The Surprising Problem With Coaching for HR Professionals


Corry Robertson, PCC profile picture

By: Corry Robertson, PCC

Woman with surprised expression

HR leaders often tell me that it’s their job to coach. 

After all, they’re responsible for addressing issues and giving feedback to others about how their managerial style is impacting their team members, producing underwhelming or negative results.

They believe it’s their job to build an environment of learning and growth so that people feel their careers are progressing and they’re reaching their goals.

But HR leaders also tell me they’re frustrated when managers don’t take their advice.

They spend their days talking about the same problems with the same people over and over again. And the managers they work with are resistant to their feedback and can’t see blindspots…leading to ongoing issues on their teams.

Even though they’re ‘coaching’ the team, they still end up being used as the company’s 911 emergency call centre for people problems that managers can’t or don’t want to deal with.

And they wonder why the people at their company are unresponsive to their ‘coaching’.  Isn’t coaching supposed to be the answer?

Coaching Is A Natural Job Function

I agree that coaching is a natural job function of all managers, not just those in HR.

Coaching skills have the capacity to elevate individuals and teams out of the quicksand that sucks organizations to the bottom of the swamp.

You know that swamp – low engagement, high turnover, and all of the unpleasantness that bubbles to the surface between the time an employee disengages, becomes actively disengaged, and then eventually leaves.

So here is the cold, hard truth about why people are not responsive to your coaching.

1. You’re not coaching


2. The person is not coachable (which professional coaches can identify)

Woman speaking to employees

The Problem With Coaching

Here’s the surprising problem with ‘coaching’. 

Too many managers think they are coaches when what they are actually doing is giving their very best advice and delivering it the best way they know how.

Imagine for a moment a workplace where leaders stood united on a professional foundation, had the capacity to build relationships, communicate effectively and cultivate an environment where employees could learn and grow.

What a beautiful place that would be!

Coaches have the skills to build this place, but here’s the catch.

Although the talent to coach may be innate, the skills are not a given. Many find that some of the coaching competencies come as a surprise. They’re not what they expected at all. 

Just like the talent to be a great architect may be innate, the ability to actually build something great needs to be learned, and then getting the job done is a process.

Coaching Is A Skill That Is Learned

Have you ever seen a house that was built by a DIY enthusiast with a passion for building but no training? 

Patch jobs, random extensions, rickety structures, drafts, leaks and faulty wiring, right? Some of it stands up straight, some of it looks nice, but there are rooms with buckets on the floor to catch the drips before they cause more damage, some rooms have flickering lights and there are staircases only the bravest will even dare to step foot upon. 

Way too much energy gets put into stepping around things, patching things up and making do.  Way too much time and money would have to go into dealing with the outcome of the poor design and unskilled labour in order to fix the problem. 

Have you ever seen a house that was designed and built by an actual architect and not one that merely claims to be one because they like to build?

The HR manager with professional coaching skills is the architect. They have learned skills they can apply, and a process through which they can do so.

Coaching is not a random, catch all term for well-meaning managers who try to nudge people in the right direction.

Coaching is a profession and professional coaches are builders.

Building A Coaching Culture

Organizations frequently hire external coaches to help grow a coaching culture, and they definitely have their time and place. 

CEO’s and senior managers often prefer an external relationship which allows them to think and speak freely, and provides a level of impartiality that can allow them to work through their personal issues that may affect their business outcomes.

But in addition to external coaches, companies need their HR professionals and other managers to take on the coaching role as well. 

Skilled, trained and certified internal coaches can work with external coaches and managers who want to use coaching as a leadership style to create a holistic coaching culture within their organization – one that is much more likely to be successful and provide an ROI.

The coaching conversation model and coaching competencies that professionally trained coaches use allows you to get to the heart of the complex, human dynamics that can lead to confusion, misunderstanding, disengagement and the inevitable layers of disappointment, hurt feelings, wounded egos and conflict that ensues from there.

Professional coaches get well beyond symptoms into the crux of the challenge…and then know how to orient the conversation towards better results.

Skilled coaches create safe spaces for when steam needs to be blown off, space where strong emotions can be processed in a safe and productive way. Trained coaches help their leaders build the self-awareness needed to grow, transform and advance in their careers.

employess celebrating success with high fives

The Bottom Line

Professional coaches are catalysts for innovation, new possibilities, BIG goals and getting stuff done.  But the surprising problem with coaching for HR professionals is that coaching isn’t just a ‘natural born ability’.  

It’s not just a function of your job description that you can perform without being trained in the specific skill set that’s required.

I once heard a consultant oversimplify coaching by describing it as “Helping a person find their own answers by answering their questions with questions, like – What do you think you should do – and that no one needs extra training to be able to do this.”

That mentality is unfortunately rife in a world where coaching is often mistakenly defined as consulting, training, advising, or teaching.

But I am privileged to work with many HR pros who recognize the truth – nothing changes until something changes…starting with you and how you do things. 

If you want better results, do things better. If you want to help your company achieve its goals and help your colleagues achieve theirs, learn to coach.

Be the architect.  Learn the skills to build. 

Your leadership is needed now more than ever, and your coaching skills will stand you in good stead as you make your little piece of the world a better place to work, and to live.


Did you enjoy this article?  You might also like:

The Coaching Academy for Leaders – Become A Certified Coach

How To Become A Certified Coach:  Understanding ICF Credentials and Certifications

A Peek Inside A Successful Leadership Development Program


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

How To Become A Certified Coach

FREE GUIDE – Updated for 2024!

How To Become A Certified Coach in 2024:  Choose The Right Coach Training Program For You

Download and get immediate access!

Corry Robertson, PCC profile picture

Corry Robertson

Sought-after coaching culture expert, Corry Robertson has been helping leaders uplevel employee retention and performance for over 20 years.

Download Our FREE GUIDE
How To Become A Certified Coach in 2024 - Essential ICF Updates and Changes

Get Immediate Access

YES - it's on its way! Check your inbox for your FREE GUIDE. If you don't see it within 5 minutes, please check your spam folder and remember to White List our email so you can receive more leadership insights from us.

Get A Print-Friendly PDF Version Of This Article

Easily save this article to share or read later by downloading a print-friendly PDF.

Success! Check your inbox - it's on its way!

Share This

Share This Article!

Enjoyed this article? Share with your network and continue the conversation about leadership and work culture.