The Supervisor as Coach

The Supervisor as Coach

Earlier this year, before the Novel Corona Virus put the world on lockdown, I had the privilege of being part of an international team from six different countries tasked with assessing competition entries for the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Interior (MOI) Excellence Award for the security services sector. There were twelve entries from local and federal government entities throughout the UAE including: Police Forces of all seven Emirates, Special Security Forces, Civil Defense, Police Academies and Correctional and Punitive Services. This is a very prestigious and highly sought-after annual award, as the high standard of submissions testified.

Each assessment took place over a period of three days, with four teams of assessors covering nine main assessment criteria. I was part of the Human Capital assessment team, and one of the key sub-criteria we had to assess was measurement of the effectiveness and impact of training on performance and behaviour of human resources. The Ministry of Interior adopted the Kirkpatrick 4-Level model for measuring training effectiveness, and has standardised the model throughout all of the entities in the security services sector. The MOI developed an integrated computer system to record and report on training effectiveness, and as a result training effectiveness is an important Key Performance Indicator (KPI) used in the competition.

I have been involved in learning and development for over twenty-five years, and so I was very interested in the fact that most of the entities had reported high scores in overall training effectiveness, with scores of between 80% and 95% being recorded. This was a most unexpected and surprising result.

For those who are not familiar with the Kirkpatrick four-level model, it was developed by Donald L. Kirkpatrick in the 1950’s as part of his PhD dissertation. According to Kirkpatrick, in order to determine the impact and effectiveness of training, measurements should be taken at four key points, or levels in the training process. Kirkpatrick called these the Reaction, Learning, Behaviour and Results levels. The overall objective of the Kirkpatrick model is to improve business performance through training and developing people.

A fuller discussion on the Kirkpatrick four-level model will be kept for a later post. For the purpose of this post I will briefly explain the four levels and then discuss the role that supervisors and direct line managers can play that will significantly enhance the effectiveness of training in their organisations.

 The Kirkpatrick Four-Levels:
  •  Reaction
  • Learning
  • Behaviour
  • Results

The first level, the Reaction level, essentially measures the individual’s response to the training event, the facilitator conducting the training, the material, delivery and the training facilities. It’s simply a measure of whether the individual liked the facilitator and liked the training. This response is usually measured through a simple questionnaire administered at the conclusion of the training. This end-of-course evaluation is increasingly being done online, where the individual completes an online questionnaire immediately on returning to their workplace after training. Over 85% of all training events are measured at this level, and in some organisations, this is the only level that’s measured.

The Reaction Level measures whether the individual liked the facilitator and the training

The Learning level, the second level, measures whether the individual attending the training was able to pass the post-course test. On some courses there is both a pre-course test and a post-course test, with the majority of training events only having a post-course test of some description. The test generally only measures the knowledge gained by the individual during the course. The post-course test is usually a simple multiple-choice test administered by the facilitator immediately after the course has ended. The result of the post-course test may be included in the facilitator’s feedback on how well the individual participated in the course. In my experience, 85% or more of clients require some form of feedback on performance.

The Learning Level measures the individual’s ability to pass the post-course test

The third level, the Behaviour level, measures the degree to which the individual is able to apply the knowledge and skills learned during training to the workplace. In reality this measurement is not often done, with only 20% of organisations measuring training impact at this level.

The Behaviour Level measures the individual’s ability to transfer learning to the workplace

Kirkpatrick Partners, the organisation that markets the Kirkpatrick model, cite very important research indicating that while there is strong correlation between levels 1 and 2, there is no correlation between the Learning level (2) and the Behaviour level (3). This means that there is no automatic transfer of learning to the workplace, regardless of how much the individual liked the training or how well they performed during the training event. Unfortunately there is a widely held belief among managers and executives that someone returning from training will automatically transfer their newly gained knowledge and skill to the workplace. Nothing could be further from the truth and for transfer of learning to take place, there must be adequate support systems in place in the workplace to facilitate that transfer. It is the responsibility of the supervisor or immediate line manager to ensure that these support systems are in place in the workplace. Unfortunately 70% of potential learning failure occurs at level 3 if the support systems are not in place.

