When to Employ Coaching Techniques
Before the term “coaching” was ever applied to managers and consultants for hire in business circles, it was the province of men and women in sports. There were coaches in other fields, sure, but it was likely a professional sport, school team, or maybe a peewee league, that was being discussed when the word “coach” tumbled off your tongue. When the coach appellation took the business world by storm, it naturally brought with it a powerful connotation — a sports metaphor.
That is, the word “coach” was loaded, courtesy of its long history on sports playing fields, and in a few other areas where teaching, organizing, and strategizing were par for the course. Do you recall the good old days when you played high school sports (or watched them from the bleachers)? Think about those coaches of yesteryear. What were their roles? What were they expected to accomplish? Did they impart useful lessons and encourage self-motivation to play hard and play smart?
The right behaviors of your employees refer to their professionalism and work ethic in the workplace. As a coach, you are responsible for managing your employees' behaviors and helping them achieve maximum performance results. You must always be on top of how each individual on your team is performing and how this impacts on the overall job results.
Fundamentally, your high school coaches looked for coachable moments in which to take charge and improve the performance of the entire team. By dealing with each individual's shortcomings and strengths, and then working on bringing everybody together in a concerted team effort, high school coaches valiantly labored to win games — for their own personal satisfaction, for you, and for the esteem of the school.
Coachable moments are what define the nature of coaching — either on the playing field or in the office. The moniker “coach” means something. We've made the case time and again throughout this book that the managers who call themselves “coaches” are operating in a decidedly different way than are more traditional managers. When you manage as a coach, you're not quite the football coach (no whistle, remember) or the Lamaze coach, but you're similar in one important respect — you understand how the game is played, you identify the coachable moments, and you're able to act upon them forthrightly and effectively.
Timing Is Everything
The coachable moments that you should be particularly tuned in to run the gamut, and as you acquire more and more experience in your role as coach, you will seize upon these moments with great alacrity. This isn't some New Age concept. It's rudimentary human behavior — people learn more in circumstances germane to the lesson. That is, they learn more on the job than from theoretical lessons taught in a staid classroom. Your coaching is most effective when you're playing show and tell, as it were.
Coachable moments await you and will test your mettle time and again. It is during these times when you can upgrade your employees' skills — both hard and soft — and show your people what professionalism means in their daily efforts. But timing is everything, even in coaching. To put these coachable moments into a coherent context, here's a general overview of the kinds of actions or achievements your employees will demonstrate that will compel you to do some coaching:
Positive performance results
Negative performance results
Ah, yes, the impromptu coachable moments. You never quite know when a golden opportunity will arise for you to really strut your coaching stuff. This isn't, of course, to suggest that coaching is something that you turn on when you wake up in the morning and turn off when you lay your head down at night. You are a coach some of the time in your personal life, but all the time in your work life. It's just that there are prime moments in managing when your coaching can make very demonstrable and positive differences. You've got to identify these moments, and then vigilantly extract the important lessons to be learned from them. Let's discuss each one individually and at some length.
Positive Performance Results
When you spot positive performance, you've got to extract lessons from it. You can't just let out a whoop and a holler and move on. Your coachable moment here involves you meeting with your high-achieving employees and dissecting their successes. You know all about communicating along the way (via constructive feedback, and so on), but the importance of thorough wrap-ups needs to be underscored as well.
When employees' goals are reached or exceeded, you've got to reward them for their achievements. You can, for instance, write performance reviews detailing all the things that went right — A to Z. Allow your employees to glean positive lessons from their performances. Don't hold back even the most picayune details of what contributed to their strong performances. Indeed, break down their performances into the various ingredients that contributed to the stellar showings. Look at:
Preparation. Just how did the employees' preparations for their jobs and specific tasks lead to their successful performances?
Skills. Just what skills did they utilize in doing their jobs that made positive differences?
Attitude. Just how did their overall approach to their jobs and work ethic contribute to the final results?
By breaking down the positive performance results into such categories, your employees can more fully comprehend their successes, and thus be more capable of moving to the next level, whether it's duplicating successes or perhaps improving on their already strong performances. Recognizing positive coachable moments is just as essential as dealing forthrightly with the myriad problems that come down the workplace pike — when those “negative” coachable moments rear their ugly heads.
Where there's positive reinforcement, there is also negative reinforcement. Be especially vigilant not to reward the negative behaviors of your employees by ignoring them and permitting them to slip through the workplace cracks. Even if it's not your intention, this is, in effect, negative reinforcement of such behaviors.
Another key area to explore in this summary of your employees' positive performances is outside influences. Did outside factors of some kind contribute to their performances that were not considered at the beginning of a performance plan or at the start of a particular project? Sometimes these weigh in on the positive side; other times on the negative side.
These outside conditions range from an economic upturn (or down-turn), to a cultural fad, to breakthrough technology, to personnel changes in the company, to a wide assortment of other possibilities. So many things on the outside are, yes, outside both you and your employees' control; things that can seriously impact performances. And it's part of your job to identify them when they happen and find lessons to extract from the experiences.
For instance, an economic upswing and shift in consumer confidence can make a huge difference in performance results, depending on your department and the products or services that you offer. The lesson learned could be how to take advantage of these shifting economic winds by recognizing the shift early on and adjusting performance methods and approaches accordingly. Obviously, the same thinking would apply to an economic downswing. Your job is to always impart lasting lessons — where you can and when you can. One of the most important coaching lessons you can communicate is learning to adjust plans and approaches at a moment's notice. Resilience is so key in countless business as well as life situations.
On to another coachable moment. This one happens when you detect job-task progression in your employees. This is your chance to reward progress and not just results. But part of these reward efforts on your part should involve going beyond mere recognition of progress to the extracting of genuine and lasting lessons. Lessons, that is, steeped in the many factors behind the progress — behind the forward motion of your employees.
You follow the same course as you do with positive performance results, except that you don't wrap up this time. Instead, you dissect, examine, and convey lessons to your employees to keep them doing what works for them. At this time, you also make note of the behaviors and attitudes that could be improved upon to take the progress to an even higher level.
Innovative thinking on your employees' parts enables them to leap over hurdles by using their smarts and their skills, and by tapping into their special talents. Performance plans and various job projects follow timelines, and there are always crucial moments in them that will essentially make or break their success. As a coach, you've got to be keenly aware of these moments and reward your employees for their ingenuity, or poke and prod them to be more adaptable and clever at making things happen.
We've said it before that people's potential as work entities often remain dormant or not fully tapped. Coachable moments and bringing out lessons in these special situations are where good coaching really earns its kudos. Dinosaur managers are certainly not keeping their eyes peeled for these moments.