What - Me Coach?

The sporting world provides many examples of how good coaching results in good teams that lead to consistent performance over long timeframes and through periods of high stress. Can we as Managers bring some of this coaching skill and expertise into the workplace to assist in the development and performance of our employees? If so, what are some of the challenges we face, what are the competencies we require? Better yet, is it worth our time and energy to become a coach to our employees?

The business case for coaching is simple - improve your coaching skills and business performance will improve around you. Study after study shows that those organizations whose leaders are effective coach frequently improve their business results by 21% compared to those whose managers never coach!

As Managers and leaders, we all want our employees to perform at their best. To assist them, we are always looking for skill development and training that will lead to improvement in performance. While yes, there are job related courses to improve technical and process skills, and therefore employee performance, these training courses are often generic in nature and not focused on one particular company and environment. As well, the translation from theory to practice is left to course attendee which in turn leads to varying degrees of success in transferring a new skill set to the job. Finally, the lack of a coaching approach eliminates the opportunity for frequent reinforcement. The result as can be expected is that within a short timeframe, the newly learned behavior change falls off leaving work behavior being only marginally superior to work behavior prior to training.

The challenge for managers at all levels then, is how do to reinforce the desired behaviors from our employees? The answer lies in coaching. Coaching isn't an isolated event; in fact, if we think about it, leaders have multiple opportunities to coach every day - in every customer contact. For instance, every meeting interaction, and in every casual discussion, we are given concrete examples of behaviors for which there is room for improvement.

Let's be honest, people are creatures of habit. For individuals to change their behavior; they not only need to change their habits, they need to reinforce their new habits. This can be effectively accomplished by a Manager acting as a Coach and providing ongoing feedback. This "coaching" style of feedback will help to create a learning pattern that results in behavior improvement at much higher levels than prior to coaching. With support from their coach, individuals will more effectively incorporate their new habits into every day work life and be able to maintain their new skill indefinitely.

While coaching individuals to change their behavior might appear to be an easy task, there are many possible pitfalls that can result in little or no performance improvement and/or reduced performance. Whereas the manager's goal is to steer the employee toward a different action in order to achieve a particular result, coaching conversations must be structured in a positive manner in order to allow for employee engagement and growth. 
How managers approach their employees is critical. For instance, if the coach was judgmental and responds, "Why did you do that?", the opportunity for development for the employee is lost as the individual may become defensive and feel attacked or criticized. Open ended questions such as, "tell me more about that", will lead to a more positive response from the individual which in turn will assist in learning a new behavior. Keep in mind that the goal of coaching is to help employees change their behaviours and develop new habits that will be consistently repeatedly in the future.

Coaching isn't simply for the elite high performers, the opportunity for coaching occurs at every level throughout an organization. Employees changing from a narrow technical or customer service focus into leadership roles need coaching on how to move from process and tasks to roles where people skills, communication, influencing and strategic thinking are required. A good coach can help employees make these transitions more effectively. 
As Managers, we can all become effective coaches and help our organizations develop a coaching culture. It's good for our employees, it's good for managers and it's good for the organization as a whole.

Succession Planning
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