Coaching by Supervisor: An 80 Year-old Idea

Coaching by Supervisor: An 80 Year-old Idea


Coaching by Supervisor: An 80 year-old idea that is still relevant today

In this post I shall explain how an 80 year-old idea of Coaching by Supervisor is still relevant and important in business today. I will also describe two coaching models, the GROW model and FUEL model, and explain how they can fit seamlessly into daily business operations.

80 years ago coaching was considered to be an essential part of a supervisor’s job. The concept of supervisor as coach was recognized by the US War Department as being critical to success in the war effort. Supervisors working in factories supplying materials, equipment and vehicles for war, were trained in coaching skills through the country-wide Training Within Industry (TWI) program.

Background to the Supervisor as Coach

In 1940 the American government faced a huge problem. Hundreds of thousands of men were called up for active war duty. Many of these were experienced supervisors, skilled operators, and workers from factories and manufacturing plants across the country.

As a result of the massive call-up, owners of factories critical to supplying materials, equipment and vehicles for the war effort were forced to recruit inexperienced people, many of whom had never worked in a factory before.

To deal with the problem of the critical shortage of skills the US Department of War developed the Training Within Industry (TWI) program.

According to author Jim Huntingzer the objectives of the TWI program were to assist the war production industries to meet their manpower needs –

“by training within industry each worker to make the fullest use of his best skill up to the maximum of his individual ability, thereby enabling production to keep pace with ear demands.”


Supervisors are a critical resource

The TWI program focused on training supervisors, because this group of people were considered to be a critical and scarce resource. Supervisors are defined as any individual who directed the work of others.





“A supervisor is any individual who directs the work of others”





Supervisors were trained as ‘Master Trainers’ who trained workers in their plants. By adopting this process, the TWI programme trained over 1.75 million people in 16500 plants and factories across the United States in five years starting in 1940 and ending in 1945.

Identifying Skills Needed by Supervisors

Due to the magnitude of the problem and the vast diversity of industries affected by the war, the first thing the TWI did was to identify the essential knowledge and skills they believed that supervisors in any of the affected industries would need.

After extensive research, they distilled this down to five essential elements described as the ‘Five Needs of Supervisors.’

The Five Needs of Supervisors

  • Knowledge of:
    • Work
    • Responsibilities
  • Skills in:
  • Instructing
  • Improving Methods
  • Leading

TWI believed that all supervisors, regardless of industry, were expected to know the technical aspects of their work and their primary responsibilities within their respective organisations. They were also expected to be come master trainers. They were expected to be able to analyse and improve job processes. The supervisors were also expected to be leaders and not just direct the work of their subordinates.

Two knowledge areas

It was obvious from the outset that knowledge of work and knowledge of responsibilities would be specific to each industry and each plant within their respective industry. As a result,  this knowledge was not included in the standardised training programs. The TWI assumed that people would be trained in their own plants, and as a result they would already have this institutional knowledge.

Three skills areas

The three skills areas were common to all supervisors regardless of manufacturing discipline:

  • Instructing
  • Improving methods.
  • Leading.

These three skill areas were taught to all supervisors through standardised training courses conducted by certified TWI trainers who ran the courses in each factory. Every person was trained in exactly the same way, and given exactly the same knowledge and skills, regardless of the industry or plant.

The courses were run in-house in each factory in five sessions of two-hours each. The first two sessions were devoted to learning the tools, techniques and methods, and the last three sessions were devoted to applying the tools, techniques and methods to the specific factory environment.

In this way the TWI certified instructors ensured that all the supervisors being trained in any specific factory had the knowledge and skills to apply the TWI training program in their own factory.

Each supervisor was taught how to instruct, teach and coach.  The supervisors were expected to become master trainers who would then train and coach the people they were directly responsible for.

I am only going to focus on the ‘Skill in Instructing’ course in this post. The goal of the Job Instruction (JI) course was to train the worker to the level where they could do their job to the required standard without assistance. It was the supervisor’s responsibility to ensure that each worker achieved task competence in the shortest possible time.

Supervisor Competency

Today we define competence as having the knowledge, skill, understanding, and attitude to perform a specified task or set of activities to a specified level or standard of performance, consistently, repeatedly and without outside assistance.

Definition of competency:


“Competency is having the knowledge, skills, understanding and attitude, necessary to perform a specific task or defined set of activities, to a specified or standard of performance, consistently, repeatedly, and without outside assistance.”


