by Richard Correia
When you manage a team of employees, you fulfill a number of roles. One of those roles is “coaching to improve performance.”
In sports, coaching is a recognized skill that is essential to both individual and team success. Coaches aren’t necessarily the best players. In fact, a number of baseball players who achieved “Hall of Fame” performance records, have tried their hand at coaching and were not successful. Helping others to perform is not the same as performing yourself. Coaching requires a different set of skills.
Like the sports arena, coaching in the workplace is gaining recognition. Experience shows that 1:1 coaching is one of the surest ways to help employees understand their strong and weak performance points and to help them improve behaviors and skills, and realize their professional potential.
What is Coaching to Improve Performance? It is important to remember that coaching to improve performance is not the same as training. Organizations provide training programs to give employees the knowledge and skills needed to perform their jobs. Often, employees have knowledge and ability, but their performance is not up to par, or has fallen off. Think of a professional baseball player who is in a batting slump. He knows what to do and has the skills. But he’s just not hitting the ball like he used to. A good coach can help the player see what he’s doing wrong and suggest techniques he can use to fix it.
A good coach can help in the workplace too. For example, perhaps a novice employee is not coming up to speed as expected and still needs “hand-holding.” Likewise, an employee may be performing standard tasks very well but is slow and methodical and not very efficient. Even a high-performing employee can be coached to the next level, leveraging his expertise and motivation to take on more responsibility or larger tasks.
Who’s Cut Out to be a Coach? Successful coaches may excel in one skill or another, but they tend to have these abilities in common:
Coaches are good communicators. They know how to be clear and direct about their expectations so that nothing is misunderstood.
Part of being a good communicator is being a good listener. Employees who are being coached will want to ask questions and give feedback. It’s important to hear what they have to say. Also, listening is the only way to understand their perspective, which should inform the advice and help that the coach offers. Coaches ask open-ended questions to elicit information and guide a thoughtful and productive conversation. But most of all, successful coaches are able to relate to people at all levels – from novice to expert, and all walks of life.
Coaches focus on results. They have to be able to set goals and objectives, and clearly outline a plan of action and what needs to happen next, and most important, make sure the feeling is mutual. Employees who agree on expectations and know the steps they need to take to improve, stand a much better chance of achieving the desired results.
Coaching to Improve Performance: One Step at a Time Managers who coach employees to successful performance tend to follow a tried-and-true process that has been outlined in different ways and bears repeating here. The coaching process can be greatly assisted by leveraging technology advances at various steps along the way.
Step 1: Identify the Problem When you identify the performance problem that needs improvement, make sure it’s based on observed behaviors and actual performance metrics - not on hearsay or assumptions. Technology can be a big help here. For example, a technology solution that lets you monitor, record, and analyze 100% of employee interactions with customers will provide a much more accurate performance picture than “sampling,” and it allows you to document the problems in objective, measurable terms.
Step 2: Get the Employee’s Perspective Once you’ve presented the performance problem and the need to improve, invite the employee to respond and listen closely to his/her perspective. Ask guiding questions as needed to understand root causes of the problem so you’re better equipped to coach toward the solution that will achieve the desired improvement.
Step 3: Set Mutual Expectations Make sure both coach and employee are on the same page regarding the specific performance problem and the level of performance that is expected. It is important for the employee to take responsibility for the problem and its impact on the team or the company. Mutual agreement will be easier to achieve when performance metrics are accurate and carefully documented and two-way communication is open and non-judgmental.
Step 4: Make a Plan for Next Steps Rather than dictate the next steps, coach and employee should collaborate on creating a plan for improvement. The plan must establish goals that are realistic and attainable within a given period of time. The plan should specify the steps the employee needs to take and the support that the coach will provide. Likewise, measures and checkpoints must be agreed upon so progress can be objectively monitored and documented.
Step 5: Monitor the Plan and Follow up Monitoring and periodic follow-up is essential to coaching to improve performance. The first checkpoint to review progress should take place very soon after a coaching session, when motivation is high and commitment to the plan is fresh. After that, follow up meetings can help employees maintain improved levels of performance and internalize behavioral changes. At each progress review, coach and employee can exchange feedback and determine whether to stay the course or adjust the plan.
The Importance of Feedback in Coaching to Improve Performance You don’t have to wait for scheduled checkpoints and follow up meetings to provide feedback to employees. Take every opportunity to reinforce improved behaviors. When you notice an employee doing it right (or wrong), let them know on the spot. Feedback is most effective when it is timely and frequent. Technology can help here too. For example, technology solutions that monitor and analyze real-time employee-customer interactions can display performance metrics on demand, show employees how well they are meeting KPIs, and enable instant feedback loops between employee and manager (i.e., the coach).
Coaching to Improve Performance: Rewarding a Job Well Done While positive and timely feedback are important to achieving performance objectives, formal recognition and rewards are also needed to effect behavioral changes. Coaching and incentive programs go hand-in-hand, tying employee performance to company goals, and rewarding individual performance in a way that is valued by that person. Rewards could be anything from money to flex time, depending on the employee receiving it.
Visit the NICE Performance management webpage to learn about the tools NICE have to offer.
Richard Correia Richard has many years of experience in Product Management and Product/Solutions Marketing, with time at Cisco, Turin/Force10, Dell, and CyrusOne. Accomplishments include managing the product direction and revenue of Turin/Force10 data center solutions from a few million, to just under a hundred million. At Dell, he was focused on marketing the different hardware and software components of the data center solutions. At CyrusOne, he changed the direction and strategy of marketing, focusing on greater ROI. Richard holds a bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering from University of Rhode Island and advanced degrees in Business & Engineering from Southern Methodist University.