70% of potential learning failure occurs at Level 3: Behaviour if support systems are not in place

The final level, the Results level, measures the impact that training has on business performance. The key question that should be addressed at this level is whether training has actually added any value to the organisation. If it has added value, it is an investment; If it hasn’t added value, it is an expense. Measurement at this level is the most important from a business perspective, but it is not measured by the majority of organisations, mainly because the data required to measure the effectiveness and impact of training on performance and behaviour of human resources is extremely difficult to get.

The Results Level measures the value training has added to the organisation

Very few organisations bother to measure the effectiveness of training at Level 4 due to the difficulty of gathering data.

From a practical perspective, for most companies, measuring level 3, the Behaviour level is the most important. It is at this level that training has the greatest potential impact on the organisation, and the data to support this is relatively easy to collect, because the supervisor or immediate line manager is the person responsible to make sure that training is implemented. But, and this is a very big BUT, if the data collected at Level 3 is incorrect, it can lead to an erroneous assumption of how well individuals who have received training are actually transferring their knowledge and skills to the workplace.

Online training management systems make the collecting of data easier, and the way the systems are set up can influence the quality of data that is collected. The fully automated system used by the Ministry of Interior, collects data at three of the four levels; the Reaction, Learning and Behaviour levels; the fourth level is not measured due to the complexity of collecting adequate data. The individual attending training completes an online questionnaire immediately on returning to their workplace after the training event. The individual is required to rate a number of questions relating to the facilitator, training material, training delivery and training venue on a scale of 1 to 5; the typical Likert rating scale. This process ensures that level 1: Reaction scores are recorded.

On receipt of the facilitator’s feedback report on the individual’s behaviour and participation on the training course, the training department captures the feedback into the system using another standardised data input screen. This satisfies the requirements for measuring training at level 2: Learning level. Three months after the individual received their training, the computer system sends an automatic notification by SMS and email to the individual’s supervisor requesting feedback on performance. The supervisor is then required to complete an online questionnaire giving feedback on the individual’s performance within a specified time limit. Again the online questionnaire is in a standardised format. This data is used to calculate the Level 3: Behaviour score, and it is this score, the supervisor’s assessment, that is reported as the Training Performance KPI.

The importance of Level 3 can be clearly seen from the diagram adapted from the New World Kirkpatrick model (Source – Kirkpatrick Partners). For knowledge and skills transfer to take place someone needs to monitor, reinforce, encourage and reward the desired performance. Research done in 2017 by Training Industry Inc., suggests that 56% of all training is acquired on-the-job, 25% of learning is through social interaction and 19% occurs in classroom or formal learning sessions. This is a change from the original study done in 1987 which suggested a 70:20:10 ratio; 70% on-the-job, 20% social interaction and 10% formal classroom training. Although the amount of learning that takes place on the job has reduced over time, it still comprises the majority of an individual’s learning.

So who is responsible for ensuring that the individual transfers their newly acquired knowledge and skills to the workplace? The answer is simple – the supervisor or first-line manager has the greatest influence on when and how knowledge and skills are transferred to the workplace.

The role a supervisor plays in training and development is significant. They are usually responsible for identifying the training and development needs for their team members and direct reports, and are responsible for helping develop the individual’s personal development plan (IDP). They are also responsible for deciding which training courses their employees should attend and when they can be released for training.

In addition, the supervisor is also responsible for making sure that the individual being sent for training is fully prepared and briefed as to the training course and what is expected of them during and after training. If an individual knows that they will be required to implement what they have learned back in the workplace, they will be more attentive during the training event, because they will be measured when they get back.

The supervisor is responsible for ensuring that the individual who has received training has the opportunity to transfer the knowledge and skills learned to the workplace on their return. No other person has that power. You cannot expect the individual to automatically transfer knowledge and skills to the workplace unless they are specifically encouraged to do so by their immediate supervisor; this is where the system breaks down. Only 10% of organisations have the necessary support mechanisms in place to ensure that training is transferred. This means that most of the money invested in training is wasted.

