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Develop Better Managers With Employee Feedback & Prescriptive Coaching

October 01, 2019 by Joanna Swanson

Develop Better Managers With Employee Feedback & Prescriptive Coaching

Younger managers are climbing the organizational ladder faster than ever before. Such rapid advancement presents new training challenges for HR and managers, making coaching strategies critical for success. While many organizations are already familiar with traditional descriptive coaching techniques, a more prescriptive approach might be better suited for today's cost-conscious, results-oriented environment.

However, some HR departments are hesitant to merge a prescriptive coaching model propelled by employee feedback with the more traditional, descriptive management training models of old. A closer look at prescriptive coaching in today’s business environment, including the following concepts and factors, will help HR better understand the value it brings to an organization:

  • Prescriptive vs. descriptive coaching for management

  • Employee feedback’s impact on manager development

  • HR’s role in a prescriptive coaching strategy

  • Traits of effective managers

While it’s true that one size rarely fits all in modern industry, every organization stands to benefit in some way from a more prescriptive approach to manager development.

Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Coaching for Management

Both prescriptive and descriptive coaching strategies are useful for organizations. Choosing between the two really depends on what HR is trying to accomplish, but that’s not to say that the two are mutually exclusive of each other.

In simple terms, prescriptive coaching is specific and targeted. It doesn’t deal in generalities but, instead, focuses on achieving a particular goal or future state with a deliberate set of actions. HR or leadership identifies a problem, establishes a goal, and gives the manager an action plan to achieve that goal. Prescriptive coaching shows a manager how to get from point A to point B.

Alternatively, descriptive coaching tries to equip the manager with the skills to succeed, allowing them to interpret the environment and decide on a course of action that gives them the best chance to reach a goal. Naturally, there’s a time and place for both prescriptive and descriptive coaching strategies in an organization, but choosing between the two isn’t always straightforward.

Hyphen_PrescriptiveDescriptive_Graphic

Expense is an important factor to consider, since the descriptive approach used by management consultants usually comes at a significant cost. Also, since consultants don’t provide ongoing training based on actual measured results, they lack the sense of momentum that prescriptive coaching provides.

In other words, not only does prescriptive coaching typically require a much smaller ongoing investment, it also builds on itself through continual feedback. While descriptive coaching is useful in providing managers with basic people skills and high-level, generalized problem-solving abilities, it doesn’t always correlate with improved KPIs or people analytics like employee engagement levels.

Download HR's Ultimate Guide to People Analytics

Prescriptive coaching is better equipped to guide managers to improved performance as long as adequate data informs it. Rather than relying on static training sessions from an outside group that doesn’t account for the unique currents within an organization, a prescriptive approach bases its guidance on actual people data and trends, often in real-time.

Also, unlike a descriptive strategy that often employs a one-size-fits-all approach, prescriptive coaching doesn’t try to apply generalized advice for all. Instead, it’s personalized according to the specific strengths and weaknesses of the individual manager. For HR to take full advantage of a prescriptive strategy in manager development, however, it must first have a feedback solution in place that can reveal areas for improvement and growth.

Employee Feedback’s Impact on Manager Development

An effective feedback platform should allow HR to ask precisely-worded questions to employees, creating an accurate gauge on manager performance. It’s concrete, quantitative data that clearly identifies areas where managers excel and others where they need to improve.

Given our insights into employee feedback and engagement, we’ve created a Manager Effectiveness Template based on several questions HR can use to pinpoint areas for improvement, including:

  • I know exactly what my manager expects of me at work.

  • My manager provides me with clear quarterly OKRs (Objectives & Key Results).

  • My manager gives me challenging work.

  • My manager has given me recognition or praise for doing good work in the past 30 days.

  • My opinions matter to my manager.

  • My manager actively encourages my development and has specific conversations with me about my career.

  • My manager cares for me as a person.

  • My manager provides frequent and timely feedback on my performance and development.

These questions, and the others from our template, can guide a prescriptive coaching strategy by using actual people data to establish goals and action plans that will help improve manager performance.

When used consistently over time, this type of ongoing feedback also identifies trends to see if a manager is working towards these goals. If they are not, the lack of progress could very well affect employee engagement within the manager’s team, leading to lower productivity levels and higher attrition.

Read Next: Survey Questions to Evaluate Management Effectiveness

HR’s Role in a Prescriptive Coaching Strategy

Like any facet of learning & development and employee engagement, HR plays a pivotal role in designing, implementing, and maintaining an effective prescriptive coaching strategy, best viewed as a series of actions.

  1. Identify feedback solution that is most suited for an organization’s needs and goals

  2. Roll out the solution to ensure maximum impact

  3. Develop feedback questions that will identify a manager’s strengths & weaknesses

  4. Present the feedback results to managers and create an action plan for improvement

  5. Monitor that improvement through additional surveys & polls to track progress, ideally every six months or so

Obviously, HR is instrumental in every phase of the process, from choosing the feedback software that generates the people data, to the actual coaching itself. With this approach, HR can transform nuanced opinion and thought into quantifiable data that usually doesn’t appear in standard performance metrics.

For example, a sales team might be having a banner year in revenue and customer growth, but if the salespeople are unhappy and disengaged, it’s just a matter of time until they look for a different employer.

Read Next: Feedback + Learning & Development = A Better Employee Experience

Prescriptive coaching based on ongoing feedback can help a manager improve in the specific areas that will increase employee engagement, helping to ensure those robust sales metrics extend into the future. Since the feedback is technology-driven, the strategy is scalable to growth, making it a dependable asset for an organization no matter how quickly or large it grows.

Traits of Effective Managers & Prescriptive Coaching Strategies

Feedback-driven prescriptive coaching also helps HR isolate the specific traits that lead to productive, successful management in an organization. Although every manager and employer is different, there are a few common traits that can help an organization reap the rewards from a coaching strategy propelled by authentic, timely, and relevant employee feedback.

  • Managers are open to feedback and coaching, seeing the process as an opportunity rather than an indictment

  • Use prescriptive coaching as a supplement to in-house training personnel, not a replacement

  • Use the habits of the highest-ranking managers according to feedback to assemble best practices that other managers can use, to benefit their own teams

Use prescriptive coaching as a supplement to in-house training, not a replacement.


Organizations that embrace employee feedback and the prescriptive coaching it informs, stand to realize improved engagement, turnover, productivity, and culture. While a descriptive approach to management development still has a place in modern organizations, a prescriptive coaching strategy provides a targeted, goal-oriented, and flexible solution to managing a dynamic, fast-paced environment.