• May 2010

What's The Manager's Role: Coach or Counselor?

By Barbara Mitchell
HR expert and co-author
The Essential HR Handbook

As microfinance leader Muhammad Yunus shows us, managers can choose to treat employees in a respectful way or not.

Obviously, going the “respect route” is an HR best practice that can yield higher levels of productivity and lower turnover. And, it’s the right thing to do.

Plus, if you really respect your employees, you’ll want to make sure that each one has current, realistic performance objectives and a clear understanding of his or her job responsibilities. To do that effectively, you’ll want to improve your skills as a coach and counselor so you can help employees succeed.

Remember: Your own success as a manager depends upon your ability to get things done and reach your goals through your employees.

At the same time, you need to lead, support, and develop your team members, and that can be a tough balancing act. Managers need to sometimes coach and sometimes counsel—here are some helpful hints on when to use which technique.

Coach vs. Counselor

As a coach, a manager identifies an employee’s need for instruction and direction; the need is usually directly related to his or her performance or career goals. Coaching is a collaborative approach to improving job-related performance —it relies on mutual, progressive goal-setting, personal feedback, and an ongoing, supportive relationship.

Most managers coach because it helps retain employees, shows that they care about their employees as individuals, and builds stronger working relationships.
Managers should be ready to coach when a problem occurs, a new procedure is introduced, a job is changed, and/or a skill gap is identified.

As a counselor, a manager first identifies a problem that interferes with an employee’s work performance. In such situations, the manager needs to switch from coaching to counseling mode. Think of this as a process that helps the employee define specifically what behavior he or she needs to change in order to improve his or her performance or resolve a problem.

The manager’s goal is to be both a good coach and a good counselor, and he or she must have the sensitivity to know which mode to use and when. Generally, coaching should precede counseling.

A good manager is both coach and counselor, and does the following:

• motivates employees to do good work
• reinforces good performance
• encourages employees to stretch
• sets clear expectations
• provides positive feedback on an ongoing basis; provides constructive feedback on a timely basis
• acknowledges employees’ progress toward their goals

So do your best to find a balance, and try to do the right thing. It’s easier than you think.


About Barbara Mitchell

Barbara is a human resources and organization development consultant who is widely known as an expert in the areas of recruitment and retention. She has experience in both for-profit and not-for-profit sectors and has consulted to a variety of organizations around the world.

She served in senior human resources leadership positions with Marriott International and several technology firms in the Washington, DC, area before co-founding the Millennium Group International, which she sold in 2008.

Barbara is a graduate of North Park University in Chicago, with a degree in history and political science. Contact Barbara by email.

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