Why Managers Don’t Coach, Part 5

For the past several weeks, I’ve been discussing some of the most common reasons given by managers when asked why they aren’t coaching. Along the way, I’ve shared my thoughts on the relationship between coaching and training, coaching the high performer, the importance of regular coaching and time management. In this final post of the series, I’ll address the issue of coaching skill.

Excuse #5: “I don’t know how to coach.”

Typically, this excuse stems from a lack of understanding. Managers who don’t understand what a coach is, will have a hard time figuring out what a coach does. So let’s begin with some definitions. Simply put, coaching is anything you do to help someone improve their level of performance. Therefore, a coach is someone engaged in activities that help another person improve their level of performance.

Many corporate coaching programs have complicated the concept. Attend a typical class on frontline coaching and you will be inundated with complex forms, charts and processes that require any number of acronyms in order to remember them all. Back at the office, you spread out all of the materials only to find that the idea of coaching, as it was presented, is way too cumbersome. Frustration leads to procrastination and, ultimately, the idea of coaching is abandoned.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Look at that definition of coaching again – anything you do to help someone improve their level of performance. When you think of coaching this way, as the process of helping someone vs. a complex set of activities, it frees you to act. Coaching should focus on providing a service rather than following a particular system. So with this new definition in mind, let’s look at some of the activities effective coaches engage in.

Observation: The act of observing an employee in the act of performing their job to identify patterns of behavior. During an observation, the coach makes notes regarding specific strengths and deficiencies in order to address them with the employee.

Goal-setting: The act of defining specific expectations regarding an employee’s performance. Effective goal-setting involves communicating exactly what is expected of the employee with regard to technique and results.

Role clarification: The act of communicating the importance of an employee’s particular job role in the achievement of the organization’s objectives. Role clarification helps the employee understand how the specific tasks they are charged with contribute to the big picture.

Skill drill: The act of repeating a specific behavior over and over in order to develop mastery. The goal of a skill drill is to create an automatic response to a particular set of circumstances.

Role play: The act of practicing a series of skills in preparation for performing on the job. Think of role playing as a dress rehearsal. The goal is to work out any kinks prior to going on stage. Employees who can perform as desired in repeated practice scenarios are more likely to perform when it counts.

Modeling: The act of demonstrating a set of specific behaviors so that employees can form a picture of the ideal performance. Modeling the behavior you want employees to demonstrate provides them with a visual reference to draw upon while they work to improve.

Praise: The act of recognizing when an employee performs as desired and letting them know about it. Effective praise communicates specifically what you noticed, why you liked it and how important it is to continue the desired behavior. Praise should be delivered as soon as possible after the desired behavior occurs so that the employee makes a strong connection between what they did and the positive feelings associated with your praise. Because of the positive emotions it evokes, praise should be used frequently.

Correction: The act of recognizing when an employee fails to perform as desired and letting them know about it. Effective correction communicates specifically what you noticed, why it is undesirable and how to correct the behavior. By nature, correction evokes negative emotions and should be used sparingly. The goal is to inspire improvement, not fear of failure.

These are just a few of the activities commonly associated with effective coaching. I’ll bet you already do some of these. You may be a great coach and don’t even know it. If this all seems new, start small. Get up right now and go catch someone doing something right. And praise them for it. When you come back to your office, schedule an hour within the next week to perform some observations. Remember that coaching is action oriented. So let’s go coach!

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