Coaching for Professional Development: Managers Should Encourage, Foster, and Support Employees' Continual Development as a Way of Helping Them Master Changing Work and Keeping Morale High. Especially in an Economic Environment Where Resources Are Limited, Coaching and Focusing on Employees' Professional Development Will Help Keep Them Motivated and Productive

By Dearstyne, Bruce W. | Information Management, July-August 2010 | Go to article overview

Coaching for Professional Development: Managers Should Encourage, Foster, and Support Employees' Continual Development as a Way of Helping Them Master Changing Work and Keeping Morale High. Especially in an Economic Environment Where Resources Are Limited, Coaching and Focusing on Employees' Professional Development Will Help Keep Them Motivated and Productive

Dearstyne, Bruce W., Information Management


Managers need to devise opportunities for employees, particularly professionals, to keep learning and growing, for five reasons. It:

1. Enables people to keep abreast of changes in technology and issues and factors that affect record-keeping

2. Brings in new ideas that modify and strengthen the RIM program

3. Promotes personal growth, a factor in employee job satisfaction, motivation, and incentive

4. Strengthens the basis for advancement and promotion to higher, more challenging positions

5. Serves as one basis for attracting applicants who will find the prospect of professional development appealing

Employee Development

Staff development is conspicuous by its absence (or by its very small presence) in many programs; managers do not recognize its need or assume that it is too time consuming and expensive.

It is a good, businesslike investment, particularly in programs where technology and other factors keep things in flux. Staff development does not have to be burdensome, expensive, or a serious time drain that detracts from work.

However, it should not be left to chance, intermittent, or regarded as a secondary afterthought in human resources policies. Consider the following approaches:

Establish expectations that people will take initiative to self-develop, through their own reading, discussions, professional engagement, and in other ways. This attitude is at the heart of a learning or resilient program.

Encourage professionals to become CRMs and to undertake educational activities to maintain their certification as part of their development plans. Consideration needs to be given for the time needed to become certified and to keep it current.

Develop a written program policy about development that sets expectations for what the program will do, and what employees are expected to do and to contribute. For example, the policy may describe how much time off for courses is allowed, cost of materials, dues for professional associations, conference travel, etc. If the program's resources permit only limited or modest financial support, the policy document needs to include appropriate wording as a way of keeping expectations realistic. The policy should also indicate the types of activities the program will not support.

Include professional development in staff members' annual work plans and use annual performance evaluations to assess progress and identify future needs and opportunities. Like other aspects of these work plans, development needs to be negotiated between manager and employee. However, including it sets expectations for both parties, specifies who is paying for what, explains how time off and other considerations will work, and provides an outcome measure for discussion during annual performance reviews.

Balance the program's priority needs. Balance should be maintained between expertise in priority areas, particularly those changing rapidly and in high demand by the parent organization, with individual development objectives, which may include strengthening interpersonal communication, project management, and other coping skills.

Share responsibilities for program-wide development initiatives with the people who will be most affected. Managers may decide to designate a committee or working group to develop professional development activities for the entire staff, within certain parameters, such as budget and time commitment, set by the manager. This approach helps ensure that the staff will be interested in the training, increases the likelihood of attendance and engagement, and enhances the prospects that the learning will be applied.

Get help from the organization's human resources (HR) office or department. The office may need some educating itself so that it fully understands RIM staff development needs. Some in-house trainers may be available to make presentations on HR issues, such as time management, ethics, and promotions.

HR staff may be able to provide a list of reliable consultants and know about appropriate well-organized college and university courses.

The HR office may also have a budget line item for staff development that can help offset RIM program costs.

Include in the blend low-cost, continuous learning, and growth forums and opportunities. Examples include periodic discussions of new books on RIM topics; special meetings, or time at each staff meeting, for a designated person to report on new developments in an area of high interest or importance and to suggest articles and material on websites for further reading; or guest speakers, including people from other parts of the parent organization who impart information and answer questions about key issues or initiatives that will have an indirect impact on the RIM program, or people from peer RIM programs.

Look to professional associations for opportunities. They publish journals and books directly relevant to the work; offer training seminars and certificates; cater to particular interests through committees and working groups; and hold conferences that feature knowledgeable speakers and that, equally important, provide opportunities for networking, viewing vendor exhibits, and picking up new ideas.

Colleges and universities offer relevant courses on campus and online. Course offerings include records management, management techniques, information technology, project management, systems analysis, communication, and other relevant areas. Many universities offer institutes, certification programs, and other forms of continuing education not intended to lead to a degree. They are often willing to custom design certificate programs if interest is sufficient enough to justify them.

