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Coaching for better performance

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In a recent column, we discussed the positive impact on employees when a manager focuses on the their individually tailored, professional development.

My advice was simple: Make it a priority to look for things that you can do for your people, that they can’t do for themselves, with a focus on professional development.

Of the other things, that employees can’t do for themselves, is a key one which is a major responsibility of any people manager.

It is coaching to help employees to improve their performance. Guiding them to become more competent, confident, and capable. Helping them to become more effective helps them and helps you.

Too often, employees feel that the only time they hear from management is when something goes wrong.

In the “Getting Ahead at Work by Growing Your Value As An Employee” workshop series I conduct at Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Harriman, we discuss how we individually handle criticism when being coached by a manager or teacher.

We define criticism: “to consider the merits and demerits of and judge accordingly: evaluate.” We then discuss how to handle criticism and how it is natural to resist being criticized. Then, how criticism should be handled.

I use the analogy of a University of Tennessee football player ignoring the coach’s guidance. What happens to the player who disregards the coaching? Why is the coach providing the guidance? How is coaching by an effective manager or teacher different than coaching by a football coach?

The bottom line, I push for is for the students to not only utilize managerial coaching guidance, but also to welcome it.

Thank the manager for the guidance. Perhaps even building a relationship where coaching guidance can be asked for. I ask, “How would your manager or teacher react if you asked them how you could be more effective?”

Here are some effective coaching basics.

First, coaching comments should be helpful. The coaching should consider the needs of the person on the receiving end. It should be seen as a way of giving help, of helping to make the person more effective.

What are some ways to do this? Look for things the employee does well. Reinforce those so they become a manner of habit.

What about something that is wrong? If possible, frame the feedback in a nonevaluative manner by describing your own reaction followed by a joint problem solving discussion.

For example, when a customer complaint gets out of control, the feedback to the employee could be something like the following: “I wish you had involved me earlier. Sometimes talking to a manager helps an upset customer to get the anger out of his system. What are some steps we can take in the future in similar situations?”

Coaching should be specific. Instead of saying how well an employee is doing their job, look for specific, meaningful opportunities.

An example would be, “I appreciate your staying late to get that Smith order out. He is a new customer and it will help us keep his business.”

Coaching should also be timely. It should be given at the earliest opportunity. When I was a regional sales manager, I would use the observations of others to make my own timely observations.

For example, when a product manager told me that we were having to reissue invoices because a sales rep was tardy in getting price change paperwork processed, I said I would take care of it.

What did I do? I looked for a new example so that I could discuss the issue and the negative impact on the customer and our fellow employees. I did not disclose how I got the information.

The feedback I got from several sales reps was that every time they cut a corner, I was there to catch them. I just smiled. They knew I had high expectations for them, which they fulfilled.

Another aspect of coaching is when an employee asks for advice. When this happens, slow down.

Don’t miss an opportunity to help them grow and become more autonomous. Get them engaged. Say, “That’s a great question. Before I share my ideas, what ideas do you already have?” and listen.

What you hear is likely to be similar to the advice you would have given. What if the employee is off the mark? Get into the problem solving mode. Ask, “What else could you do?” Show them you value their thinking. Have them expand their thinking.

As a people manager, I took this a step further: I encouraged members of my team to get advice from each other.

This is important on several levels. One of the less obvious ones is developing a habit of collaborating with others.

In many industries, collaboration is a key skill in building a successful career. Another is building relationships. Those who are good at building strong, mutually beneficial relationships are also likely to have successful careers.

While there are other elements involved in effective coaching, let’s close with the two most critical ones.

First, be a good role model. Don’t ask your subordinates to behave differently than you. Second, really care about your subordinates. Faking it does not work.

The key questions in building strong, mutually beneficial relationships are, “Do you know me?” and “Do you really care?”

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Dana Peterka is the regional director of SCORE and a Roane County SCORE counselor. He is on the board of directors of the Roane County Chamber of Commerce. Email him questions about small business-related issues at newsroom@roanecounty.com. Business owners can reach him through the Chamber of Commerce at 376-2093.