The Role of HR as Coaches

There’s an article by Atul Gawande in The New Yorker discussing the importance of “Coaching.” Gawande, a writer and surgeon, talked about coaches as not just teachers but as observers, judges, and guides. From the article:

The concept of a coach is slippery. Coaches are not teachers, but they teach. They’re not your boss—in professional tennis, golf, and skating, the athlete hires and fires the coach—but they can be bossy. They don’t even have to be good at the sport. The famous Olympic gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi couldn’t do a split if his life depended on it. Mainly, they observe, they judge, and they guide.

Gawande, A. (2011, October 3). Personal Best. The New Yorker.

In my HR role, I’ve always believed that HR can act as coaches across our organizations. But there’s often pushback, like “You can’t coach me in Marketing, Operations, or Accounting.” Exactly—I’m not here to teach you those things; I hired you for that. Building a coaching culture starts with hiring people open to being coached.

More from the article:

Good coaches know how to break down performance into its critical individual components. In sports, coaches focus on mechanics, conditioning, and strategy, and have ways to break each of those down, in turn. The U.C.L.A. basketball coach John Wooden, at the first squad meeting each season, even had his players practice putting their socks on. He demonstrated just how to do it: he carefully rolled each sock over his toes, up his foot, around the heel, and pulled it up snug, then went back to his toes and smoothed out the material along the sock’s length, making sure there were no wrinkles or creases. He had two purposes in doing this. First, wrinkles cause blisters. Blisters cost games. Second, he wanted his players to learn how crucial seemingly trivial details could be. “Details create success” was the creed of a coach who won ten N.C.A.A. men’s basketball championships.

Gawande, A. (2011, October 3). Personal Best. The New Yorker.

In working with adult professionals, coaching isn’t about teaching new stuff but helping them analyze and improve what they already do well. Instead of fixating on weaknesses, HR can help make employees’ strengths even stronger.

Coaching has become popular lately, with various types like leadership or life coaching. But coaching for professionals is less common. I believe in HR professionals acting as more hands-on coaches, working daily to improve skills that directly impact the business, not focusing on personal challenges.

One big challenge for HR transitioning into coaching roles is that many employees lack self-awareness, just like us! A great coach helps someone see things in themselves they didn’t notice before.

If HR can build this self-awareness in organizations, it could lead to some amazing changes.

E4 – The HR Famous Podcast – #Microaggressions – or things white folks don’t get!

In Episode 4 of The HR Famous Podcast, long-time HR leaders (and friends) Jessica Lee, Kris Dunn, and I get together to dip into uncomfortable territory by talking about microaggressions – what are they, how they manifest themselves and what HR leaders can do to make awareness of microaggressions part of their broader D&I stack.

Listen below and be sure to subscribe, rate and review (iTunes) and follow (Spotify)!!! Listen on iTunesSpotify and Google Play.

Microaggressions can be defined as brief and commonplace daily verbal or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any group, particularly culturally marginalized groups.

There’s less laughter in this one – but more real talk. Tough topic, but if you’re an HR leader or HR pro, 100% worth your time to raise your awareness and lead your organization accordingly.

Show Highlights:

3:10 – KD intros the topic of microaggression, tells the gang why it’s on his mind and gets sidetracked automatically because JLee and Tim don’t donate at least annually to Wikipedia.

6:20 – KD finally gets the definition of microaggression out using Wikipedia as his primary source. Turns out the concept has been around since 1970.

7:40 – JLee and Tim react to the concept of microaggression as individuals and HR pros. JLee talks about being from Cali, but people persisting in asking where she’s from. Tim talks about the fact that people seek connection by asking others where they are from in metro/urban environments and may be unaware of the connection to microaggression, as well as the fact they might be offending someone.

11:25 – KD leads the gang through the game, “Is it a microaggression? JLee gives great thoughts about low awareness of those providing the microaggression and why the subject of a microaggression should think about giving feedback to the provider.

Covered in this game:

–Where are you really from?

–Asking where are you from to white people with accents.

–Gender references (Sir, Ma’am) and being wrong.

–You don’t speak Spanish?

–No, you’re white!

–Hey Guys!

22:00 – The gang talks about the impact of microaggressions in the workplace, and how HR leaders should start the conversation in their companies, etc.  Linkage to bias training and starting to raise awareness as well as training to lay down a form of behavioral muscle memory across employees is discussed. Framing awareness training as civility rather than the foreboding term microaggression is also discussed.

25:20 – Tim talks about the need to train and coach people to accept feedback (someone telling them they’re using a microaggression) in a graceful way rather than feeling attacked or defensive.

28:00 – KD talks about introducing the topic of microaggressions at your next training session/meeting by conducting a simple quiz like the one performed on the podcast to get people talking.  Get ready! Tim talks about the fact that many people would say that doesn’t actually happen, and a better path might be to have people who have experienced microaggressions talk about their experiences.

29:40 – KD points out that the quiz they did didn’t include the nuclear bomb of all microaggressions – “You’re so articulate”.

30:45 – “OK, Boomer!” Tim drops the fact that when it comes to bias, ageism is an under-discussed topic, including microaggressions towards older workers. KD talks about JLee referencing the fact that he looks older while she looks the same.

