October 31, 2014

Small Business Advice:

Step-by-step coaching improves employee performance

"The job of an educator is to teach students to see vitality in themselves." ~ Joseph Campbell

Jerry Osteryoung | 6/3/2013

Coaching is one skill that managers should practice on a continual basis as it has become so much more important in recent times. With fewer staff members and a sustained emphasis on reducing costs, managers are being challenged to coax the best possible performance out of everyone on their team. The obvious answer here is to coach your employees to higher levels of effectiveness.

So often I hear managers misusing the term “coaching.” They think they are coaching their staff when, in fact, all they are doing is correcting bad behavior. Coaching involves finding the root cause of the behavior and addressing that.

For example, imagine you have an employee who is always making mistakes on their paperwork. Sure, you can address this situation by pointing out his or her errors and telling them the consequences of continuing on in this way. However, a much more effective approach would be to help the employee figure out what is causing them to make mistakes.

John Wooden said, “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.” This is not easy to accomplish as there must be a bond between the coach and the staff member. If mutual respect is lacking, coaching just will not work. Therefore, before you can even start the coaching process, you must ensure you have a trusting relationship with the employee.

The first step in the coaching process is meeting with the employee. This is always so tough as the employee just does not know what he or she is walking into and normally expects the worst. For this reason, it is so important that you explain the reason for the meeting without blame or judgment. It is also critical that you explain how you are going to help them be better.

The next step in the coaching process is so important. You must get the staff member to agree that there is a problem, otherwise coaching stalls right here. This may seem simple enough, but sometimes it is tougher than it sounds. If I see that the person I am coaching does not recognize the problem, I often try to get them to imagine how others might perceive their behavior. This shift in viewpoints normally works.

Once the problem is identified, the next step is to help the employee expose the root cause of the problem. This is referred to as the Socratic Approach to learning and it is where you get the person to figure out what the real solution to the problem is.

In 40 years of teaching at Florida State University I learned that if I told the students the problem, they might memorize it, but they would not necessarily assimilate it into their thought process. However, if I could ask enough questions (Socratic Approach) to help the student arrive at the real problem on their own, it is far more likely to stick with them.

Once you have identified the problem, the obvious next step is exploring alternatives to correct the behavior. Once again, letting the employee do some of the legwork is so important. Allow them to come up with a range of potential solutions. You want as much brainstorming as possible here so the employee can see how many options there are to address the problem.

With a solution in hand, the next step is developing an implementation plan. Setting benchmarks is important to ensure steady progress is being made. It is also critical to get the employee to commit to the plan. Without a commitment from them, there is no way you will be able to change behavior.

The next step rests largely with you, the manager. The employee is going to depend on you to tell them how they are coming along, so you must provide continual feedback. This is a process they have never been through before, so you need to check in regularly to help alleviate their uncertainty and keep them on track.

Finally, when you are convinced the problem is solved, the last step is having a private celebration of their success. Tell them that you are so proud of them and what they have accomplished.

Now go out and establish systems for identifying when an employee needs to be coached and how the coaching will be done.

You can do this!


Other small business advice columns from Dr. Osteryoung are here. Note: Articles older than 30 days require registration (it's quick and free).

Jerry Osteryoung is a consultant to businesses - he has directly assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book co-authored with Tim O'Brien, "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book," is an Amazon.com bestseller. He can be reached by e-mail at jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com.

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