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We’ve all heard it. We might have even said it. It usually sounds something like “This training was no good. People are still doing things the wrong way.” Sometimes it sounds more like “The training was interesting but I’m not sure it will really work in my situation.”

Is the problem really that the training was no good, or was it not an appropriate solution to a problem. Whether you are a manager looking to improve the performance of others in your organization or someone looking to improve your own skills and knowledge, it’s important to consider what you want to achieve before you hire a trainer or coach.

Are you looking to jump start a behavioral change by providing a much-needed injection of information? If so, training is probably sufficient. Do you need someone to pinpoint individual weaknesses and work on strengthening them? If that’s the case, then coaching is the better solution. How do you know which you should use? The answer lies in the nature of the problem and recognising the fundamental differences between training and coaching.

The Essential Nature of Each

Training differs from coaching in several fundamental ways, as the table below shows:

  Training Coaching
Duration Occurs within a limited timeframe (a single course) Happens over the long haul
Orientation Group activity An individual activity
Goals Transfer knowledge and skills to achieve the goals that are pre-established for the group Change an individual’s behavior or performance based on the goals the individual sets
Structure Pre-determined: the topics, order, and timing are set before the class begins. Personalized and flexible to meet the individual’s needs.

Desired Skill Sets

How do you know if you have a good trainer?  Look for these traits:

A good TRAINER should be able to A good COACH should be able to
·      Quickly establish trust and credibility with the group

·      Simplify complex ideas

·      Speak comfortably in public

·      Engage and motivate a group

·      Manage group dynamics effectively

·      Manage time and stick to the schedule

·      Guide the discussions to specific logical and desired conclusions

·      Draw out learning from participants


·      Develop deep and trusting relationships with the protégé

·      Ask powerful questions to uncover the protégé’s desires, motivations, and barriers and to guide the protégé to an effective solution

·      Be flexible enough to adjust the plans to the protégé’s needs

·      Analyze and diagnose problems

·      Be patient enough to let the protégé discover the answers for themselves rather than just explaining the “right solution.”


Deciding Which to Hire

Ask yourself (or your managers) the following questions to help determine whether training or coaching is the appropriate solution for you:

  • How much time is available for learning? If time is not of the essence, coaching may work better. If time is critical to solving the problem, then training may fill the need better.
  • Are you trying to solve an individual or a group problem? If everyone is suffering from the same issue, then training might provide some economies of scale. If only a handful of people have the problem, coaching can provide more focused solutions.
  • Is the performance issue due to a knowledge or behavior gap? If people are not performing as expected because they do not have the necessary knowledge or skill set, training is probably the better approach. If they are not performing to par because some individualized behavior is preventing success, coaching is better suited to diagnose and treat the issue.
  • How much training have they already had on the subject? If people are not performing as expected and have already attended training, there may be some other issues getting in the way. Individual coaching might be able to uncover those issues and effective solutions.
  • How critical is it that everybody get to the same performance standards at the same time and in the same way? If consistency is critical to success, training is the better solution. If it is more important that people eventually reach the desired state, but there is no urgency to them getting there in the same way or at the same time, then coaching can provide a more personalized experience.

Remember that the two are not mutually exclusive. The most effective performance improvement solutions involve a combination of the two: training to kick-start the effort and provide a common baseline, followed by individual coaching to help learners reach the desired performance in a way best suited to their needs.

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