When two people attend the same training program, the performance of the person whose manager actively provides coaching improves more and faster than the performance of the person whose manager is not actively engaged (You make a difference. Superior performers in every field agree that coaches and coaching were vital for them to reach their full potential. Business executives invariably credit mentors for helping them achieve success. Providing feedback and guidance for performance improvement are two of the most important jobs a manager has. To be effective, the training or coaching needs to be:
□ A dialogue
Most employees want more feedback on their performance than they currently receive. Managers consistently receive low marks on providing adequate feedback. The lack of feedback is understandable. At the pace of business today, it is easy to get so busy that you don’t take the time to provide coaching and encouragement. But it is not forgivable; lack of feedback undermines employee commitment and is detrimental to performance.
If you find that you are too busy to remember to provide the feedback your employees need and want, then schedule “provide feedback” as a task on your calendar. It is at least as important as any other item on your agenda. Coaching is vital if you really want to get your money’s worth from training and development. A few minutes invested in providing feedback and encouragement on a regular basis will pay continuing returns in the form of increased commitment and performance.
According to Ken Blanchard, author of The One-Minute Manager, the only way that most employees know they have done a good job is when no one has yelled at them lately (Blanchard & Homan, 2004, p. x).
Make it a point to “catch people doing something right” and remark on it. In particular, recognize people who make the effort to try something new—“I really liked the way you made an effort to . . .”—even if the performance itself is not yet stellar. Employees want more feedback in general, but what they really crave is positive feedback—management’s recognition of their efforts and accomplishments. Positive feedback is especially important if you want people to try new behaviors and approaches as part of a change initiative or following a training program.
To provide balanced coaching, you have to learn to give both positive as well as developmental or corrective feedback. It does not mean always giving them together in a “bad news sandwich.” Stop sticking your “but” in everybody’s feel-good moments: “I liked the way you . . . BUT. . . .”
If you don’t do so already, practice giving positive feedback, period. Recognize a great effort, an improvement, etc., and then STOP. Give negative or corrective feedback privately and on a separate occasion.
While giving someone an “Attaboy” or “Attagirl” is better than providing no feedback at all, feedback and coaching need to be specific, as well as timely, to be optimally effective. Employees are quite adept at detecting and immune to the effects of insincere, sweeping platitudes: “Fine job, whoever you are, whatever it was.”
The Center for Creative Leadership recommends providing feedback in a Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI) format (Ting & Scisco, 2006):
Situation: Describe a specific situation—a particular meeting, a specific report, client encounter, etc.
Specify the behavior—say what you actually observed: “The way you handled the customer’s objection,” “How you organized your presentation,” etc.
Identify the impact on you and others: “Showed me that you really took the training seriously,” “Made her feel valued and respected,” “Convince me that you are ready for greater responsibility.”
Coaching at its best helps people solve their own problems, come to their own insights, and formulate their own plans. To achieve those ends, make your coaching a dialogue, rather than a lecture. Stimulate your direct reports’ thinking, encourage them to draw on their own experiences, and prompt them to explore options. Spend more time asking than telling. Pay attention to who is doing the talking and who is coming up with observations and options; both you and your direct report should be contributing to the exploration of ideas and opportunities.
Effective coaching is a dialogue, not a lecture.
Coaching and encouragement from you are so central to getting your money’s worth from training and development that they deserved to be tracked like any other critical business activity. An important practice of “total quality management” is to prominently post performance charts; consider posting the worksheet in your office to help keep this vital activity top of mind.
If the program your direct report attends uses an electronic follow-through system, you will receive requests for feedback and coaching by email. Respond to these requests promptly to sustain your direct report’s commitment and maximize the positive impact (see “Who Says So?”). Providing feedback through online systems will require only a few minutes of your time every couple of weeks, but it will create long-lived value for your direct reports, your department, and ultimately, you personally.