Can the Coaching Journey Be Enriched by Involving Line Managers?

CoachHub · 23 August 2022 · 7 min read

There are many factors to consider when an organization opts to offer coaching to its employees; however, one of the keys to successful implementation and engagement is often overlooked: creating a culture of coaching. But in order to create a coaching culture, more people need to become involved and remain supportive of the coaching journey. When assessing who to involve in individual coaching journeys, and when they should be involved, there are pros and cons to unpack. For example, how can a coaching journey be boosted by the coachee’s line manager’s involvement? When and how is it appropriate to engage them in the process and when would it be instead a potential risk?

When planning to involve employees in a coaching journey, it is important to remember that they typically act in a system which can favor or hinder their progress. This system comprehends a series of variables, such as the company’s organizational structure, processes and culture, as well as key stakeholders:, but also its top management and the coachees’ colleagues. The main stakeholders that will play a crucial role are the team and their line managers. Their support to coachees can be a key factor of integrating the learnings and insights into the professional area. 

In this article we will aim at:

  • Understanding the value of involving line managers in the process of a coaching program for their employees
  • Suggesting how to overcome managers’ resistance to support their employees when involved in a program with external coaches
  • Underlining line managers’ behaviors and tools that enhance coachees’ growth, ensuring that he/she feels empowered and supported along the path.

Why it is important to involve line manager in the coaching process

Line managers have the ability to make the life of a collaborator an energetic journey towards new and exciting developmental initiatives that contribute to both the growth of the person as well as  of the company itself. 

This is particularly important to remember  since an organizational coaching journey is often integrated in a holistic strategy that aims at developing leadership skills, raising awareness of inclusive management, or  facilitating a phase of change and uncertainty. In any of these  cases, the company wants to ensure that coaches work in alignment with the organizational goals.

During the coaching process line managers represent the key stakeholder that can ensure the success of the initiative itself. This can be achieved by creating a flourishing and supportive ecosystem’ where the coachee can thrive and put in practice learnings and insights, serving himself/herself/theirself and the company’s goals at the same time.Line managers are, as well, the first ones showing collaborators how to do things and practicing practicing them, which is considered one of the best ways to learn according to CIPD’s survey Who Learns at Work? (2005). In fact, considering that teamworking provides a powerful means of learning ‘the job’, front-line managers and team leaders play a critical role since they are the ones who can create effective team functioning and promote collaborative opportunities for growth. They can also provide or suggest opportunities to experiment with coaching-learnings.

Line managers have the power―and responsibility―to structure people’s actual experience of doing a job and deliver learning opportunities, to provide coaching and guidance along the journey as well as to stimulate the learning of team members. Together with performance appraisals and development plans, line managers are the perfect ally to make sure that coaching-derived learnings can find a fertile humus for a coachee to flourish.

Moreover, other research demonstrates that a developmental activity such as coaching is enhanced by line managers’ involvement. According to Noe (1996), support from supervisors impacts employees’ desire to engage in development activities. Gibb (2002), as well, indicated that greater line manager involvement in learning and development promotes the notion of lifelong learning and improvement, and can improve the quality of these activities since line managers are best placed (compared with HR/personnel specialists) to understand both the organizational needs and individual needs of their teams.

Line managers resistances in getting involved

In an interesting scientific paper of the Australian Psychological Society (Ogilvy, Ellam-Dyson, 2012) the two researchers explore the factors that influence line management involvement and the type of management behaviors that facilitate and hinder coaching outcomes. Very often, the beliefs that managers hold on coaching itself, especially when they haven’t tried it in the first place, risk compromising their engagement. 

The most involved managers are those who have tried coaching or are, perhaps, coaches themselves. It is essential, in fact, that managers have a good understanding of what coaching is and how it works, especially in its differences with mentoring, training or consulting. Misaligned expectations―often consisting of the desire  to find a ‘mentor’ who can take in charge the collaborator’s progress and give advice―can create big problems for line managers and be transferred to the coachee as well. 