Consultants can also be useful in staff development. Define the topics and desired outcomes carefully and choose a consultant who is involved in the profession, has written on the topic, and has made similar presentations before (and can give references, which need to be checked), and who includes discussions, questions, and give-and-take (which adult learners expect and like), not just lectures.

Supervisor as Coach

The best managers/supervisors use a coaching style: they work with their staff members to establish performance plans; guide, discuss, encourage, impart wisdom, and generally help them to achieve as part of the team; correct them, head off inappropriate behavior, deliver constructive criticism, and encourage better approaches when they are needed.

Coaching is a style of supervision and it needs to be done within the performance appraisal system. A good coach/supervisor refers to the performance plan as the document that sets expectations that the employee is trying to achieve and that the coach is trying to foster. The mid-point and end-of-year meetings should focus on topics already familiar to both coach and employee because of their interactions during the year.

A coaching approach will not work for everyone; but, with customization, it should work for most supervisors. The role is different from that of a mentor, who is more of an informal "guide at the side" who shows the employee the ropes, serves as a role model, and helps smooth out the rough spots. It is different, too, from the traditional notion of a boss [Editor's Note: See sidebar "Boss vs. Coach."]

Coaches are responsible for team and program results, but they engage employees as valued individuals. They understand, and capitalize on, people's motivations for working other than the obvious incentive of salary: the desire to accomplish something concrete personally; the feeling of value through contributing to a larger cause; the satisfaction of working as part of a team; and the opportunity to learn and grow over time.

A coaching approach is consistent with the culture of productive programs where the person in charge sets direction, guides, and encourages but does not over-supervise or provide too much detail on how to do the work.

Coaches carry out several functions [Editor's note: Sources for this section are Effective Coaching by Michael J. Cook and Coaching and Mentoring." How to Develop Top Talent and Achieve Stronger Performance compiled by Harvard Business School Press]:

Develop, support, and encourage. This type of support is helpful, particularly when the employee is new, the assignment is new and few precedents have been set, or a setback has occurred that might lead to discouragement. Good coaches lift people to new levels; they try to create situations where their help is no longer really needed.

Assess strengths and weaknesses. These assessments may be used as a way of strengthening team approaches. Coaching is an on-the-spot, up-close-and-personal undertaking. Coaches see people in action, note how they tackle problems, observe how they get along with each other, and assess strengths and weaknesses. They identify areas in which an individual's skills may need strengthening or upgrading. On the other hand, they also see how individuals' skills may complement each other. For example, one person is strong on analysis, another on synthesis, a third on communication, and a fourth on presentation.

Foster productive working relationships. The coach sets a good example, works quietly on people's social skills, endorses good behavior, and points out the negatives of uncooperative behavior, which add up to a better, more productive workplace.

Provide guidance and counseling. Employees want attention, guidance, feedback, praise, even correction. They want to know how well they are doing, how they could do better, where they are exceeding expectations. They need help navigating where the rules don't help much, but the unwritten rules are all-important. Coaches provide all these messages.

Encourage team members. Good coaches constantly bring out the best in people, encourage them to do better, point out opportunities, suggest alternative ways of proceeding, explore alternatives, and foster individual development.

Convey appreciation. Coaching provides natural opportunities to say "thank you," to praise solid effort and work, to commend a high-quality outcome, and to express appreciation for extra effort to get something done on time.

Identify and diagnose performance problems. Coaches observe, ask questions, and listen. Often, the employee has valuable insights and opinions; by listening, the coach understands these insights, the employee feels respected and empowered, and the door is opened to a cooperative solution. The coach then moves on to suggesting ways to correct unsatisfactory or unacceptable performance.

Observe and analyze behavior problems. This part of coaching involves assessing attitude, demeanor, and interactions. Is a problem affecting productivity? Is something disrupting the workplace? Causing distraction? Undermining morale? Patience and good judgment can lead to a solution imparted via coaching and, sometimes, persistence, and repetition--before the problem grows.

Provide feedback. Coaches provide valuable information to employees about how they are doing, what they are doing right, and where they need to improve. It is a two-way street; employees discuss with coaches where they need help and assistance. This coaching is done in a timely way, when the issue comes up, and not long afterward, such as during an annual performance review.

Help employees prepare for new responsibilities. Good coaching helps people learn and grow. Coaches help prepare people for more important roles later on.

Improve retention. Coaching builds trust and may help reduce turnover because people are more motivated and loyal when their supervisor takes an interest in them and helps them improve.

