Tips for when to coach
- Coach employees who are aware of a performance problem or skill gap and who are motivated to address the situation.
- Don’t expect to solve a problem in a single coaching session. Coaching is an ongoing process.
- Coach informally “on-the-spot” as you overhear a conversation or observe a specific behavior that indicates a potential performance problem or skill gap.
- Offer coaching if you see a need—but first explain what you’ve observed and why you think coaching would be valuable.
- Don’t try to force coaching on someone who doesn’t want to improve or who isn’t aware that he or she has a performance problem.
- Avoid coaching if unproductive behavior is deeply rooted and occurs across a broad range of situations. Such problems usually don’t clear up with coaching.
- Find opportunities to strengthen your coaching skills. Regular practice improves a coach’s effectiveness.
- Create an atmosphere of trust. Trust makes coaching possible, and the act of coaching strengthens trust.
- Keep the coaching focused to one or two goals that will help the employee improve performance or close a skill gap.
- Cultivate a comfortable setting during coaching sessions. Make sure you will not be interrupted. Set a positive tone, and communicate genuine support for the person’s development.
- Establish ground rules up front. For example, what is said during a coaching session will remain confidential, and each party will agree to fulfill his or her commitments to the coaching process.
- Establish preferred work styles and a method of feedback up front. For instance, some people like to receive feedback in written form so they can process it at their own pace and refer to it during the coaching process. Others prefer to receive feedback in spoken form.
- Set mini-milestones to help your coachee build confidence and stay motivated.
- Be clear about who has promised what during the coaching process. To maintain accountability, periodically assess whether both parties have fulfilled their agreements and commitments.
- For large goals, such as acquiring a new skill, invite your coachee to create an action plan that lays out the coaching need, the goal, the steps the coachee will take to achieve the goal, ways of reviewing progress, and the role that the coach will play (for example, attending meetings to observe the coachee’s behavior).
- Give feedback as soon as possible after observing performance. Wait only if doing so is necessary to gather necessary information. On the other hand, if the behavior you’ve observed was particularly upsetting, consider waiting until you’ve calmed down before providing feedback.
- Don’t use feedback simply to underscore poor performance. Also provide feedback on work that is done well—you’ll help your employee learn from what he or she did right.
- Focus feedback on behavior, not character or personality. Emphasizing behavior helps prevent the other person from feeling personally attacked.
- Avoid generalizations. Instead of saying, “You did a great job during the meeting,” offer feedback that is more specific, such as “The graphics in your presentation really communicated the message.”
- Describe the other person’s behavior and its impact on projects and/or coworkers. You’ll help the person see why it’s important to address problem behavior.
- Focus feedback on factors that the other person can control. Feedback on factors that he or she cannot control is not constructive.
- Keep feedback focused on issues that your employee can rework or improve in the future.
- If a troubling behavior or action was a one-time event, consider letting it go.
- Be sincere. Give feedback with the clear intent of helping the person improve.
- Give feedback as often as necessary.
- Ask your direct report for specific information about how the coaching process is going. “What did I say that made you think I wasn’t interested in your proposal?” or “How were my suggestions helpful to you?”
- Ask for clarification in ways that don’t make your coachee defensive. “Could you give me an example?”—not “What do you mean, I was unreceptive to your idea?”
- Help your coachee avoid emotion-laden terms. “You said that I’m often inflexible. Give me an example of things I do that give you this sense.”
- Don’t be defensive. Offer justification or commentary on your actions only if asked. Tell your coachee when you’ve gotten all the feedback you can process.
- Thank the person for his or her feedback, positive and negative. You’ll build trust and model productive behavior.
Inquire into and advocate different perspectives.
Throughout the coaching process, you and your coachee need to agree on goals, create plans for achieving them, and make any changes necessary to improve the coaching process. A blend of inquiry and advocacy can help.
For example, “Julie, I’d really like to see you build the skills you need to take leadership of the product development team. Based on what I’ve observed, and what you’ve told me, learning to delegate would be a major challenge for you as a new manager. What do you see as the most important focus for our coaching sessions?”
Offer your ideas for conducting the coaching process or helping your employee achieve his or her goals.
For instance, “Julie, I think that talking with several experienced managers about delegating could be very helpful.”
Check for understanding.
Ask questions to assess your employee’s understanding of what you’re proposing.
“Julie, what is your understanding of the delegating process? In your view, how will we measure your progress with this skill?”
Check for agreement.
Ask questions to check whether you and your coachee are in agreement.
“Julie, do we agree, then, that our coaching should focus on delegating skills rather than another aspect of management?”
Revisit step 1 when agreement is in question and begin the process again.
If you check for agreement and the employee’s response indicates lack of agreement, begin blending inquiry with advocacy again. The following dialogue provides an example:
Coach: “Julie, do we agree that we’ll review your progress on delegating in two months, and that we’ll measure your progress according to whether you’ve met your goal of delegating four projects to team members?”
Julie: “I’m a little nervous about having just two months. I’ve got another big deadline that will hit midway through that timeframe, and I’m not sure I can handle the coaching assignment at the same time.”
Coach: “I think it’s important to review your progress on the delegating assignment promptly, and I’m worried that waiting longer than two months may make it harder for you to learn this skill. Do you share my concern? If so, let’s explore ideas for sticking with that timetable.”
Julie: “If the two-month review is crucial, maybe I could reduce the number of delegated projects to three instead of four. That might be more manageable.”
Coach: “That sounds like a good idea. So, we’ll agree to review your progress two months from today to see whether you’ve been able to delegate three tasks to your team?”
Julie: “Yes, let’s move ahead with that understanding.”