Skills Management Creates a Path for Managers to Become Coaches

Moving from boss to coach allows managers to develop team members’ strengths and increase efficiency.

Before Tony Dungy became head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996,1 there was a certain concept of what coaches were like. They blew smoke on the sidelines and intimidated players into being good.

Dungy didn’t fit that mold. And for several years, he sat on the head-coaching candidate roster because of it. He was a former Pittsburgh Steeler, but an assistant coach longer than he was a player.

As an assistant coach for more than a decade, he was told his job was to help his players. He was told to get to know them and help them develop their skills and reach new levels. While learning to do this, he was inspired by the coaches who taught and encouraged him.2

For an assistant coach in the background, it was fine that he empathized with his players and helped them. But he was criticized when he was being considered for head coaching positions. He couldn’t possibly become head coach with that mentality.

Eventually, though, he did. And in his second head-coaching position, he led the Indianapolis Colts to win their Super Bowl title.3 He showed people you could be compassionate, understanding, and encouraging and still do the job well. Eventually, he wasn’t an exception to the rule. Like-minded coaches like Lovie Smith, Jim Caldwell, and Mike Tomlin took their teams to the Super Bowl and won too.2

Just as the NFL had a common standard for coaches, business has a standard for managers. But what succeeded in the past is no longer a guide for what will succeed in the future. Managers don’t have all the answers, particularly in today’s complex business environment. If they try to insert themselves into every decision, the team’s efficiency and morale are likely to nosedive. Instead, your associates and front-line team members need a coach.

From manager to coach

Many managers might think, “that’s not what I signed up for.” They’re right, in a way. But rapid, disruptive change is the new constant. To cope with this, companies are moving away from the traditional command-and-control practices of the past and moving toward a model where managers give support and guidance rather than instruction. In short, the role of manager is becoming that of coach.4

Adopting a coach approach puts an emphasis on strengthening your workforce. It starts with One Best Way processes that help guide direct reports and allow them to work autonomously. It helps make them experts at their craft and develops their problem-solving skills so they can better address challenges in the future.5

Autonomous employees aren’t independent of the rest of the team. Rather, by providing them with enough transparency on their goals and the right resources, they’re more motivated to drive themselves – and respond well under pressure.

By equipping them with the tools to tackle increasingly complex problems and larger projects, they gain the experience to advance within the company. This is good news for your business. Not only are you developing stronger performers, but you’ll also have greater employee retention.

Identifying skills

A good coach doesn’t need to intimidate to get results. When Dungy was hired with the Buccaneers, he was handed a team that had lost 10 or more games for 11 straight seasons.1

The first thing he did was identify skills. He knew the team hadn’t been playing with a great deal of consistency. He also recognized the talent in his young team. They were an aggressive team that took good care of the ball and took it away from their opponents.1

You likely have varying levels of expertise on your team, too. It’s important to have a way to measure and track that information. Here’s a good place to start:

  • Track execution of critical tasks and time to execute using digital work instructions
  • Regularly evaluate team member ability to do the work accurately and safely
  • Quiz employees on critical information to understand comprehension and reinforce what’s important

Providing visibility

For each role on your team, you have a list of requirements to do it properly. But if that doesn’t translate to the work your employees do every day, it creates frustration, or worse, you might lose them.

The best thing you can do is make capabilities, skills, and career paths more visible to both coaches and employees. This lets your managers see who could benefit from additional training or support and helps employees see what steps they need to take in order to advance. All in all, it helps your organization ensure consistent performance and employee advancement – ultimately bolstering retention.

In addition to providing visibility for employees about what’s expected of them, it’s also important for coaches to have visibility into SOP adoption or execution to identify areas of improvement. Simple to follow, step-by-step work instructions can help reinforce training. Make the same work instructions and job aids used during onboarding available for reference to those working on the frontline. For critical tasks, make using work instructions mandatory to track efficiency and accuracy of execution.

