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When to Coach & When To Train

February 8, 2022

Posted by BOLDLY

Do you have employees who need development, but you’re not sure if training or coaching is the best option? Here’s a few things to consider!

First of all - define what the development need is. Is this a technical skill they need to take on, some knowledge related to their industry, or perhaps a change in mindset and attitude? Or, maybe you think it’s more character and ‘soft’ skills related. This starting point is called a ‘training needs analysis’ (TNA) and should only take a brief conversation, some reflection and input from the employee and some feedback from others. It doesn’t need to be a fancy or complicated process, but you do need the employee and anyone else making import to consider their comments carefully and fairly - don’t take any 1 persons opinion as gospel here! Once you’ve reflected and you have the employee and others input on their development opportunities, look for the themes - you’ll see that different people use different language, but they might be describing the same thing. For example, one person says “Jesse needs to develop team work skills” and another person mentions ‘setting shared priorities’ and you had been thinking that Jesse needs to build better peer relationships to get work done… then you might see a theme here of ‘collaboration’. If you need help seeing the themes, ask HR or another trusted manager to see what pops out for them. This is an important step, because before we can say if coaching or training is more relevant, we need to identify exactly what we’re developing.

Once you know what you’re developing, consider:

  • Is this a ‘technical’ skill or a ‘soft’ skill?
  • Is this a performance problem, or an opportunity to enhance existing good performance?
  • What career stage is Jesse at?
  • What budget do I have to address this development?
  • What resources does my company offer?

In general:

TRAINING is best for technical skills, but can also be effective for soft skills, depending on how much practice and feedback the employee gets through the program. A soft skills program which is all theory, with no personal feedback, will invariably have limited results. Training can be used to address performance issues, and is typically given to employees earlier in their careers, or when they have a role change up to mid career. There is training for leadership skills too of course, but again, so long as there’s lots of hands-on experiential learning baked into the programme. Training is certainly cost effective, depending on the provider and the technical skills you’re trying to develop, but usually it’s a manageable cost, and most companies will be familiar with investing in this kind of support for staff.

This means training is great in lots of situations, provided you’re confident in the quality, and you can ensure your employee will get support to transfer the skills back onto the job. Buyer be warned - most training fails! Not because the content isn’t good, or the facilitator isn’t experienced, but because it’s hard to make this jump from the classroom to the work desk and have the new skills and knowledge transfer. Make sure it’s practical, with role modeling, role playing, peer feedback, and even some recording and playbacks!

COACHING by comparison is hyper-personalised, and less structured than training (in that it doesn’t have a curriculum, and is specifically designed around the employees development goals). It’s primarily suited to ‘soft’ skills, or competencies, attributes and strengths, and gives the coachee a space to reflect and work through their career and workplace challenges to find their own way forward. A coach will give personalised exercises and work with the coachee to shift their mental models or look at their work in a new way to find solutions and breakthroughs. Coaching is absolutely a benefit offered to maximise already performing employees, although it is used for remedial development in some cases. Coaching has traditionally been an executive offering, however thanks to the ever-increasing availability of coaches, and new models such as group and team coaching (which still require more academic evidence!) and on-demand and peer coaching, coaching is now becoming more common for mid careers and even early careers development. The budget of coaching will typically be higher than training, because it’s such higher touch, and has stronger outcomes for transfer of competencies and attitude change back to the workplace.

So in general, if your company offers both coaching and training, you might consider a combination of both, or training for skills and coaching for competencies - with coaching having the higher touch and therefore stronger evidence for performance outcomes back to the workplace.

We’d love to talk to you about when to coach and when to train, and we have more resources to share with clients! Get in touch at to discuss.