In this post Jane Sparrow, a consultant and author specializing in transformational change, engagement and sustainable performance, shares how (and why) to coach your employees well. Jane previously contributed an article to the TalentSpace blog on the topic of employee engagement and we’re happy to have her back.
Think you know about coaching? Think again. Forget formal qualifications and extensive, lengthy developmental time: companies that make massive leaps in performance are doing so by using coaching to help people drive and sustain their own engagement levels. It is coaching…but not as you know it.
The five manager roles that deliver performance through people
The preference in most company cultures is to measure progress through financial metrics and KPIs. Managers are usually tasked with these objectives first and the development of their teams comes second, if at all.
Of course financial performance matters — but that comes when people are truly enabled and encouraged to do their best work. This vital role lies with middle managers who influence their team’s engagement, not through complex, one-off big actions but rather through the daily, small, consistently applied behaviors that keep people performing at their best.
Through my own experience and research for my book, The Culture Builders; Leadership Strategies for Employee Performance, I identified five key roles that people managers need to be confident and competent to unlock the best in others. These are: the ‘Prophet’, ‘Storyteller’, ‘Coach’, ‘Strategist’ and ‘Pilot’.
Coaching for engagement creates high performance
The Coach is one of the most vital roles in engaging others because it provides people with objective insight and feedback that they need in order to take ownership of their own engagement levels. However, the research showed that the Coach is one of the roles least demonstrated in day-to-day behavior.
The role of coach is all about unlocking what gives people meaning and purpose in their work. Great managers-as-coaches understand what makes the heart of others beat and constantly look for ways to enable even greater performance from them. This is an essential lever in creating employees who I describe as ‘Investors’— people who go beyond the time for money contract and are willing to go that little bit further for their employer.
The real reasons why managers don’t coach
Mention coaching to most managers and they’ll tell you they either aren’t qualified to do it, or they don’t have time to do it. Both are understandable reactions. Whilst it’s true that formal coaching is valued and often appropriate for many organizations, what I’m talking about is the informal, in-the-moment coaching that influences people on a daily basis:
- The few minutes spent talking through a colleague’s performance after a client meeting, or
- The time given to having a coffee with a team member who has just joined the department.
These aren’t big, bold actions but they show a level of genuine interest beyond transactional conversations. These are the opportunities to give insight (a more positive word than feedback) to colleagues to help them strengthen their ability to perform.
Creating a culture of coaching comes from the top
Companies who instil a culture of coaching do so from the top down, inspiring and setting the expectation for their middle managers: I know leaders who actively coach across the organization and across all different levels (not just the top talent), giving up an estimated 10% of their time, or more.
This isn’t a feel-good, soft-skills exercise but one which has actively delivered results on the bottom line. A culture of coaching shows that people are valued for more than their KPI targets and this, in turn, is more likely to keep them as Investors for the long-term.
5 tips for managers to accelerate their coaching skills
Inspired? Here are some tips to get you as a manager to accelerate your level of coaching for even better employee engagement:
1. Decide the best way to give insight/feedback. It’s important to decide the best way to give insight/feedback, as different people and different situations will respond accordingly.
For example, a more informal coffee away from the building can yield a much more open and relaxed conversation. But there will be times when you need to have a conversation almost immediately after the behavior in question to address its impact.
2. Focus on quality conversations. Don’t get hung up on how much time you can spend with any one person: focus on the quality of your conversation with them instead.
3. Be adaptable to the individual. Be prepared to adapt your style and approach to suit different people: coaching is about opening people’s minds up to new opportunities and learning. Look for what makes them ‘tick’ outside of work, as well as through their role.
4. Don’t feel pressure to provide the answers all of the time. The greatest skill for a coach to possess is knowing how to ask the right questions and not cutting automatically to the answers. Guide, shape and steer people towards their own conclusions through open questions. Some example questions:
- What has been working well/not so well?
- What would be your next steps for moving forward with this goal?
- What do you feel I can do to support you with your career goals?
- How do you feel that (call/meeting/etc.) went? What do you feel we should do differently next time we're having that kind of a conversation with a customer?
- When you've seen someone approach something like this really well, what have they done?
5. Provide ‘insight’ versus ‘feedback’. Try replacing the word ‘feedback’ with ‘insight’. Just the word, ‘feedback’ can be enough to emotionally trigger people into thinking you’re about to criticize them.
Commit to coach
Much of what I’ve written about here is grounded in common sense, but my evidence shows that the lowest role of all when it comes to managers-as-engagers is that of Strategist.
This is a role that takes the intention to engage others and make it a reality, with a firm focus on the planning and detail. I’ve met so many managers who say they genuinely believe in the role of Coach and recognize its value, but somehow they just don’t get round to doing it.
Don’t be one of them!
Make a commitment today to have just one conversation with someone in your team for five minutes. Ask open questions, be curious and soon you’ll be reaping the rewards of not just managing your team, but really knowing them and, crucially, understanding what makes their heart beat a little faster.
Your turn: What do you think is holding managers back from coaching employees?