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Developing an Atmosphere of Coaching – Part III

Help the manager develop coaching skills

In Part I we discussed how to develop an atmosphere of coaching and in Part II we discussed fixing the performance review. Let’s talk now about how to help the manager develop coaching skills.

How do you transform managers into coaches? As noted earlier, building and changing the corporate culture begins at the top when business leaders adopt a system, define the system and model the system. Top leaders coach managers to be the kind of leaders the organization wants. Some of the major management coaching skills include:

  • The ability to identify people who fit the job
  • The ability to create strategies for employee development that inspire people to perform and achieve

These competencies set the foundation for development, but even the most able manager requires help in these areas. No manager is equipped with essential knowledge about every employee. And successful coaching requires specialized knowledge about:

  • Each employee’s unique characteristics
  • Each employee’s attributes in the context of his/her job and in the context of the environment

Building and changing the corporate culture begins at the top when business leaders adopt a system, define the system and model the system.

Job Fit

Knowing the answer to these five essential questions will help leaders understand job fit:

  1. Does the employee fit in his/her current job?
  2. What motivates the employee in the job, and how will he or she respond to stressful situations?
  3. How compatible is the employee with the manager?
  4. How compatible is the employee with his/her work teams?
  5. How effective is the employee as a leader?

The first key component in knowing the employee-job fit-is best revealed by comparing his or her characteristics against those of known top performers in the role. Try this: List what you know about the employee-let’s call her Sarah-in one column. You will likely list her educational credentials, the companies she has worked for and the different jobs she has performed. Her history may suggest she fits the job. But the differences between top and average performers come down to more than just experience. They include such things as how well she makes decisions and how assertive she is.

If she lacks some of these attributes, and if top performers in the role have them, she is not necessarily a bad fit for the job. But once you identify the gaps, you can also determine where she needs coaching for improved work performance. Managers do not have to pull these attributes from thin air. An assessment analysis provides 20 "top performer” traits to look for in the areas of thinking style, behavioral traits and occupational interests.

Gaps indicate potential “discomfort zones,” meaning that Sarah has the ability to behave in way that the job requires, but doing so may be outside her comfort zone, and this could be stressful for everyone. The role of the coach is to understand where these gaps may occur and to help Sarah bridge those gaps. The job fit assessment also measures thinking style, behavioral traits and occupational interests; compares candidates to job-specific patterns in order to predict future success; and provides a foundation for ongoing employee performance management.


A key role of the coach is to help employees sail successfully through company turbulence-like turnover, budget reductions and doing more with fewer people. It’s crucial that coaches understand how each employee will react to the everyday "chills and thrills" roller coaster ride at work. Will a discussion about budget cuts in her department send Sarah into a door-slamming fit? If she has to work with a new team on a project that requires her specific capabilities, how will she handle the change?

If Sarah handles multiple tasks with ease and is comfortable in a fast-paced environment, she may balk at participating on a team whose leader and other members are more deliberate. Or if she is known for precision and careful decision-making, she might need suggestions on how to fit in an environment in which members finish several projects a week and juggle multiple tasks at one time. A Profiles assessment will measure her:

  • Need for control
  • Social influence
  • Patience and ability to be a team player
  • Focus on precision and quality
  • Motivational intensity and focus on change

Knowing these things about Sarah will help the manager/coach understand how to motivate her and how she will respond under stress. The coaching report provides specific guidance for increasing performance.

Chemistry with the Manager

So far we have looked at Sarah and what motivates her, but it’s just as important to look at how she fits into the larger community. Relationships have an important impact on productivity, and they can create gains for the team and the organization. In order to make the most of these relationships, however, we have to identify potential conflict points in the relationship and understand how to avoid such issues. Knowing what to say and how to say it makes everything else possible.

An assessment provides specific recommendations regarding how the coach and employee can most effectively talk to each other. More specifically, this step:

  • Examines the working relationship between employee and manager in order to predict compatibility.
  • Identifies similarities and differences in styles and how they may result in conflict.
  • Provides specific recommendations for managers and employees so that they can best work together to improve performance.

