Build Your Own Field of Dreams: Lessons for Managers on Coaching
You know that coaching your employees is important and you know that coaching can be challenging. Have you ever skimped on coaching your top performers, figuring these high-fliers can fend for themselves? Or focused your coaching strictly on tasks — not asking employees about their unique likes, dislikes and goals? And have you often sincerely meant to coach — but not found enough time to do it?
You’re not alone. Many managers these days are pulled in many directions. Even the best intentions of developing your team can take a backseat to all your other responsibilities. Even when you make an earnest attempt, your coaching efforts may not yield the results you’re looking for, and your organization may lose the opportunity to harness its talent.
At BlessingWhite, we’ve studied what makes for coaching success — and what doesn’t. We’ve also talked to managers in various organizations who’ve made coaching work.
We’ve discovered that when coaching isn’t effective, it’s often because well-meaning managers operate on misguided assumptions. Here are the five top coaching mistakes that get in the way of coaching effectiveness and employee success:
#1 — Coaching The Job Description, Not The Person
Many managers apply a “one size fits all” approach to coaching. Rather than find out what each employee needs, they make assumptions based on job descriptions and types. They assume that all salespeople are “risk-takers” while the accounting staff is “detail-oriented”. Ignoring human complexity, this coaching approach reduces each person to a job description.
Many managers mistakenly believe that coaching conversations should only focus narrowly on work tasks. They discuss project timelines, for example, but never ask how an employee feels about the work, what obstacles he or she is facing, and how the coach can best add value.
Not surprisingly, when coaching’s not tailored to the individual it typically doesn’t hit the mark, and employees are left to figure things out on their own. When employees’ specific talents and issues aren’t addressed, they may lose focus, lessen their commitment, or tune out instead of working at a higher level and becoming more engaged at work.
Taking the time to learn about each team member’s unique needs, strengths, and priorities will result in providing the coaching that will be focused and productive. “I provide people the chance to give me feedback in various ways, so I am practicing what I am preaching,”explains Carol Novello, Vice President and General Manager, Intuit Construction Business Solutions. She holds frequent formal and informal feedback sessions — and genuinely solicits employee input. This enables her to tweak her coaching approach to better provide what each employee needs.
#2 — Being the Hero
Some managers put a lot of energy into coaching — but still don’t get results.
They mistakenly think that coaching means jumping in to save the day, telling their employee what to do, or worse, doing it for them. However, too much telling and not enough listening can short-circuit coaching effectiveness.
While it’s natural for an experienced leader to want to share insights and be a role model, coaching effectively doesn’t require being an expert with all the answers. The “hero” coach approach assumes that the best learning comes from modeling the behaviors and skills, which can erode employee confidence and keep their potential from being unleashed. Often it’s by observing and then offering feedback that employees can quickly improve.
#3 — Missing Coaching Opportunities
Many managers correctly realize that not everyone on the team needs the same amount of coaching. However, they don’t always focus their coaching efforts where the payback will be greatest.
For example, many managers assume that they should spend most of their time with their problem employees. They view coaching as “remedial” work to be applied only when performance goes off track.
As a result, they miss key opportunities to see their best talent grow. Often, managers neglect to enhance the performance and career satisfaction of those very employees they want to retain most! Assuming that high-performing and self-directed employees don’t need coaching minimizes opportunities to channel their talent to new projects and initiatives and increases the possibility that they may become disconnected from their manager and the organization.
Of course, successful coaches don’t ignore “average” employees either. They realize that with the right coaching approach, employees at various performance levels can improve and contribute.
Similarly, many managers mistakenly assume that coaching is just for employees who are new to the organization. They believe that after an employee’s been on board for a while, coaching is no longer needed.
This pitfall ignores the reality of today’s ever-changing organizations. Even veteran employees have new roles, new strategies, new teams, and new technologies to deal with. Savvy managers realize that coaching can benefit employees at many stages of their careers.
For example, when Intuit’s Novello gave a few employees “stretch” assignments, she “needed to spend more time up front to make sure they were getting properly grounded… before they got too far afield.”And when a seasoned expert with more technical knowledge than Novello in a particular area joined her team, she knew that she couldn’t coach him in his technical abilities. Instead, she focused her coaching on how he could improve his communication skills when he presented his ideas.
#4 — Waiting For That Perfect Time To Coach
Perhaps because coaching doesn’t seem as tangible as preparing a budget or developing a report, many managers put it on the back burner.
Unfortunately, managers who plan to coach once they take care of other management priorities are often still waiting, months later, for that unrealistic, elusive “perfect” coaching moment.
Additionally, many managers fail to initiate coaching, waiting until an employee requests it. This haphazard approach may signal a belief that coaching isn’t all that important.
Successful managers know opportunities for coaching present themselves all the time, and it’s worth making the most of regular interactions such as email and voicemail communications and weekly check-ins to provide quick and timely coaching.
#5 — Treating Coaching As An Event
Some managers mistakenly assume that coaching only takes place in official “coaching” meetings. Or they feel they can make up for lost coaching in the once-a-year performance review.
“I can’t afford not to do it,” says Novello of coaching her direct reports on a regular basis. “Ultimately, it gives me more time in the long run… It doesn’t take that much change to move a regular interaction into an opportunity to coach. And if people get used to it being frequent and informal, it really has so much power.”
There’s little positive impact if the only meaningful feedback an employee hears is during the annual performance review — or, worse yet, if that feedback comes as a surprise because it’s delivered in a coaching vacuum.
The best managers see coaching as an ongoing process, and incorporate coaching into their daily activities. They actively take advantage of potential coaching opportunities, whether hallway encounters or brief post-meeting conversations.
“Sometimes, coaching is just remembering to do simple things,” notes the head of the Learning Consultancy at a major Accounting firm…”like sending a quick email to reinforce the positive, telling someone they did a good job and why, and the impact it had.”
Remember that coaching is a customized process that maximizes both your employees’ performance and their job satisfaction. By leveraging your team’s talents toward the organization’s goals and priorities, coaching will significantly boost your — and your employees’ — productivity and engagement, as well as the organization’s success.
“It goes back to my mindset — is it an investment or an expense,” says Novello. “The best thing I can possibly do to help my business succeed is to hire the best people… and then help them succeed.”