It’s all too easy for managers to delegate the task of ‘managing performance’ to the HR department, after all, isn’t that what the HR department is there for? Or is it? Who should really be taking responsibility, and taking action? HR or the line managers? Or perhaps they could at least be working better together?

A recent client, a Head of HR shared her frustration that there was a perception from the business that performance was not managed well. The HR team had limited resources, and she felt there was a need to encourage managers to take ownership for their team issues and not pass the buck to HR!

She wanted the line managers to feel more confident in tackling these issues with support from the HR team.  Managers in the organisation had not had much training in managing teams and needed HR support particularly with ‘difficult conversations’ such as giving feedback to an employee that their behaviour was not acceptable, or that their standard of work was below expectations.

Employee ‘issues’ were taking up an excessive amount of time for the HR department, including grievances and personal problems.  The team felt a lack of confidence in pushing the responsibility back to the Line Managers, with the assurance that HR was still there to support them.

Supporting the Line Managers

My client acknowledged that her team had strong transactional HR skills but she wanted them to get out into the business more and work with managers to coach and support them. Managers needed support in dealing with issues such as sickness absence, timekeeping, poor performance as well supporting the manager with having difficult conversations with team members. If these were handled effectively in the first place, it reduced the chances situations escalating, and of HR having to get involved

The Head of HR identified a need for her young, enthusiastic but inexperienced team to develop their coaching and communication skills to use in their everyday interactions with managers, and employees, in the business.

Bite Sized Chunks learning

Having explored exactly what was needed, we created a bespoke coaching skills programme that was delivered in ‘bite size’ chunks over 5 months.  This allowed the HR team to learn new skills in a confidential and supportive environment and then apply that learning in the workplace. We explored coaching challenges experienced in the preceding 6 weeks and resolved those before moving on to new learning.

The short half day workshops were delivered onsite so that the team were not away from the business for too long, and 1:1 coaching sessions were held with each individual, tailored to their specific development.  Coaching practice involved using real life scenarios together with lots of experiential learning.

Anecdotal Feedback

At the end of the programme, my client was proud to share with me some anecdotal feedback from the business, where is was being acknowledged that performance problems were being dealt with more effectively, and line managers felt supported.

Specific comments included:

“A manager went to see the HR Business Partner in a stressed state as she had too much work to deal with, and was finding it difficult to delegate.  The HRBP used her new coaching skills to coach the manager to an effective solution, finding strategies which the manager put into practice. She reported back that she was feeling much more confident.”

“A junior HRBP reported feeling much more confident in managing her time, describing how she set up an expectation with a particular employee who took up a lot of time, that the meeting would last for 20 minutes which was stuck to. This HRBP was also able to confidently support a line manager who needed to have a ‘difficult conversation’ with an employee about his behaviour at work.

Teaching your team coaching skills can have a far-reaching impact, reducing stress and anxiety as well as saving time. A happier team is far more productive than a stressed one!


Executive Coach Amanda Bolger has been coaching since 2001. Her HR background combined with knowledge of organisational development ensures she enables leaders to maximize performance at work, successfully manage change and build resilience.