to months, quarters, and years ahead. This structure gives the employee a roadmap for their future, and can help the company understand the employee’s long-term plan, even if that means eventually coaching the individual out of the company.

How HR can support manager coaches

All ready to start a coaching program? Set up your HR team to help. Train your HR employees to use their professional training and act as resources for the company leaders. Consider these options:

  • Open office hours where HR teams can act as a sounding board for coaches.
  • Coach the Coaches meetings: what additional training needs to happen around goal setting, understanding open positions within the organization, or succession planning?
  • Train on the difference between coaching and micromanaging
  • Providing coaching on non-directive coaching behaviors (listening, asking questions) that help the individual work out the kinds of steps they want to take
  • Train coaches, managers, and individuals on performance management software, pulse surveys, and HR software tools that help organize goals, track succession planning, document critical conversations, and more.

If you’re interested in learning more about career coaching, here are some additional resources:

Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
The 15Five Best-Self Management Course
Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy