Skeptical about that Annual Performance Evaluation? Consider replacing it with Future Oriented Coaching!

Part III. Coaching up your Employee with Three Skills

Managers and supervisors who embrace coaching skills have a powerful tool at their disposal.  More and more, leaders in all industries are starting to see coaching skills as a vital addition in managing and influencing their people.  In fact, coaching has become so effective—as a method in facilitating employee development—that organizations are beginning to abolish [that utter scourge of the universe] the annual performance evaluation and replace it with positive, future-oriented, empowering, coaching skills and strategies.

So what are the key skills that you need to develop? Of course there are many, but below I discuss my three favorite.

 I.  Contracting

One the most important skills is one that does not get much attention in the literature.  Contracting means establishing an agreement with your employee on what is the specific nature of the desired change needed in their performance.  It is particularly important that supervisor and employee agree on who, what, when, where, how, and how much of the new behavior is expected and required.  This skill is important so that both supervisor and employee are on the same page with regard to expectations including desired outcome.  It might look/sound something like this:

Manager:  “OK John, as you know, as a part of your supervisory status you have been given some new responsibilities which are likely to tax you somewhat.  No doubt, you are going to be multi-tasking even more than usual.”

John:  “You’ve got that right!  But I’m ready for the challenge.”

Manager:  “Excellent!  I’m glad to hear your enthusiasm.  So before you and I both get too far into this thing, let’s talk about those skills and behaviors that are going to be important for you in your success.  I really want your input because I’m in this with you, and I want us to both be on the same page about what skills you want to work on, and what success employing those skills will look like.”

John:  “Well, I’ve given this some thought and I think there are two skills that are going to be really necessary for me, but are not exactly my strengths:  One is delegating tasks to the appropriate individuals, and the other, which is then holding them accountable for producing the results required.”

Manager:  “Yes, I couldn’t agree more.  And I want to add one more for your consideration:  praise.  I think you already do an excellent job of goal setting so I don’t think we need to add this to the queue.  But as you add strategic delegation and accountability along with praise for those people who do a good job, I think you will be on the road to creating an engaged group of people.  What do you think?”

John:  “Yes, I like it.  It’s the foundation for any supervisor.”

Manager:  “Tell me if you think that working on three skills at once is too much.”

John:  “No, no I like the combination.”

Manager:  “OK, so if we are in agreement that this is what we are aiming for, let’s start breaking down what these skills look and sound like and where you might first begin to utilize them.”

As you begin to work with your employee to construct those targeted skills and establish your own expectations for them, it is often a good idea to model the use of questions.  This not only helps them build upon their vision for development, but also serves as excellent modeling of those very same skills you hope they will embrace in their own supervision of people.  Thus, the powerful use of questioning is my second vital coaching skill.

II.  Questioning

Not all questions are good questions.  It’s is important to learn how to ask not only the right questions, but questions that help shape the way your employee thinks and learns.  With proper questioning you will be teaching your employee to fish rather than giving them a fish.    And the method that may teach fishing quite well is through the GROW model.

Establish the Goal

As indicated above, you and your employee might benefit by agreeing on the behavior that you want to gain, and then structuring this gain as a goal that he/she wants to achieve.  Make sure that this is a SMART goal: one that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

In your role as a coach, it’s useful to ask questions like:

-How will you know that you have achieved this goal? How will you know that the problem or issue is solved?

-Does this goal fit with your objectives? And does it fit with our team’s objectives?

Examine the Current Reality

Next, ask your employee to describe his/her current reality.

This is an important step: Too often, people try to solve a problem or reach a goal without fully considering their starting point, and often they’re missing some information that they need in order to reach their goal effectively.

As your employee tells you about his/her current reality, the solution may start to emerge.  Useful coaching questions in this step include the following:

-What is happening now (what, who, when, and how often)? What is the effect or result of this?

-Have you already taken any steps toward your goal?

-Does this goal conflict with any other goals or objectives?

Explore the Options

Once you and your employee have explored the current reality, it’s time to determine what is possible – meaning all of the possible options for reaching the objective.  Help your employee brainstorm   as many good options as possible. Then, discuss these and help them decide on the best ones.

It’s OK to offer your own suggestions in this step. But let your employee offer suggestions first, and let them do most of the talking. It’s important to guide them in the right direction, without actually making decisions for them.

Typical questions that you can use to explore options are as follows:

-What else could you do?