Many employees quit their jobs due to a bad relationship with their manager or boss. Although there are many situational factors that can cause conflict in any work relationship, there are certain characteristics and behavioral tendencies that, if identified, can be used to enhance relationships, communication and management coaching styles. Assessments provide information that will help each manager understand his or her employees and increase overall productivity.

Chemistry with the Team

Although work teams are often informal groups, they are both ubiquitous and essential to the completion of most projects. Few employees are individual contributors to such projects.

For example, Sarah might come up with a great idea for a sales campaign that involves several departments. This means she will need to present the idea to both her own department head and to other department heads, and she will need help to do so. She might enlist such aid from a team she already works with, or she might need to create a brand new group that can help with research, writing, graphic design, and organizational and speaking skills in order to get the idea ready to be presented.

The team will have its own dynamics, and communication and good attitudes about working together will be critical to its success. All team members will have to buy into Sarah’s ideas, so she may need the help of a coach/manager to determine the behavioral and working characteristics of team members, and to identify potential strengths and weaknesses.

Some of the things the coach must know about the team include:

  • Are its members-and Sarah-workers who need to be in control?
  • What characteristics is the team lacking?
  • How do we avoid or resolve potential conflicts?

Knowing these things in advance and putting the right team together will ensure that Sarah’s idea is presented well.

Leadership Ability

The last step in coaching-based performance management helps determine whether Sarah has leadership ability. To learn this, we examine her through the prism of eight specific leadership competencies and 18 skills. These include:

Personal development-Does she demonstrate commitment and seek improvement?

Communication-How well does she process information and listen to others?

Leadership ability-Does she instill trust, provide direction and delegate responsibility?

Adaptability-How well does she adjust to circumstances? Does she think creatively?

Relationship building-Is she effective at establishing personal relationships and helping her team succeed?

Task management-How efficiently and competently does she work?

Production-Does Sarah act, or does she wait? Does she get results?

Development of others-Does she cultivate the talents of others and successfully motivate them?

Once he/she has the answers to these questions, the coach will know Sarah well. A report based on the answers will give him specific recommendations and strategies to help him develop her leadership skills. Getting the best performance from employees anytime-during periods of great economic performance or even during downturns-is ultimately the responsibility of the leaders of an organization. Once a manager discovers the value of coaching early and often, he will see how a looking-through-the-windshield approach is far more effective than looking backward at what has gone wrong during the last year. The most effective approach requires:

  • Coaching tailored to the individual with the goal of increasing productivity.
  • Coaching and development based on insight about the employee’s competencies within the context of the job, and working with her team and her manager

Coaching Makes a Difference

Many organizations rely on annual performance evaluations to make important decisions concerning the future of an employee and his or her role in the organization. The evaluation is based on events that happened in the past and is usually standardized across the organization. Important decisions are made in meetings that often last less than half an hour.

There is an alternative to using a performance evaluation that will help increase productivity through consistent feedback and encouragement: coaching. Performance evaluations often look at problems or issues that happened in the past that could have been prevented with coaching. Coaching is a consistent and reliable management style that creates an open line of communication and an opportunity for growth.

Transition from Annual Performance Evaluations to an Atmosphere of Coaching

  1. Realize the flawed nature of the performance appraisals
  2. Take the steps to get out of your current situation
  3. Identify the common threads of coaching and development
  4. Learn to identify job fit and specialized knowledge about employees
  5. Determine job fit and compatibility with co-workers

Making the transition from performance evaluations to performance coaching can be an uphill battle. Using tools-such as assessments-to help identify behavioral tendencies of employees can help managers learn how to coach well. Coaching not only changes the culture of an organization, but it increases performance and leads to a significant return on investment.

Your thoughts?  Please share in the Comments field below. Thanks!

Copyright © 2011 Roger Harris

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