Question: Practical advice for busy managers to coach their staff

My direct staff comprises of several analysts and finance managers in a Fortune 500. In light of my retirement later this year, I have been asked to spend more time coaching them.

I would love to do that, except my current responsibilities do not leave me any time to talk long term development goals, and the like with my directs. In fact, outside of our six-monthly reviews, even the team (many of who work in other locations) does not have time to discuss such topics.

Is there a method of coaching that is right for our needs?

8 Expert Insights

Sorry to report that I cannot create more time for you; however, I've always found that when the person being coached needs/wants to talk "long-term development goals," the better prepared they are to do so the more efficient and effective the conversations can be.  All I ask is that they populate 3 columns -- (1) What do you do best?; (2) What do you like most?; (3) What's most important to you? -- and prioritize the answers in each by using a simple forced-ranking approach.  With that 'homework' completed we can then focus more immediately and easily on long-term goals and whatever developmental efforts need to be put forth to achieve them.

Your plan for retirement later this year raises the question of who will take over your current responsibilities once you are no longer there. It would seem reasonable to progressively delegate more of your current responsibilities to your successor while you are still available to mentor. If there is no successor identified, perhaps it would behoove your company to make that a priority.

The challenge of being too busy to do important things like staff development sounds like it's a challenge for the whole organization, not just you. Your situation might be used to sound the alarm. Some time spent on addressing how to free up management to develop their staff might help mitigate the risk of the company's losing valuable experience knowledge via retirement.

There is always time to improve! It is how we spend our time if we can be more deliberate in scheduling so the we know what we are doing, when we are doing it and for how long, we will get more accomplished.

Using an agenda with time limits can be one way or using an outside neutral party can also be a way for that long-term development.

I appreciate the difficulty of fitting yet another item into an already full position, and so I'll suggest that your challenge isn't so much juggling yet another task as it is prioritizing the ones you currently have. If you are retiring later this year, how are you prioritizing your current responsibilities? Who are you developing to take on and step up to those tasks? Fitting everything in is likely impossible since you only have 24 hours in a day, but prioritizing them (based on ROI and strategic business goals) is the only way to use those 24 hours wisely.

I'll also suggest that you consider shifting your approach to professional development discussions with your team. If your staff members are fully aware of business strategies, they should be defining their own development goals and potential career directions by aligning their strengths and abilities with strategy. This is taking ownership of their careers and building a business case for their development and direction. Since career ladders are (often) non-existent, someone needs to be building the alignment of professional career value and business direction and no one can do this better than the individual. When a manager tries to do this, the process can be perceived as political, often becoming divisive. While this is quite different than the 20th century career paradigm currently in use in most organizations, it's a much smarter use of resources and provides tremendous alignment of "talent" with business strategy. I wrote a book on it: Career Ownership.

You need to have developmental conversations with your team when they have plans to propose. These can be spread out over time, discussed in smaller bites with plans created over several months. Most people are highly motivated to consider career options, and you might be surprised at the growth your team members desire. I'm happy to talk with you further around this process: it's not difficult but it is different and takes shifts in thinking.

I hesitate to recommend this but if you or others don't have time to do the coaching then perhaps:

A. the managers themselves need to be coached on 'having more time' to develop their people since the level of the development of the people directly affects their performance and impacts not only the bottom line but the managers time crunch

B. the coaching needs to be done by outsiders who don't have the time constraints the managers have. they can put full attention on what's being sought to be developed without feeling like their day is cramped with this "developmental stuff" And, actually they're much better at it than the manager will ever be because it's what they do, which means they're more likely to get better results quicker than an overwhelmed manager who isn't trained in coaching for development and has even less time to dedicated to what is interimly a front end loaded process that can pay big dividends long term.

The caveat is that one does the due diligence of hiring coaches who not only have a track record and some kind of credential, but are also willing to co-create with management clear measurables that indicate the effectiveness of the coaching in a finite time frame.

C. the notion of trying to handle development via six month reviews is akin to potentially having a stock go sideways for six months before you try to do something about it...the company has no one else to blame but their culture for people's lack of performance with that level of input.

Outsource it.

Just because you don't have the time doesn't mean that they still don't need it. And just because they say they're too busy, too, doesn't mean they still don't need it, either.

Besides, now is not the time for you to be ADDING responsibilities. Your focus is better spent on reducing your workload IN PREPARATION FOR your departure/retirement, rather than working like a dog up to quitting time on that very last day.

A jet pilot doesn't try to land the plane at full speed; a daily commuter doesn't keep accelerating the car right up to the stop light. It's fully appropriate for you to be shifting your efforts from doing MORE to LESS.

It's a special time for you – finish with pride and purpose; not just because you ran out of time.

What I read from your situation is that as a result of your pending retirement you have been advised to coach your staff.  What I don't read is what the desired outcome is for that coaching.  I would presume that the company will be replacing your role.

I agree with much of the suggestions that Michael Stratford has said above.  Also, the head of the company needs to help define that desire outcome of any coaching being done.  Then there is great potential benefit from having an outside, certified, organizational leadership coach work with the entire leadership team in helping them all understand the company vision and align behind it in the way in which they conduct their respective areas of responsibility.  Finally, the individual key staff members will receive great benefit in being coached individually to help them move from where they are in terms of how they conduct the responsibilities of their positions to ways that will be the most effective and allow time for them to play a role as a company leader.

The best & most practical advice I have seen on this question is described in an article titled "The Six-Question Process: Helping Executives Become Better Coaches" written by my colleague, Marshall Goldsmith.
You can download it here:

We have recommended this to many of the executives we coach and they report that it is very positive and doesn't take much time. When they use it, their feedback on coaching direct reports improves dramatically.