These days, more and more managers in organisations are being asked to coach — yet many managers aren’t sure what coaching is or how to do it. Although more than 70% of organisations recognise coaching as a necessary leadership competency, only 5% claim to provide training specifically designed to build the needed skills in managers.
Four big challenges stand in the way of managers adopting coaching skills: confusion about what coaching really is, when to use it, how to do it and the perceived lack of time to do it.
What is coaching?
The most critical job of a manager is to make sure people are clear on what their job is and what a good job looks like. Managers look through the lens of what is best for the organisation as they set the direction and make sure goals are being achieved.
But what is a manager to do when people need help with things that affect them but aren’t necessarily related to their job or performance? What if people need help with long term goals such as career planning and professional development? That’s where coaching comes in.
We define coaching as a deliberate process that uses focused conversations to create an environment of accelerated performance and development. The coach approach is best used when the problem or the task is unclear, when the manager doesn’t know how to solve the issue, or when the employee has majority interest in the outcome.
To conduct a coaching conversation, managers must shift from looking out for the best interests of the organisation to looking out for the best interests of the employee. Coaching conversations promote discovery, generate insights, and clarify purposeful action for the employee. They may very well benefit the organisation, but their primary focus is on the employee. The paradox is that when managers are able to coach their people, that coaching has significant positive effects on employee development, performance, and productivity, which also benefits the organisation.
According to our research, when managers use coaching behaviours appropriately, their employees are more likely to:
• Have high levels of trust in their manager
• Have positive feelings about their job and the organisation
• Remain with the organisation
• Create positive buzz about the organisation
• Expend discretionary effort
• Behave in ways that support the organisation
Providing effective coaching requires courage and finesse – and can only really be done once that manager has earned the right to coach. No employee is going to let themselves be coached by a manager they don’t trust. Managers earn trust by demonstrating an others-oriented mindset, using a proven process, and learning the right skills.
Devoting time to coaching is another way managers demonstrate they care. But not having enough time is the primary reason managers give when asked what keeps them from coaching. We know using coaching when appropriate saves hours down the road by helping employees achieve rare clarity and focus. With our approach, managers stop thinking they don’t have time to coach — and instead learn how to coach in the time that they have.
Here are three ways managers can learn to become more coach-like:
1 Make a conscious shift to an others-oriented mindset. Managers need to stop, breathe, clear their minds, pay attention, and manage their impulses and natural tendencies. This requires enormous self-regulation — in other words, it is hard. For some people, it is very hard. Without a shift in mindset, it is almost impossible.
2 Use a foolproof, reproducible process. Having a simple process to follow every time eliminates guesswork and doubts. An easy to remember process also helps managers catch themselves when the conversation goes off track. Many standard coaching process models don’t work in practice because they are too linear. People do not process their own thoughts and feelings in a linear way, no matter how analytical they are. Managers using a coach approach need to be prepared to move flexibly through the four elements of a coaching conversation—connect, focus, activate, and review. Our process was achieved through 25 years of experimenting, tweaking, and improving. It provides critical structure and flexibility.
3 Commit to learning the right skills. The four core coaching skills we teach are listening, inquiring, telling your truth and expressing confidence. On the surface, these skills may appear basic, but their depth and sophistication become apparent the minute people start practicing them. Take listening, for example. Most people think they are good listeners, but most really aren’t. Asking open-ended questions, or inquiring, is the second skill — we teach highly applicable methods so that managers will ask better questions to help their conversations be more efficient.
Our tell your truth skill, which helps managers to give feedback when necessary, makes it easier for managers to share information and challenge employees to achieve their potential in an inspiring way. Expressing confidence, the final skill, is not to be confused with praise or positive feedback. The manager shares observations about the employee that prove that the manager has been paying attention, remembers specific examples of the person’s success, and has faith in the person’s ability to do what is necessary.
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Managers who coach will build trust, increase workplace positivity, and boost employee work passion. Time and commitment is required, but with a proven plan and the development of the right skills, organisations can take advantage of the positive impact a coach approach can have on their people. And who can argue against training to achieve that?
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