-What if this or that constraint were removed? Would that change things?

-What are the advantages and disadvantages of each option?

-What factors or considerations will you use to weigh the options?

-What do you need to stop doing in order to achieve this goal?

-What obstacles stand in your way?

Establish the Will

By examining the current reality and exploring the options, your employee will now have a good idea of how he can achieve his goal.

That’s great – but in itself, this may not be enough. The final step is to get your employee to commit to specific actions in order to move forward towards his goal. In doing this, you will help him establish his will and boost his motivation.

Useful questions to ask here include:

1.  So, what will you do now, and when? What else will you do?

2.  What could stop you moving forward? How will you overcome this?

3.  How can you keep yourself motivated?

4.  When do you need to review progress? Daily, weekly, monthly?

Finally, decide on a date when you’ll both review his progress. This will provide some accountability, and allow him to change his approach if the original plan isn’t working.

Goal Questions

1. What must you accomplish in the next 12 months?

2.  What would you like to focus on today?

3.  What’s important to you at the moment?

4.  What are you working on at the moment?

5.  What challenges are you struggling with at the moment?

6.  How can you word that goal more specifically?

7.  How can you measure that goal?

8.  How can you break down that goal into bite-sized pieces?

9.  How can you word this goal using positive language?

10.  What do you want to be doing in five years’ time?

11.  What’s your ideal future?

12.  Where is your life out of balance?

III.  Encouraging and Supporting

Finally, an often overlooked yet powerful skill for facilitating engagement is the simple act of encouragement and support.  Sometimes this can be the difference between someone continuing on or giving up. Acknowledging another person is an incredibly powerful way of keeping them motivated.  And if you want to read more about how to create engaged employees through encouragement and support, read The Carrot Principle by Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick.

The Foundation For Coaching: A Philosophy of Human Nature

This is Part II of a three part series on Coaching

Recently I asked several people to tell me about their favorite boss.  “What was it you loved about them?” I asked.  Here are some answers:

“My favorite boss is the one I have right now.  He makes time to have quick conversations with us.  He is a good listener who recognizes employee achievements. He is always honest and transparent with all the staff and never favors anyone.”

“My best boss, although knowledgeable, was not an expert in my field.  He relied on me and often expressed his appreciation for what I brought to the table.  I noticed that he treated everyone this way…as if they were valuable.  I’m not trying to make him sound like he was a push-over or always in a good mood, but he never brought his problems to work like some of my bosses have done.” 

This one was interesting!

“My worst boss was arrogant, rude and acted superior.  She seemed to look down on us and didn’t listen to our opinions.  She made us feel like we didn’t count and got angry if we dared challenge or contradict her.”

I shared with him that I had asked for comments about his favorite boss, but instead he told me about his worst.  He hesitated and said: “Hmm, I guess I needed to get that off my chest.  She really made my life miserable!”

And finally, one of the most poignant answers came from a woman with whom I had a long conversation.  She had worked for two municipalities for a total of 51 years and was only a week away from retirement.

“Most of the bosses I’ve had have been mediocre,” she said 

I asked her if there was anything they had in common.

“Yes, I think so.  They didn’t rely on us the way they could have.  I don’t believe down deep they really saw us as valuable.  Oh, they were all good people.  It’s not like they were mean-spirited or abusive or anything, but when I think about my best bosses, they had a different attitude from the ones who weren’t as good.  The best ones seemed to believe that we were to be trusted to do the right things, and to give it our best.  So, for these bosses I believe we did.”    

I believe these comments pinpoint something that is unique among outstanding bosses:  a positive philosophy of human nature that serves to guide their actions and interactions with others.   With no doubt some variation, I believe these individuals believe in the power of encouragement, trust, integrity, and interdependence.  Perhaps their philosophy can be summarized by the following three beliefs:

1) People are fundamentally good and desire to make a difference in the bigger scheme of things.

2) People respond positively to feeling valued.

3) If valued, people will rise up to meet the challenge and do what is right.

Every great organization lives by a mission on the way to a vision of something for the future.  So too do great bosses have a philosophy of human nature that guides them in their interactions.  Without this philosophy, their leadership—including coaching skills—will be shallow or inconsistent depending upon their mood or what is happening around them at the time.  It is our premise that leaders who embrace this philosophy will naturally employ the vital coaching skills we discuss in Part III.