Each supervisor facilitates the development of competency in their subordinated by following a simple four-step training process.

  1. Preparation
  2. Presentation
  3. Application
  4. Testing

Four-step process to develop competency

  • Preparation:   The supervisor prepares the worker for intruction by describing what they are to do and what is expected of the worker.
  • Presentation:  The supervisor goes through each of the steps of the task, in order. The supervisor demonstrates the task, checking for feedback, and understanding, at each step.
  • Application:  The worker performs the task while the supervisor observes.
  • Testing:  The supervisor tests the worker to see if they can perform the task to the required standard, unaided.


The process is repeated until the worker achieves the standard of performance for required for competency.

The maxim underpinning Job Instruction Training:

“If the worker hasn’t learned; the instructor hasn’t taught.”

The onus of ensuring worker competency lies fairly and squarely on the supervisor.

Supervisor as Coach

Coaching is an integral component of Job Instruction. Each supervisor is coaches by:

  • Giving reasons and advantages for the steps in the particular job process
  • Getting understanding from the Coachee on the basic principles of the job, and why the steps are important
  • Selecting a problem and working together
  • Getting the Coachee to work on another problem alone, while the supervisor observes them performing the task
  • Giving the worker credit for good results and good effort.


TWI defined coaching as:


“A means of helping someone to do a better job of that he is trying to do.”


This is very similar to our present day ideas of coaching which is simply to get someone from where he or she is now to where they wan to be in the future.

Objective of Coaching

According the the TWI, the objective of coaching is not to solve a problem. The objective is to develop the worker’s ability to solve any problem as and when it occurs.


“The objective of coaching is not to solve a problem, it is to develop a worker’s ability to solve problems” 


Charles Allen, the developer of the four-step TWI training methodology, emphasized the importance of a good personal relationship between supervisor and employee.

The coach has to work personally with the individual to show him or her how to do a better job. Allen also believed that the coach should not criticise poor performance.  The coach should explain why good work will succeed, and encourage the worker to do better.

Allen’s comments on industrial coaching, written over 80 years ago are very illuminating.  While the language is obviously out of date, the ideas and concepts are still relevant today:


Allen’s definition of Industrial Coaching

“The men will eventually think of the instructor as a ‘coach’ rather than as a production foreman. Under good management, the men will not be afraid to ask questions, and the questions will be to the point; there will be much discussion but there will be little argument; the men will be on the job whether they are under the eye of the instructor or whether they are not; all conditions will be business-like and natural.”


Fast-forward to the present time. We live in the golden age of coaching. There are coaches of all descriptions, in all disciplines: executive coaches, business coaches, performance coaches, music coaches, project management coaches, life coaches and even sobriety coaches. The only coach we don’t seem to have is the supervisor as coach.

I did a Google search for the responsibilities, roles and functions of a supervisor. Of the dozens of hits, there was only one reference to coaching and three references to the training of new hires.


Responsibilities of the modern supervisor

There are no references to ‘master trainer’ as a supervisor job function, and this, I believe is where the problem lies.

On-the-job training has dropped from 100% in 1940 down to 56% today (Training Industry Inc. 2017). The modern supervisor is not as involved in on-the-job training as in the past. It looks as though we have abdicated the responsibility for training and coaching to someone else. 25% of an individual’s learning is through social media and social interaction and 19% is through attending formal training events.

“Times have changed, technology has changed and advanced, but people are still the same, and we still have the same kinds of problems.”

(Patrick Graupp, senior master trainer, TWI Institute)


80 years ago training and coaching may have been essential supervisory skills; not so today. The supervisor as coach does not exist in the majority of organisations.

In my previous post I highlighted that 70% of all training failure occurs in the workplace, and the supervisor is 100% responsible for that failure. Maybe it’s time that we get back to basics.


“70% of all training failures occur in the workplace.

Supervisors are 100% responsible for that failure”


The challenge for the supervisor as coach

Coaching is at the heart of good supervision, and good supervisors are also good coaches. The challenge is how to be both a supervisor and a coach at the same time.

Supervisors direct, instruct, tell people what to do, solve problems and expect results. Coaches to do the exact opposite. They do not direct, instruct or tell people what to do. They ask questions and don’t solve problems directly.

