Coaching for performance

The Lost Art of Coaching Employees

This post first appeared on LinkedIn.

It’s not too hard to notice that there is a significant absence of coaching in today’s organisations. Of course, there are exceptions, but by and large coaching employees seems to be somewhat of a lost art.

When you think about coaching employees some of the questions that might come to mind are:

  • Whose role is it to provide employee coaching?
  • Who should be on the receiving end of the coaching?
  • Is this happening enough?
  • What coaching should be taking place?

As a level 2 qualified basketball coach within Australia I have been exposed to some excellent coaching resources that are equally applicable to work, as well as sports settings.

My trusty ‘Better Coaching’ manual would surely give me some guidance on this important topic. On the opening page it makes it very clear that coaching is a big commitment and highlights that the….

best coaches mix high touch with high tech and that they have a good working knowledge of the physiology, psychology and biomechanics of sport.

It goes on to say:

Coaches are now more adept at prescribing training for individuals and allowing athletes sufficient time for recovery. They encourage a balanced approach to sport and life and involve athletes in planning their own programs. Coaches have become the primary facilitators of programs aimed at producing change.

From Sport to Work

If we were to apply these same thoughts and principles to the workplace then the role of coach, performed well, would require the following:

  1. High touch – frequent check-ins with the coachee (person being coached).
  2. High Tech – An up to date view of what works and latest developments for certain role types.
  3. Good working knowledge of the psychology of work – understanding of the mental challenges and skills required to perform effectively in the workplace.
  4. Good working knowledge of the biomechanics of work – understands the mechanics of the coachee’s role.
  5. Individualised training using a balanced approach – Designing coaching programs for the individual taking account of workload and pressures outside of work.
  6. Involving individuals in planning their own (development) programs – Involving employees in setting their own development pathways and helping them become more proficient at self-management.

 

Performing these six things effectively takes time, commitment and experience. Even in junior sport it is recognised that the coach is going to be busy enough with these activities and therefore cannot be expected to also perform the role of team manager.

In the workplace this distinction is nowhere near as clear cut. More often than not the role of coaching employees falls to the manager or mentor. Of course, organisations frequently hire external coaches to coach employees, but these occasions are usually reserved for high achieving individuals, usually those that hold more senior positions. A third alternative comes in the form of structured development programs that would also involve aspects of coaching, either from internal or external sources.

Managers as Coaches

If employee coaching is to be widespread throughout the organisation then the only sustainable solution is to ensure that managers are adopting these coaching principles and behaviours.  Managers cannot just be dumped with this additional activity. Managerial skills need to be trained and developed to include coaching employees.

So how are managers and managerial skills positioned to deliver on the six principles outlined above?

As far as ‘high touch’ goes managers are perfectly placed to meet frequently (weekly) with their direct reports. The challenge will be freeing up enough time and changing the focus from a purely task focus to a more person centred coaching conversation.

With regards to ‘high tech’ the manager is not expected to become the expert on every role type that reports to them. Rather, the manager becomes a resource manager that knows where to look and seek help for their direct reports. In the words of my trusty Better Coaching manual:

Coaches are often selected for positions because of their technical abilities and knowledge of the sport. However, the achievements of the athletes and the success of the coaching program depend on far more than coaches’ technical skills. Coaches of the current era must sometimes be able to develop and manage a wide range of support personnel and other resources to help them obtain the best performances from athletes.

So the manager to be an effective coach must know how to help their direct reports with help from other experts in fields relevant to the coachee’s work. If you are responsible for a team of business analysts then you need to know what makes a good business analyst and where some of the skills can be developed. This could incorporate stakeholder management skills, business analysis methodologies and developments as well as written and verbal communication skills.

Having a ‘Good working knowledge of the psychology of work’ does not mean that the manager as coach needs to become psychologist or counsellor. This is the same in the sporting world where the coach would seek help from sports psychologists if this was deemed necessary and beneficial. However the coach should have an awareness of positive and negative behaviours that maybe impacting the performance and well being of their team.

This would also include identification of any specific mental performance challenges such as fear of giving presentations or speaking in front of large groups. Communication skills, assertiveness skills and emotional control would all fall into this domain. The manager as coach needs to be able to assess whether this is something that they can help the employee with or whether more specialist help should be sought. Managerial skills will vary greatly in this area and the manager will need education and training in order to deliver a coaching experience that incorporates this principal.

Managers are often better placed than anyone else to possess a ‘Good working knowledge of the biomechanics of work‘. Managers that have been promoted within the team or department often have direct experience in the roles that they are now managing. One of the smartest managers I ever worked for didn’t believe in knowing the minute detail of each role that reported to him, but what he did know was the purpose, outcome, inputs and outputs of each process involved in each role. This understanding of what the people in your team are actually doing and what outcomes and outputs are being delivered is essential to helping individuals improve their delivery and performance. Managers that don’t possess this knowledge at the start are perfectly placed to dedicate time to acquiring the knowledge from their team.

Managers should be well positioned to deliver ‘Individualised training using a balanced approach‘ as well as ‘Involving individuals in planning their own programs’. This will involve taking a broader and time based view of their team members and helping build development programs that span longer time periods (12 months +) and take account of workload pressures and variations on the individual. The managerial skill here is to understand what constitutes an effective development plan. This will also involve helping the individual become more effective at self-management, coaching them to become their own coach.

Conclusion

Going back to the original questions posed at the start of this post I firmly believe that coaching employees should be a big part of all organisations striving for excellence. The primary provider of this coaching should be those responsible for managing these individuals. Managerial skills need to include the ability to coach employees. There will certainly be times where a more focussed external approach is not only needed but beneficial but this should be seen as an additional element rather than the only approach.

In my experience most managers are going it alone when it comes to delivering a coaching experience and organisations are not doing enough to build managerial skills in coaching and promote a coaching culture.