31:57 – KD talks about the fact that he routinely calls JLee a Tiger Mom and asks her if she’s considered that a microaggression in the past.  JLee provides positive feedback but notes that others that hear it might consider it a microaggression even if she doesn’t.


Jessica Lee on LinkedIn

Tim Sackett on Linkedin

Kris Dunn on LinkedIn

HRU Tech

The Tim Sackett Project

The HR Capitalist

Fistful of Talent


Boss Leadership Training Series

Career Confessions of Gen Z: HR without a Degree

It was exam season of my 2nd year at UC Berkeley, the “#1 Public University in the World”. Per the typical college student in the midst winter, I thought, “What am I going to do this summer?”. Little did I know, this single thought would change my life forever…

To paint this picture a little better, I am currently writing this blog from my desk at work in Detroit, MI. If I didn’t have that little thought, I would currently be finishing my final semester of college in a couple short months.

What did I do exactly?

I accepted a job as a sourcer at a company that I knew I loved despite being less than a year away from completing school.

How did I do it?

I internalized what I really wanted and compared the pros with the cons.

Cons of leaving school to work

  1. I won’t have a college degree if I drop out — at least not yet
  2. I have to leave a good amount of friends that I’ve built great relationships with
  3. All of my family is back in California

Pros of leaving school to work

  1. I was going to school to do what I am doing now
  2. I have spent 3 internship seasons building relationships and finding mentors (something I lacked in the past)
  3. I was DROWNING in debt – loans, friends, etc. — I could pay this off if I take this job!!


Honestly, it was one of the easier decisions I’ve had to make because it made perfect sense for ME. After 8 months in my current role, I couldn’t be happier with my decision.

What I did not know would be an added benefit for me was empathy – more specifically, I am more motivated than ever to seek to understand. I think this is a benefit in all aspects of life; seeking to understand something before you seek to be understood. Now that I’m much more open with my experiences and invite the same from others, seeking to understand has become second nature to me and I can’t imagine a close-minded life.

So, I guess the point of my story wasn’t to tell you all that I dropped out of school – it’s to let you know that people have got a lot of junk sometimes. It may take a little digging to come out with that nugget of gold I like to call understanding.

Hunter Casperson — self-proclaimed “Sourcing Nerd”, is currently an Associate Talent Strategist at Quicken Loans out of Detroit, MI. Originally from Southern California, he spent lots of time outdoors and in turn, loves nature. Hunter attended UC Berkeley where he studied Math & Psychology for three years before joining Quicken. His all-time favorite thing to do is beat-box, where he has consecutively ranked amongst the Top 10 in the United States over the past 3 years (under the name Huntybeats)!

How am I Really Doing?

One of the things that is very important to me as I navigate my professional career in Human Resources is feedback and constructive criticism. I cannot stress enough how important it is for managers and supervisors to communicate with their people frequently. In my opinion, the relationship between a manager and his direct report can be compared to an intimate relationship between a couple.

There are many things that go into a romantic relationship, but two things that are non-negotiable are transparency and communication. Your significant other always expects you to be open and honest with them no matter what the situation. I think that managers owe their employees this same courtesy.

Praising or giving recognition to an employee when he’s doing well is simply not enough. A manager must also have the tough conversations when an employee may be missing the mark in an area. There is nothing worse than having a disconnect on performance between an employee and their manager. Part of the problem is that most companies are not requiring anything additional from managers in regards to feedback and reviews. Companies who place a higher focus on performance management will benefit by changing the culture through feedback and recognition.

Most companies that I have been apart of up to this point follow the typical annual performance review process. However, a manager should be communicating with their subordinates all throughout the year in addition to the formal review. Employees cannot be expected to increase efficiency on a task when the only time they get feedback is at the end of the year.

Companies that implement regular employee feedback have turnover rates that are 14.9% lower than for employees who receive no feedback (ClearCompany). That’s a very interesting statistic to think about. Managers and supervisors could be saving their companies thousands of dollars in turnover costs simply by giving more consistent feedback. 43% of highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week (ClearCompany). This feedback does not have to be a half hour- or hour-long formal meeting either.

Ensuring that your employees are highly engaged is critical to the overall company success. Feedback and recognition are imperative to keeping an employee engaged.

Some may wonder what the difference is between an engaged employee and a not engaged employee. In my experience, an engaged employee is one that is going to give 100% effort and then some daily. This person is going to do everything in their power to ensure the company is successful. Which in turn will make them look good in the process. An employee who is not engaged typically is a person that is doing his daily tasks and waiting on the next paycheck. Granted, this person may not have any issues with their performance, but you will always get the bare minimum needed from this person. Don’t expect them to go the extra mile.

Jonathan Sutherlin is a human resource professional with experience in the engineering and automotive industry. Currently going for his Master’s in Organizational Change Leadership in a hybrid program at Western Michigan University. He is very passionate about reading, philanthropy, basketball, and fitness. You can connect with Jonathan on LinkedIn or through email at When Jonathan is not at work trying to impact lives, you can either catch him in the gym or nose deep in a good book!