What Coaches do is to encourage employee to come to their own conclusions. As Charles Allen succinctly put it 80 years ago, coaching doesn’t solve problems; it empowers people to be able to solve problems themselves.


The relationship between Supervisor as Coach and Coachee

The fact that the relationship between the Supervisor as Coach and the Coachee is formal and not voluntary, complicates the issue. The Coach has line authority over the Coachee, and as a result can force the Coachee into behaving or thinking in the way the Coach wants.

This is the antithesis of coaching; the objective of coaching is to get voluntary commitment, not obedience.

Supervisor as Coaches need to be trained

Successful supervisor as coaches are flexible in their thinking and are able to swap between their supervisor hats and their coaching hats as the need arises. This process does not happen automatically and supervisors need to be trained in coaching, the coaching process and coaching models.

Coaching Models for Supervisors as Coaches

Because supervisors are concerned with goal setting as well as day-to-day performance, there are two coaching models that are suitable for supervisory coaching; the GROW model and the FUEL model. While both models are based on simple four-step processes they have a different focus. We use the GROW model to help people set and achieve goals. While we can also use the FUEL model to set goals, we normally use it in a situation where we want to change an employee’s behaviour or improve their performance.

In both models the role of the Supervisor as Coach is to ask open-ended questions that make the Coachee think. The successful application of the model is directly related to the Coach’s ability to ask relevant questions. Supervisors as Coaches will ideally be trained in both coaching models, and will have the competence to be able to select whichever model is most suitable for a particular coaching session.


GROW Coaching Model

The GROW model is designed for goal setting. The model assumes that the coach is not an expert in the Coachee’s situation, and as a result is commonly used for executive and business coaching by external coaches.

The Coach acts as a facilitator and helps the Coachee set goals and develop action plans.

The Coach does not give advice or direction, but merely facilitates the process of helping the Coachee make a decision by asking relevant questions.

In many organisations there is an annual performance review and goal-setting session that each manager has with their direct reports. This is the ideal opportunity for the supervisor as coach to use the GROW coaching model.


The Four Steps in the GROW Coaching Model

The model is a simple four-step framework for structuring the coaching session. The purpose of the model is to get an individual from where they are now to where they want to be in the future.

  • (G) Grow
  • (R) Reality
  • (O) Options/ Opportunities/ Obstacles
  • (W) Will (way forward)


The first step is to determine where the Coachee wants to be in the future and what they want to achieve. This is the goal; the destination. During the goal-setting phase the Coach asks open-ended questions to get the Coachee to think about their desired future state.

Psychological Safety

The objective of this stage is to get the Coachee to articulate their vision for the future. This can only be done if there is a level of trust between the two parties. The Coachee will only be honest with the Coach if they feel psychologically safe, and it is the Coach’s responsibility to develop the necessary level of trust. It is this where the greatest challenge is in the Supervisor as Coach and Coachee relationship. The Coachee has to trust the supervisor on an emotional and psychological level. The Coachee has to feel psychologically safe enough to be open and honest that the Supervisor, their boss, will not use anything they say in the coaching session against them.

Translate goals into SMARTWAY objectives

When the Coachee is able to describe their ideal vision for the future, that vision must be translated into one or more clearly defined objectives using the SMARTWAY criteria. [See my post on Achieving Goals through SMARTWAY objectives].

The objective must be specific, it must be measurable, it should be achievable, be realistic, have a deadline (be time-bound), be worthwhile, be accountable and produce the desired result (yield).

A goal is only a target without a deadline. If the Coachee really wants to achieve the goal, it must be translated into one or more objectives, with action plans for achieving each objective.

If the Coachee doesn’t translate the goal into objectives, it won’t be a goal, it will simply be a wish, and it’s is not possible to achieve wishes.

The Supervisor as Coach’s role is to help their employee (the Coachee) to work through the GROW model and to come up with a realistic and workable action plan to achieve their goal(s).



It is very important to understand the current reality. This is where the Coachee is at the present time. It is a very simple concept; if you don’t know where you are starting from, you are not going to be able to get to where you want to be in the future.

The Coach’s role is to ask probing questions to ensure that the Coachee is aware of their current reality. This process helps identify the gap between the present and the ultimate goal.


