Managers at all levels in organizations should act as coaches. Isn’t this the business equivalent of saying that politicians should act as statesmen? It’s a great idea — but how often does it happen? Most organizations support the concept of coaching. Coaching is a process where individuals (managers, team leaders or colleagues) provide employees with steady, constructive feedback and suggestions to help them improve their performance and attain their personal goals. But judging from the evidence, managers at all levels have a difficult time translating the theory of coaching into the reality of their daily work. Here are some ideas:
Create an environment where honest feedback is safe. You need a culture where it is SAFE for employees to admit they have performance issues to work on (or skills to learn) — without feeling they are putting themselves in financial or career jeopardy. This type of work environment can’t be taken for granted. It requires an honest assessment of how the manager’s work group is currently operating and the manager’s willingness to admit that the current environment may need to change before there can be effective coaching. One way to accomplish this is to take the time, at a staff meeting or an offsite, to involve employees in identifying what is currently working and not working regarding the climate. And then, managers and employees work together to create action steps that make it clear the coaching process is “for real” and is truly safe.
Provide developmental feedback. For growth and development to occur, there must be honest, direct, and timely feedback. Again, climate is critical. Trust is essential for employees to be open to receiving feedback. You can present a very realistic picture of employees’ performance that doesn’t attack their self-esteem. And by providing a clear promise of on-going support, it doesn’t put employees in the position of being “out there” on their own, trying to spontaneously re-invent the way they perform.
Create actions that improve performance. Both manager and employee must be willing to roll up their sleeves and try things — without fear of making a mistake. People learn best by trying and doing. It’s very similar to the way kids learn how to ride a bicycle. You don’t send them off to a training program or give them the 10 key principles of bike riding. You have them do it. And it’s in the process of falling off, getting back on and trying it again that they learn the skill.
The key question for organizations is: Why bother? This question is eloquently answered by Herb Kelleher who noted that coaching benefits an organization because: “You have a much more productive workforce. You have lower costs and better customer service. [And] the pay-off for managers who coach effectively is perhaps the greatest payoff that you can possibly have — that is watching other people develop and grow and come into the full bloom of their capabilities.”