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Developing an Atmosphere of Coaching – Part I

Help your employees perform to their full potential

There are some tasks that we can take care of once a year, like paying taxes or going to the doctor for a checkup. And there are other tasks that we need to perform more often, sometimes even daily. Ensuring superb performance from all of our employees falls into the latter category, especially during times of economic turbulence. Fortunately, managing-or coaching-our employees so that they can perform at the highest levels is more enjoyable than most annual tasks, and it results in increased organizational value.

All organizations are striving to improve employee productivity in order to grow overall business performance and corporate value. But the tool we most often use to improve performance-the performance review-really isn’t capable of helping us reach our overall goal. The reasons for its failure are numerous, but its biggest flaw is that it is the equivalent of looking in the rearview mirror to see where the employee has been-and perhaps failed. Why not look ahead, through the windshield, to see where the employee can successfully go? Additionally, since performance reviews occur once a year, if at all, they require us to look back over a long period of time. Any corrective solutions are too late to do any good.

Here is a helpful idea: Coach early and often. Early, to catch potential problems before they happen. Often, because continuous interest and feedback virtually guarantee better performance. Coaching employees provides counsel in real time and clearly identifies goals in the context of the employee’s job. Good coaches understand the current reality of the employee’s world, and are aware of issues that might prevent a worker from reaching his or her goals. Good coaching provides the development strategies that allow an employee to achieve his or her goals.

How do we get there from here?

How do we make the transition from once-a-year reviews and appraisals to an atmosphere of coaching? First, take a look at today’s annual performance practices and why they aren’t always the best. Then determine the steps necessary to progress in the right direction.

Acknowledge, Institute, Check

First, we have to acknowledge that good performance rarely happens by accident.

This is a hard truth for many people to digest. When we hire someone who has a solid work history, we are likely to let the new employee jump right in to the job with little thought to job training, job coaching skills or job fit. Ninety percent of 1,000 people interviewed last year, including managers and leaders, believe that leaders have little, if any, influence over employee behavior. This is not surprising, given that many leaders often view performance training as unnecessary. No matter what we call it-the performance appraisal, annual evaluation or rating-too many people view performance "training" as a chore they should do once every 365 days, right before giving someone a raise. If they could avoid the appraisal altogether, they would. But benign neglect is not the path to great results.

Second, leaders need to replace the old system with a new one.

Instituting this new system requires examining corporate culture and management strategy. This begins at the top, where cultural changes happen. It starts with the organization’s leaders clearly stating what the new system is-essentially defining and describing it-putting the plan in writing and then modeling the behavior. These steps will help managers buy in to the new system, which is necessary if actual changes are to occur.

Third, the new system needs to be checked and rechecked.

If you put a system in place and just expect that everything will be all right, you might be surprised by what is not all right. Busy managers sometimes cut corners, letting certain tasks or deadlines slide. Before long, others are mimicking their behavior. The system you put in place stops working, or never worked at all, because managers are not using it consistently. Always inspect what you expect.

Part II will continue with…What is wrong with the performance review and how can we fix it?

Copyright © 2011 Roger Harris

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