October 2022

The Coaching Gap

by Jim Emerick

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Executive Coaching Brochure

Over the past several years, effective performance coaching as a High Payoff Activity, or HPA, has continued to emerge as a central theme during our Academy Leadership Excellence & Executive Coaching Courses. Why?

There are several reasons that contribute to this rising trend. First, attendee discussions and feedback during leadership programs consistently validate that evaluation dominates our corporate feedback culture and processes, most commonly utilized during impersonal annual or semi-annual performance reviews. This creates the distorted perception that evaluation is coaching and leads to a negative perception of this crucial leadership tool. One may theorize the recent emergence of mentoring programs within companies is the natural byproduct of the blurring of these two forms of feedback. The result: Predominantly project or product-based performance measurements, supervisors who don’t really know their subordinates and struggle to both evaluate their performance and enhance their leadership potential, and reactive corporate processes that mistakenly use evaluation to administratively fill in this coaching gap.

Second, the term feedback (mostly perceived as a negative experience), desperately requires clarification and enhancement that is offered during Academy Leadership Feedback — The Essential Connection workshops. In addition, early identification of the coaching gap — for example, when sharing attendee and facilitator expectations during course introductions — allows a safe environment for working professionals to share stories about a lack of a coaching, or developmentally based climate. How may we address the coaching gap?

Days one and two of a Leadership Excellence Course (LEC) focus, respectively, on learning more about ourselves, and those we are responsible for as leaders. This awareness, along with several useful tools, equips any manager conditioned by typical project or product-based performance metrics to execute effective leadership-based coaching. For example, during Energize2Lead™ (E2L) workshops, we learn how different we are from each other, how others wish to be approached, what each of us like to do most, and what fundamentally motivates those around us. This new realization, when combined with a robust Personal Leadership Philosophy (also part of the LEC), enlightens managers and leaders about the power of effective coaching to develop others, closing the coaching gap.

Practice makes perfect. Day three of an LEC culminates in participants role-playing an actual performance coaching session. Attendees pair up in teams, and the Academy Leadership facilitator promulgates the scenario. Armed with new knowledge and tools, most attendees initially feel awkward and uncomfortable. Most have never seen or utilized these critical skills in their workplace. Here are a few excerpts from recent LEC course graduate Action Plans...

Attendee Insights | The Coaching Gap

"Coaching must be different than evaluation. These two ideas are often mixed up and in order to have a positive experience of either type, the coach or evaluator must set clear expectations of the outcome. If there are unclear parameters, there can be confusion in the expected outcomes, or a misunderstanding of the feedback provided."
Julia Graham – Booz | Allen | Hamilton
"I have been evaluating employees rather than coaching. I will begin practicing the coaching skills that I have learned in order to lead."
Myra Wilson – ZooTampa at Lowry Park
"I learned that listening (not formulating what I'm going to say next) is crucial to coaching, getting to know someone better, and ultimately understanding how to deal with people. It's an opportunity to gain valuable knowledge about a person that can be used to increase probability of success when motivating, coaching, and working with people."
Gretchen Valle – Ingenuity Research Corporation
"Being an effective coach is harder than it looks. It is CRUCIAL to really know the person you are coaching in order to ask questions to best help that person."
Melanie Steck – FEMA Region 8

Putting Performance Coaching into Practice

Try the following quick self-assessment: When communicating with a peer or direct report notice who is speaking more. If you are speaking more than the other person, there's a good chance you're evaluating. On the other hand, if you are curious and asking open-ended questions, then listening, there's a good chance you are coaching. The difference between the two approaches is our coaching gap.