These steps will ultimately help your team gain the confidence that comes with competence. Employees become more autonomous when they know the One Best Way to do their work. And when requirements for a skill have been met, coaches can validate mastery with evaluations.

As employees complete milestones along their learning path, pass that information through an integration with your HRIS or HCM system to initiate pay increases or promotions.

What’s the advantage?

Great coaches maximize the potential of every team member. When you combine clearly defined skills and a clearly defined learning path, you guide your team to success. You also drive organizational growth:

  • Retention driven by engaged employees working toward clear career objectives
  • Better ability to manage your teams and fill capability gaps
  • Autonomous teams who require less hand-holding and offer suggestions for improvement
  • Greater skill and expertise in individual roles

What does this look like in the real world?

One of our clients, a battery manufacturer, needed to create a way to reduce employee turnover. High turnover was slowing down production and putting extra pressure on team members already in place. They were losing productivity on the floor and spending heavily in their search for candidates with the necessary skills.

Before deploying Acadia:

  • They relied on manually tracking team members’ progress, training milestones, and skills development in spreadsheets.
  • Employees had no visibility into their own progress and whether it was being observed.
  • Managers were missing important advancement opportunities for employees and losing valuable team members because of it.

With Acadia, both managers and employees have gained career path visibility. Employees track their own progress alongside managers. Both are aware when milestones are met or something isn’t tracked correctly.

Result: Six months after launching Acadia, our client promoted 125 employees! They’re now rolling the system out to 13 additional plants.

Optimizing fulfillment operations

A distribution client was struggling with the visibility of training deployment and skills mastery. Their process for introducing a process change to the workforce wasn’t working. It took their continuous improvement manager an average of 614 hours! Their biggest obstacle was the use of paper-based SOPs and paper-based compliance.

Before deploying Acadia:

  • It simply took too long to distribute and record which employees received the SOPs and then enter those results manually into a spreadsheet.
  • They had no way to tell if employees were following their SOPs and team members couldn’t provide feedback to improve them.

After converting their procedures to digital documents in Acadia, any new or updated SOPs can be delivered with a few clicks. The system itself can track when all employees receive them. Managers can easily audit employees for compliance. They can see who needs additional support and not leave them floundering.

Result: In less than six months, the company has blown by their target goal
and reduced their process change training time by 90%!

Improving error rates in the back office

A retail banking client struggled to find visibility and accountability for employees. They didn’t have a good process for providing employees with the information they needed to answer customer questions consistently. Underperforming team members couldn’t be easily identified and provided with the coaching and job aids they needed to succeed in their role.

Before deploying Acadia:

  • Our client’s existing systems were making it difficult for branch and contact center employees to provide consistent, accurate information to client and prospective clients.
  • They lacked a single source of truth across all platforms, from branch, to call center, to digital interface.
  • Employee confidence and engagement was low, leading to higher turnover.

After standardizing and simplifying documents in Acadia, they were able to distribute them by role and location. Team members can now perform simple searches and retrieve the exact document they need in seconds. They are more engaged and regularly provide feedback to improve work processes and documents.

Result: In less than one year, they have seen baseline improvement on their client service error rate. Onboarding and role change events now take a fraction of the time to execute. Employee confidence and engagement lead to lower turnover.

Looking Forward

The workplace has been going through historic changes the last few years. Employees, especially younger generations, want their work to have mission and purpose. Skill management allows managers to become coaches of autonomous teams who deliver on challenging goals.

If you’re looking for a cohesive way to manage the skills in your organization, let’s have a conversation.

As Tony Dungy said, “The secret to success is good leadership, and good leadership is all about making the lives of your team members or workers better.”3 We’re here to help you with that.


  1. PRO FOOTBALL; Dungy Named Coach For Bucs
  2. Being Uncommon with Tony Dungy
  3. Tony Dungy – Pro Football Hall of Fame
  4. The Leader as Coach
  5. Coaching vs managing: 5 key tactics for managers

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