There’s one common thread to every successful business: engaged, high-performing employees.
Sometimes we get lucky and hire an employee who knocks it out of the park with minimal guidance. But if we want to get discretionary performance from more employees, we have to get our hands dirty.
Coaching is one of the most important tools for a manager or business leader. Unfortunately, many still don’t understand how to properly coach employees. Here are key concepts to effective coaching that every successful manager or leader must understand.
Coaching Must Be A Habit
How often have you heard someone say, “We need to have a coaching session with so-and-so”? These coaching sessions usually go something like this: Someone sits down with the individual in question. The “coach” criticizes their behavior, character or actions, and explains what they want the individual to do differently. Then we call it a day and wait for things to change — but they never do.
There are a couple of problems with this approach. First and foremost, if we only have “coaching sessions” when something is wrong, the recipient of our coaching associates them with negativity and criticism. They learn to distrust the coach and associate them with negative feelings. This creates a big roadblock, as it stops us from forming a relationship of trust and mutual understanding.
We must coach even when everything is going smoothly — telling employees to keep up the good work, and asking them how they feel it’s going or if they feel any areas could be improved upon.
The other problem with this approach is that single coaching sessions are rarely effective. People are creatures of habit. We usually don’t break bad habits or form good habits in a day, or even a week.
Effective coaches understand this and make coaching itself a habit. We must have repeated conversations with the recipient in order to help them form good habits, otherwise we will only achieve a temporary solution at best.
Effective Coaching Starts And Ends With Understanding
When we have a problem with an employee, we often get ahead ourselves and jump to conclusions. So-and-so is showing up late, so they don’t take their job seriously. They’re not meeting deadlines, so they’re lazy and think they don’t have to work hard. These judgments are natural, but often incorrect.
We have to make sure we truly understand the behavior, otherwise we’ll never achieve the right results. Effective coaching starts and ends with understanding. We have to understand why someone is acting a particular way. What needs are behind their behavior? Digging deeper, what drives are creating these needs?
All workplace behavior is the result of innate drives and needs. Whether that’s a sense of belonging, exerting influence on big projects or a calm, stress-free work environment, we all have unique needs governing our behaviors. We have to ask thoughtful, guided questions to get at the heart of the matter.
Once we understand the core of the issue — what’s really driving the behavior — we can coach effectively. If we coach without understanding, we can’t resolve the situation and might make it even worse.
It’s not all about the employee, either. Once we’ve touched base with the employee, we should take some time to reflect and assess the situation. Sometimes coaching ends with understanding that we’re the problem! For example, maybe an employee is underperforming because we’re creating a chaotic work environment or neglecting to meet their needs.
OLGA is my acronym for the steps of successful coaching. It stands for observe, listen, give feedback and ask questions. Let’s walk through it step by step.
Observe: The first step is to gather as much information on the situation as possible. Look at the employee’s performance metrics. Observe them in their work environment. Don’t rush to conclusions or judgements — and ask yourself if you might be the problem after all.
Listen: The next step is to listen to the employee describe their situation in their own words. Listen to gain a deeper understanding of what’s going on. Don’t simply wait for your turn to speak, and mind your nonverbal signals as well. Your body language can say a lot.
Give feedback: It’s important to let employees know where you stand. If there’s a problem, we have to let them know what’s going wrong and where they’re falling short of expectations. Be as clear and specific as possible. We must let them know where the goalposts are and what’s expected. Remember to focus on behaviors and actions, not character. Just because someone is underperforming or dropping the ball doesn’t make them lazy, unmotivated or unskilled.
Ask questions: The last step is guiding the employee toward their own solutions. If it’s truly the employee’s issue (rather than a problem we’re creating), we have to guide them toward their own solution.
I can’t tell you what questions to ask here — you have to listen to your gut, and each situation requires a different approach. What I can tell you is that you want to ask questions that help an employee devise their own solution.
Here are some questions I keep in my back pocket while coaching:
1. Where are you at?
2. What is working?
3. What isn’t working?
4. Why do you feel it’s not working?
5. What do you believe is missing?
6. What do you feel you need next?
7. What do you ultimately want in this situation (SMART goals)?
8. Why do you want that?
9. What are the major obstacles in the way?
10. What have you done so far to push through these obstacles?
11. What were your results with that?
12. What do you still need assistance with?
13. What’s the one thing you can do today to move forward?
Coaching Is Hard, But Every Leader Must Know How to Do It
Coaching is hard. There’s no doubt about it. No one becomes a great coach overnight, either, and you certainly won’t learn from a single article. You have to learn by practice — coaching people over and over to see what gets results and what doesn’t.