Management Skill Coaching Vs. Training: 4 Key Questions to Help Close the Gaps

It’s not always easy to determine whether a management skill gap requires coaching or training. During the past few weeks I’ve been presented with a few situations that required review to identify the best approach.

The following list of questions helps to make the determination:

Coach Urban Meyer1. Is The Skill Gap New?

The long term department head has recently been plagued with high turnover. A meeting with team members made it clear that his approach is now just too harsh. The situation has been exacerbated by the lack of support from the second in command who has been among the most vocal critics. The business owner asked, “Should we send him to a class?”

A conversation with the individual revealed both workplace and personal stressors that have increased even as a slower business cycle is approaching. While his earlier approach was not consistently excellent the manager is a very hard worker whose heart is in the right place. We decided that one-on-one coaching was a better solution than a training class.

For a newbie who is toughing out an unfamiliar role a class will likely be the better option. Group sessions, whether virtual or in-person, provide the added benefit of creating a network of peers facing similar situations who can consult each other and develop ongoing relationships. Networks formed both within the company and out will be valuable for development.

2. What Type of Learner is the Person?

Reports were delayed, deadlines were missed and it looked like the executive who had begun with such promise was floundering. Whenever data mounted there seemed to be a missing link. Face to face with clients, customers and employees she was fabulous but appeared clueless when sent a spreadsheet.  The chief financial officer suggested a list of Excel training options.

A lengthier discussion made it clear that Excel expertise was not the core issue. The individual’s learning style was clearly auditory with the ability to exercise creativity and inspire others. Hiring a management coach to find the missing link resulted in success all around.

For the analytical individual who soaks up new software like a sponge a few online tutorials will bring skills up to speed. Those in the middle may need a lengthier program that combines in-person class time with self study. The subject matter will be part of this research with a different approach potentially required for hard and soft skills.

3. What’s the Goal?

It’s important to identify the desired outcome. Is this individual being groomed for promotion or transfer to a critical role? Will they be expected to remain in the present status for a long period of time?  Determine whether the situation has been raised for remediation or development. Remediation can be better handled with coaching since using an individual approach will unearth underlying causes that are less likely to become clear during training. In some situations the goal may simply be to document that training occurred. (Not that those of us in human resources will ever admit that.)

When the goal is long term development a training plan that meshes with succession planning can be tailored to an individual. The plan may include coaching and structured classes in a variety of formats. Short term skill development is also likely to be met with training.

4. What is the Time Frame and Budget?

The calendar and finances will be a prime consideration in selecting an approach.  The costs associated with an external management coach can mount quickly; this option is often reserved for senior executives. A short term, more affordable, solution can be negotiated.  At the same time the perfect class may not be available locally for 4 months. Cost and time considerations frequently point to online solutions that easily accommodate calendars in a budget friendly fashion.

Any implementation should be flexible in the face of new needs or if expected results are not achieved. Establishing of practice of asking good questions throughout the development cycle will help keep the process on track.

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Rebecca Mazin is the owner of Recruit Right in Larchmont, N.Y. She does consulting, management training, and writing to create solutions for human resources issues. Co-author of The HR Answer Book: An Indispensable Guide for Managers and Human Resources Professionals, Mazin is also the author of The HR Answer Blog on and The Employee Benefits Answer Book (Pfeiffer).

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