The supervisor is responsible for ensuring that knowledge and skills are transferred to the workplace

As soon as is practically feasible after the individual returns to the workplace after training, the supervisor should assign tasks that are aimed at transferring knowledge and skills, and provide any support and assistance that may be necessary to facilitate that knowledge and skills transfer. If the supervisor keeps adequate records he or she will be able to provide an objective assessment of the individual’s performance when required to do so at the three month Level 3 report back.

Training needs to be reinforced in order for it to be effective. Between 56% to 70% of an individual’s training takes place in the workplace under the watchful eye of their supervisor. They need to be given the opportunity to implement what they have learned, or they will lose it.

“56% of all learning takes place on-the-job”

(Training Industry Inc. 2017)

If the supervisor or line manager does not insist that learning is transferred to the workplace, they are almost guaranteeing that learning failure will occur.

“70% of learning failure occurs at level 3 if supervisors or line-managers do not provide adequate support to encourage transfer of knowledge and skills to the workplace”

(Kirkpatrick Partners)

The Supervisor as Coach

It’s interesting to note that Kirkpatrick Partners include coaching as one of the key support mechanisms to facilitate the transfer of training. It can be argued that the key employee in any organisation who should receive formal training in coaching is the supervisor. Unfortunately, this is the one level in the organisation that is often overlooked. People higher in the organisation may be trained as coaches, but not supervisors, and it is at the supervisory level that the greatest impact will be felt.

When does coaching take place?

In many organisations, there is an annual performance appraisal session that takes place between each employee and their immediate supervisor or manager. During this session past performance is reviewed and goals are set for the future. These annual sessions are often followed up by quarterly or monthly meetings. Both the annual goal-setting and the monthly review meeting are ideal opportunities for the supervisor or immediate line manager to coach their staff.

Coaching is a process where one individual, the coach, helps another individual, known as the coachee, to get from where they are now to where they want to be in the future. A coach provides positive support, feedback, guidance and advice. A coach does not instruct or give orders.

Modern supervisors are required to be both a leader and a manager. A leader inspires others to take action, a manager plans, organizes, directs and controls people. As a coach, the supervisor needs to lead more than manage. They need to provide leadership and guidance during the annual performance review/ goal setting session, and they need to provide direction during the monthly review sessions where they may have to deal with behavioural or performance issues.

There are two coaching models that are ideal for supervisors and immediate line managers to use, as they address both goal setting and performance management issues. A coaching model is a tool, and the more tools a supervisor has in their toolkit, the better equipped they will be.

A model is essentially a framework. It doesn’t tell you how to coach, but rather it’s the underlying structure that you use when you are coaching someone.

GROW Coaching Model

The GROW coaching model, developed by Sir John Whitmore is possibly the most well-known coaching model in the world. GROW stands for Goals, Reality, Obstacles/ Opportunities and Will (or way forward). The GROW model is ideally suited for goal setting and is used during the annual goal-setting meeting.

  • Goals
  • Reality
  • Opportunities/ Obstacles
  • Will (way forward)

FUEL Coaching Model

The second coaching model that is ideally suited for supervisors is the FUEL model developed by John H. Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett. The FUEL model is designed for managers or supervisors who are tasked with coaching their subordinates. The model is designed to complement performance management systems as it focuses on issues rather than goals. If a supervisor is going to coach a team member on how to transfer knowledge and skills to the workplace, this the the ideal coaching model to use. FUEL stands for Framing the conversation, Understanding the situation, Exploring alternatives, and Laying out the action plan.

  • Frame the conversation
  • Understand the situation
  • Explore alternatives
  • Lay out action plan

I shall explore both the GROW and FUEL coaching models in my next post.

If you are a manager, and you want to add value to your organisation through training, I suggest that you seriously consider training your supervisors as coaches. If you are a supervisor, and want to be able to make a significant impact in your area of responsibility, I seriously suggest that you enroll on a coaching course to future-proof your career. As I have often said to managers and supervisors who have attended my training courses, you have the power to empower people who you are responsible for. You don’t need permission to empower someone else; you can delegate authority and empower up to your own level of authority without anyone’s permission. You just have to have the self-confidence and courage to do so.

Become a coach to your staff, and reap the benefits and rewards that empowering others will bring.


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