Line managers who do not generally support coaching programs are those who are unfamiliar with the coach’s methodology and/or have not benefited from it. The greatest resistance is expressed by ‘there is no time’―they see little concreteness in any developmental/HR activity. As a result, a strategic and structured approach is needed if you want line managers to jump on board a coaching program that engages their employees. It is undoubtedly essential to awaken their interest in making clear the ‘What’s in it for me’ as much as clarifying their role as ‘results-booster.’

The tripartite meeting which involves the coach, coachee, and line manager can help facilitate a conversation around shared goals as well as  roles with respect to the coaching journey These meetings are an excellent tool in that the coach makes sure that the coachee’s confidentiality and autonomy are respected, clarifies and facilitates the definition of roles, and stimulates reflection by both parties on possible solutions to make the journey even more effective.

It has in fact been revealed by research that often it is precisely to respect the confidentiality of the process that managers refrain from getting involved. While this attitude might be interpreted as lack of interest by the coachee-collaborator, it is instead due to a sort of discretion and lack of proper tools to facilitate a developmental conversation that walks on the thin line between respect for confidentiality and involvement.

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Behaviors and tools that help coachees development

What behaviors can line managers put in place to support their employees when they are involved in a journey with a coach? It is essential that they support the credibility of the program and the coach, conveying enthusiasm and interest in coaching, avoiding indifferent or even discrediting attitudes (e.g. the company wastes money, HR thinks we have nothing to do here). Indeed, among the factors that the scientific literature has revealed to be fundamental to the success of a coaching journey are the commitment of coachees to their own development, the relationship of trust built with the coach (chemistry) and the credibility that the coach has in the eyes of the coachee. If the manager in first place discredits the coach and coaching, this undermines the entire effectiveness of the process.

In order to do that, line managers’ accountability in the objective-setting stage of the coaching program is crucial in order to make sure that business objectives take precedence. 

To do that effectively, a manager can support a coachee-collaborator development by engaging in conversations (during as well as at the end of the program) in which to help reviewing the coachee-collaborator goals and their alignment within the team. Simply asking ‘How is it going?” without a concrete plan that includes a supportive role for the manager is not clear enough and risks being scattershot.

Among the tools at disposal, moreover, a line manager can act as a mirror for the coachee providing timely and constructive feedback to help him, her or them to shed light on ‘blind spots,’ which are valuable ground for developing self-awareness in the session. For this purpose and to support the coachee with regular developmental conversations, it is critical that the manager adopt a leadership and communication style in line with coaching. As a result attentive listening, openness without judgment and open questioning are skills that line managers need to develop and put into practice.t is also great when the line manager is able to challenge limiting beliefs, encouraging the employee/coachee to take responsibility and risk as well as  to ‘stretch’ their abilities.

Finally, the line manager is the door opener for those projects or ‘stretch assignments’ that can provide the coachee-employee with a testing ground for the new skills learned during coaching. These elements, if consistent with each other and promoted consistently―and with a clear strategy―will act as in a harmonious concert that will allow the coachee to flourish and make the most of the experience, and the line manager to grow in turn in his, her or their role as a human development enabler.

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CIPD. (2005) Who learns at work? Employees’ experiences of training and development [online]. Survey report. London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Available at onlineinfodocuments [Accessed 1 March 2007]. 

GIBB, S. (2002) Line manager involvement in learning and development: small beer or big deal? Employee Relations. Vol 25, No 3. Pp281–293.

NOE, R.A. (1996) Is career management related to employee development and performance? Journal of Organisational Behaviour. Vol 17. pp119–133. 

Ogilvy, H.  & Ellam-Dyson,V., 2012, Line management involvement in coaching: Help or hindrance?, A content analysis study, International Coaching Psychology Review, Volume 7 No. 1, pp. 39-54)

Valeria Cardillo Piccolino
Senior Behavioural Scientist at CoachHub, Leadership & Talent development coach, former Professional Women Network Board member

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