Options/ Opportunities/ Obstacles

Coach and Coachee explore all options, opportunities and obstacles. The purpose of this stage is not to find a single ‘right’ answer, but to create a list of as many alternatives as possible. This is a brainstorming session facilitated by the Coach. Again, it is very important that the Coach creates an environment in which the coachee feels psychologically safe enough to express their thoughts and ideas without fear of criticism.

The Coach’s job is to guide the process, and not to influence the Coachee or make decisions.  The objective is to generate as many options as possible, explore all opportunities, and identify any obstacles that may hinder or impede progress.

Will (or Way Forward)

The final step in the process is to get the Coachee to commit to a specific course of action. It is important for the Coachee to come up with a detailed action plan they will commit to. The purpose of this step is to convert discussion into decision. The challenge for the Supervisor as Coach, is to allow the Coachee to develop the plan, and to get the Coachee to assume accountability and responsibility for the plan.

By the end of the process there should be a realistic, workable plan, that both Coachee and Coach can live with.


FUEL Coaching Model

The FUEL coaching model is also based on four simple steps. This model is ideal for supervisors and managers who are concerned with managing behavioural change and performance issues in their employees.

In many organisations, supervisors and line managers have monthly meetings with each of their reports. Many organisations use these sessions as mini performance review sessions to keep employees on track with their goals. The sessions also provide the ideal opportunity for supervisors to coach their direct reports using the FUEL coaching model.

The model assumes that the coach is an expert in the same field as the coachee, and as a result, the challenge in using this model is that the coach must avoid leading the coachee to where the coach wants them to be. Again the objective of coaching is to get voluntary commitment from the coachee.

The four steps of the FUEL model

  • (F) Frame the Conversation
  • (U) Understand the Current State
  • (E) Explore the Desired Future State
  • (L) Lay out a Success Plan

Frame the Conversation

The first step of the process sets the context for the conversation. The Coach and Coachee agree on the process they will follow and on the desired outcome.

For example, the purpose of the conversation may be to set goals, address a specific issue such as a required behavioural change or performance improvement, or to transfer knowledge or skills to the workplace.

Framing the conversation ensures that both the Coach and Coachee agree what the conversation is going to be about. The Coach owns the process, and the Coachee owns the conversation.

The Framing the Conversation Process:

  • Identify the issue for discussion
  • Identify the purpose or outcome of the conversation
  • Agree on the process to follow.


Understand the Current State

This stage of the coaching process explores the current situation from the Coachee’s point of view. The objective is to give the Coachee a greater perspective and understanding of their situation. If the purpose of the coaching session is a behaviour change, it is important to understand that people won’t change until they feel a need to change.

The Coach’s role is to ask questions that explore the consequences of continuing on the current path as well as any other pertinent issues facing the coachee.

The Understanding the Current State Process:

  • Understand what is working and what is not working
  • Determine the consequences of continuing on the same path
  • Coach may offer perspective.


Explore the Desired Future State

The Coach encourages the Coachee to articulate their vision of success and to explore multiple options. It is important not to rush the Coachee into problem-solving too quickly. This stage of the process should be slow and deliberate. The objective is for the Coachee to create the ideal vision of the future and to generate alternatives for achieving this vision. The Coach should also encourage the Coachee to identify any possible barriers that could prevent them from achieving success.

The Exploring the Desired Future State Process:

  • Understand the vision for success
  • Set goals and performance expectations
  • Explore alternative paths of action
  • Identify possible barriers.


Lay Out Success Plan

The final stage of the coaching process is for the Coach to work with the Coachee to create a detailed action plan with clearly defined action steps and deadlines. The objective is to get the Coachee to accept accountability and commitment for their decision.

The Lay Out Success Plan Process:

  • Develop and agree on an action plan with deadlines
  • List resources and possible support mechanisms
  • Set milestones for follow-up.


The TWI program ended in 1945 when the need no longer existed to train supervisors in a structured and coordinated way across all industries. Unfortunately, the focus on training supervisors as instructors and coaches also ended at the same time.

But, the need for supervisors to be able to train and coach did not come to an end with the second world war, and that need is still with us today.

Coaching has come a long way since 1945. It has evolved into an industry in its own right, with the development and refining of many different coaching methodologies. As a result there are a wide range of coaching models to chose from, depending on your need.

From a practical perspective, the simplest models are always the best to understand and use. There are two models in particular, the GROW model and the FUEL model, that should be in every supervisors toolkit.

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