Improve performance and morale. Coaching improves performance by encouraging employees to take responsibility for their own work. It increases morale and self-esteem when the manager shows real interest in employees, is there for them, and really wants to help them improve. This benefit of coaching can translate to commitment and excitement about the work and dedication to the program.

Look for coachable moments--small but timely opportunities to impart a bit of insight--and also schedule more formal coaching sessions.

Part of a coaching session is a dialog and investigative approach. The super-visor/coach is trying to find out why something is not working well or getting done satisfactorily. This session should be done in private, away from the view and earshot of others. A good coaching session should have the following traits:

Make/take time to coach. Make an appointment with the employee if necessary. Find a place free of distractions; no phone calls or other interruptions. Focus on the issue at hand.

Establish the purpose for the meeting. A simple, clear statement of the scope of the issue at hand helps get the conversation off on the right track. Then, keep it focused and avoid digressions and tangential conversations (by either the coach or the employee).

Refer to the performance plan. This plan is the basis for expectations for the work to be done.

Emphasize the positive. Coaching sessions, even those that focus on needed improvements, should also include acknowledgment of what the employee did right, where he or she excelled, and the characteristics of the exemplary behavior. This acknowledgment reinforces good behavior and achievement with praise; gives the employee a good model of the sort of work desired; and, even when discussing shortfalls, begins the meeting on a positive note.

Focus on behavior and performance, not personality. The idea is to improve work rather than to criticize the person. That approach also makes coaching more of a dialog and is likely to make the employee less defensive and more open to what the supervisor/coach is suggesting.

Identify areas where improvement is needed. Be specific about what needs to be improved and what would be regarded as the achievement of adequate improvement. Getting to as much precision and detail as possible on this point is usually helpful to both supervisor and employee.

Listen carefully. Coaching sessions are dialogs. The coach needs to ask for the employee's viewpoint, listen carefully while it is explained, and be receptive to new ideas. The coach needs to ask questions about whether any elements of the work is too complex for the employee to understand and whether the work of another employee, or another team, impinges on the ability of the employee to get his or her work done. Does the employee have too much to

do or difficulty in setting priorities or following through? Are any hidden extenuating circumstances preventing the employee from focusing on the work? Are any entirely new ways available to consider for getting the work done?

Express confidence. Employees need to understand that the manager has faith in them and confidence in their ability to improve and strengthen their work. Otherwise, coaching sessions can turn negative. The coach comes across as accusatory, and the employee goes on the defensive.

Agree, mutually, on steps that need to be taken if improvements are needed. Agreeing on improvements is the most challenging, and most important, part of the session. The coach may well have come into the session with some well-considered insights and solutions, but they are likely

to change, or at least be revised, as the session goes along. The coach needs to formulate and articulate clearly what he or she is suggesting; the employee needs to react; after some discussion, both parties must agree on what will be done. Usually, these changes are specific things that the employee needs to do, but they may include contribution from the supervisor/coach, too, such as better tools, clearer assignments, or support for training or professional development.

Write a summary of the session. The coach, or manager, needs to document the essential points of the session and the improvements agreed to, either as a reminder of the issue and coaching advice, or to share with the employee--for larger issues and/or to make a point about the need for specific changes.

Follow up to see whether changes are made. If the agreed upon improvements were not made, within a reasonable amount of time, take appropriate action.

Understand when coaching has reached its limits. Sometimes, other tactics are needed, such as progressive discipline.

The most highly motivated and effective employees are the ones who feel that their work really matters, that they are contributing to something larger than themselves, and that their personal values align well with the program's values and priorities. In a setting where monetary resources may be modest and limited, helping employees see the purpose in, and feel connected to, their work keeps them motivated and productive.

Boss vs. Coach

The boss ...

Talks a lot




Seeks control


Works on

Puts products first

Wants reasons

Assigns blame

Keeps distance

The coarch ...

Listens a lot




Seeks commitment


Works with

Puts process first

Seeks results

Takes responsibility

Makes contact

Source: Effective Coaching by Michael J. Cook. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999)

Editor's Note: This article is excerpted from Managing Records & Information Programs: Principles, Techniques & Tools by Bruce Dearstyne, Ph.D., published by and available from ARMA International at

Bruce Dearstyne, Ph.D., may be contacted at See his bio on page 47.

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Coaching for Professional Development: Managers Should Encourage, Foster, and Support Employees' Continual Development as a Way of Helping Them Master Changing Work and Keeping Morale High. Especially in an Economic Environment Where Resources Are Limited, Coaching and Focusing on Employees' Professional Development Will Help Keep Them Motivated and Productive


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