Water-Cooler-Coaching: what it is and how to get your managers to do it?

“Me? A coach? I don’t buy into this psychobabble”. This is a typical response of a manager who

has been told by their superiors that they are expected to coach their employees.

Coaching, for better or for worse, is perceived by many executives to be a “professional psychotherapy”. When a manager is encouraged to coach their direct reports, they themselves had either been coached and don’t understand how to do it or had never been coached before and go to look it up on Google. What they come up with are words like “positive support, feedback and advice” (from Wikipedia), or “enhancement of work performance, life experience, self-directed learning and personal growth” (from the Association for Coaching website).

Some will talk about a “process” but will not elaborate what this process is. And that’s the end of it. Many managers - especially in operational, finance and technical positions -will find any excuse to avoid coaching their reports or even attend a training to become a coach.

So how can this be overcome? How to get managers to coach without turning them into coaches?

The solution is in the tools, not just the skills. Managers are usually practical people and find it easier to deal with structured, bite-size conversations, rather than with holistic, 2 hour-long ones. So the best solution is a structured methodology that a manager can learn and practice over a short period of time, but more importantly, use without even feeling that they coach.

I call it Water-Cooler-Coaching.

Any manager is bound to have conversations with their direct reports. They are bound to be stopped in the corridor, on the way to the cafeteria or near the water-cooler (hence the name) by one of their

employees, telling them about a conflict they just had with a colleague/a project that is going nowhere/a frustration with Joe in accounting etc. The trick is to equip the manager with tools that will allow them to very quickly analyse what lies behind the issue that has been presented to them, what are the root-causes, and, at least as important, with (almost) ready-made reactions to situations that such root-causes create. Obviously, one situation is not identical to the other and some EQ, experience, and intuition are required but with the right tools to hand, a manager will become a coach without even noticing it.





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