The coaching marketplace is confusing; and how coaching is defined is varied. This in and of itself can absolutely influence the kind of success you have at implementing a successful coaching strategy and/or standard and, more importantly, it’s overall impact. The impact is critical because excellence in managerial coaching can deliver tomorrow’s prepared and effective leaders.
Let’s make it as simple as possible right out of the gate: Coaching is NOT performance management. While there are some skills that overlap (like analyzing performance and feedback) it is not the same thing. The outcomes are completely different. The conversations are completely different. This skills sets are also very different. It’s the same with “management” and “leadership.” A lot of organizations have taken to calling management staff “leaders” in an effort to promote the thinking that they do lead no matter where they are located in the business. But when you break it down to what the actual work of leading is versus the actual work of management, there are distinct and critical differences. The same goes for “coaching” and “performance management” – distinctive and critical differences.
So let’s define both. Performance Management (or managing the performance of employees) is an activity ensuring that goals are consistently being met or exceeded in an efficient and effective manner. The focus of performance management is on delivering business results. This includes skills that consider both the “what” (result) and the “how” (performance choices) delivered by each employee. Coaching is an activity that develops an employee to achieve a higher level of performance (mastering a new skill, achieving a personal goal, learning or expanding knowledge and applying it in real time). Performance Management is about setting expectations and driving accountability for delivery on those expectations. Coaching is about growth and development. Yes, at times they overlap. An outstanding manager will start by giving feedback about an employee’s performance and move easily into a coaching posture to further support that employee on his/her ability to engage effective solutions in addressing identified gaps in capabilities. How many of your managers can actually do that effectively? Consistently?
Make Coaching a Root Skill at Every Level
At the end of the day, there are really only two people responsible for your professional development: you and the person you report to. And if you’re willing to learn and do the hard yards, then your manager should be the one to get and keep you engaged on the learning curve of performance improvement. Coaching, when done effectively, and authentically is the skill to drive change — real change, the kind where everything gets different — you get different. Which means you behave differently, make decisions differently, view things differently, and you effectively impact your performance overall. If every manager, at every level were actively involved in performance development of their employees, you’d see growth every year without any budget increase.
Managers Who Coach Are Building the Future Leadership
If you’re going to continue to deliver the necessary business results you can’t take your foot off the gas. Performance has to be there. Change is constant. Words like “agile,” “nimble,” and “pivot” are on everywhere. Your management team are the “go-to guys” on making sure that happens. Are they prepared? Look carefully at your coaching competency. As coaching has become a staple skill set, most organizations have one. The questions now are: Is it used and viewed as a positive, developmental discipline? And is it consistently applied? How good are your managers at coaching others with intention and fortitude, the objective being improved performance in a short period of time? Or are you just getting lukewarm conversations of encouragement and consequences?
Superior managers view coaching as an additional role they play. The approach in which they coach is distinct and different to the approach in which they manage. A coach is a change agent. Unlike a mentor, a coach always keeps his eye on the prize, the endgame is significant improvement in short time. To achieve this there are some standard conditions they must create.
Condition 1: The employee must have the desire to change
The employee must have 100% ownership for improvement. The manager works with the employee to determine the change or improvement they would like to make. By identifying and describing what the current level of performance is against what the change looks and feels like and anticipated steps necessary to get there.
Condition 2: The employee must know what to do and how to do it
The manager makes time to work with the employee to understand and apply the steps, skills or behaviors that are the target of the change or improvement. This is the core of a coaching competency — the coaching session. The whole idea of a coaching session is not to discuss “how it’s going” or to “make a plan” but to essentially work on, to implement, and more specifically to practice how to enact behaviors and apply skills in specific job-related situations as determined by the employee and mutually agreed by the manager. The result of a successful coaching session is immediate change in skill applications and behaviors. This change is gradual on a scale of novice to mastery, however, fundamental behavior change is immediate and noticeable. The degree of excellence in the actual application is what accelerates over time and the coaching continues. If you are not witnessing immediate changes in skill applications and behaviors, you are not coaching — you are having conversations about performance. Coaching involves practice.
When Jordan Speith is standing on the practice fairway, does he just talk to his coach about his game, what he should do or intends to do, or can get help doing? No! He hits the ball! Over and over again until he’s got it down and he’s substantially improved from what he’s done previously. Coaching is about getting people out of their comfort zone and doing things they’ve never done before – coaching is getting employees to hit the ball.
Condition 3: Failure is permitted and expected
Unlike managing performance where results are expected, coaching is a safe environment where failure is both permitted and expected. A new skill or behavior is unfamiliar. It’s awkward. We learn more quickly and more effectively when we are allowed to fall off the bike without ridicule or punishment before we get back on to try again. As learners, we must trust our teachers – trust that our failures are part of our learning curve. We harness these failures and use them to accelerate our ability to apply or implement correctly and effectively. Manager coaches create a safe and supportive environment that give employees the confidence to go out into the public of the workplace and do things they’ve never done before.
Condition 4: Frequency and increasing difficulty
You don’t create permanent change in one session or one week or one month. You can however, create significant improvement in one business quarter if you are committed to working on that change in frequent intervals with accelerated challenges incorporated at each meeting.
This kind of format raises the risk and commitment levels of both the employee and the manager; creating tension and excitement when the challenges are met or exceeded. Superior manager coaches are effective at gearing improvement challenges to stretch the employee to realize personal and professional gains that are organizationally important and individually meaningful.
Condition 4: Employees must be recognized for changing
Absolutely! Achieving personal best should be noted, noticed and possibly celebrated. Improving achievement of specific goals, business unit objectives or monthly numbers by virtue of personal contribution demands recognition. Manager coaches actively support recognition through the continuous feedback provided at each session. This provides employee reward through the direct effects on self-confidence, job satisfaction and self-actualization through personal change and improvement. It’s important to note, that the reward and recognition is for the new behaviors and skills achieved – not the results or business outcomes delivered. The focus of the improvement is to permanently leverage improvement through behavioral and skill driven changes – the “how” of an outcome NOT the outcome itself. This is a critical difference.
Build the Leadership Bench – Daily
Managers who capably coach their employees leverage greater results for the organization while creating more effective, long-term employees at the same time. Managers who coach exercise, and model personal discipline, risk, learning through failure, tenacity, investment in development, initiating, relationship building and by virtue of the relationship instill these capabilities in the employee all of which are critical leadership capabilities that can be lived every day on the job. The key is to create a consistent level of capability amongst the management team so they can fully realize the hidden resource that currently sits idle within the employees in your organization right now.