Develop Better Managers by Coaching

Debbie Zmorenski

Performance coaching is not about disciplinary action, nor is it about accountability (although it may promote accountability in the long term). It is really about leadership development — teaching your team of supervisors, managers and leaders the skills and behaviors that are necessary to perform their jobs as efficiently as possible in order to get the best results for themselves and the company.

Performance coaching is not about telling your management team what to do; it is about telling them how to get the best results from their people and processes. If you are experiencing mediocre productivity, ongoing conflict or high turnover, you should look first at your management team. They are the root cause for success and failure. There is an old Chinese proverb that says, "For every hundred men hacking away at the branches of a diseased tree, only one will stoop to inspect the roots."

It is surprising to me the number of managers and executives I meet who have no idea how to conduct performance coaching sessions. While facilitating an executive coaching session with a vice president, she told me that she had continually written her managers up and that they continued to deliver substandard performance. Her frustration was evident, but writing people up is self-defeating when you have not performed due diligence in the supervisor's or manager's performance training. It does not teach the skills the employee or manager needs to move forward. It only punishes them for making mistakes and not performing up to expected standards.

Most supervisors and managers want to do a good job, but many do not have the skills to deal with the complicated workforce issues prevalent in today's organizations. Many supervisors and managers are learning as they go. This process is slow, ineffective and costly to organizations, as supervisors and managers bungle their way through each day, trying to do the right things.

To effectively conduct performance coaching sessions, you must first understand the root cause of poor performance. Performance is a function of both ability and motivation. For example, someone with 100-percent motivation and 75-percent ability can achieve good to above average performance. However, someone with 25-percent ability will most likely not be able to perform to expected standards no matter how highly motivated they are to succeed. In the latter case, you will have to identify a strategic plan to provide this person with the skills he or she needs to succeed, or assess whether he or she is in the right position.

Key signs that low ability may be the root cause of poor performance include:

  • Evidence of strong effort despite poor performance
  • Lack of improvement over time despite ongoing coaching and training

Performance Coaching for Management Development

Coaching to develop your management team allows leaders to leverage the organization's human capital, creating a competitive advantage. Supervisors and managers have a direct impact on how employees feel about working for the organization.

"Once the economy turns around, disgruntled employees will certainly begin to consider a job change," said Lori Dernavich, a business advisor on workplace performance solutions and founder of Lori Dernavich LLC.

Coaching and counseling for management development ranges from helping poor performers improve to capitalizing on high-potential supervisors and managers by keeping them challenged and encouraging them to continuously improve their skills.

Coaching is not a one-way street. Both the leader and the supervisor or manager share the responsibility for positive results. Highly effective performance coaches have the following characteristics:

  • Base the coaching relationship on trust
  • Are optimists about human nature
  • Give people opportunities to take risks and learn from their mistakes
  • Practice effective listening skills
  • Speak candidly
  • Encourage personal accountability and ownership
  • Know their strengths and weaknesses and continually strive to leverage strengths and overcome weaknesses
  • Are continuous learners

Below are three key strategies for effective performance coaching.

Create a Culture of Involvement and Ownership

Tactics include:

  1. Provide the knowledge, skills, tools, resources and education to ensure the supervisor's or manager's success.
  2. Share the vision, mission and business objectives, ensuring that they understand where they fit in to the big picture.
  3. Set clear standards for results and behaviors.
  4. Reward and recognize results and behaviors.

Provide Challenging Assignments

Tactics include:

  1. Assess the supervisor's or manager's abilities.
  2. Make assignments that align with their abilities.
  3. Provide clear direction and expectations.
  4. Remove roadblocks and barriers.
  5. Trust them to accomplish the task.
  6. Reward and recognize effort and results.

Provide Ongoing Coaching

Tactics include:

  1. Provide constructive criticism. Meet monthly to discuss the supervisor's or manager's progress and areas where improvement is needed.
  2. Document the monthly conversations.
  3. Remove barriers and roadblocks.
  4. Provide tools and resources.
  5. Use effective listening and feedback skills.

Coaches as Mentors

I am frequently asked about the difference between coaches and mentors. It is true that great coaches often become dedicated mentors. The definition of a mentor is: "A person who gives another person the benefit of his or her years of experience and/or education. This is experience that is shared in such a way that the mentor helps to develop a mentee's skills and abilities, benefiting the mentee and the organization." However, there are clear differences between a coach and a mentor. Below is a quick guide to mentoring for improved performance.

Why Mentoring is Different than Coaching

Coaching is not the same as mentoring. Mentoring is concerned with the development of the whole person and driven by the person's own work/life goals. It is usually unstructured and informal. Coaching is much more about achieving specific objectives in a particular way. Coaching is also more formal and more structured, usually around a coaching process or methodology.

In other words, mentoring is less skill-based and more of a relationship-based process. A good mentoring relationship is identified by the willingness and capability of both parties to ask questions, challenge assumptions and disagree.

The mentor is far less likely to have a direct-line relationship with the mentee, and in a mentoring relationship, this distance is desirable. Mentoring is rarely a critical part of an individual's job role but rather an extra element that rewards the mentor with fresh thinking as well as the opportunity to transfer knowledge and experience to a less experienced colleague, peer or employee. If you are interested in becoming a mentor, the following tips may prove useful.

Tips for Effective Mentoring

  • The mentee has no direct-line reporting to the mentor. This fosters trust, and the mentee feels more comfortable in sharing uncertainties about his or her abilities, creating free-flowing, open communication.
  • The mentor/mentee relationship is mutually satisfying. The mentor gets the satisfaction of watching someone grow as a result of his or her insights. The mentee gains a feeling of being valued, receiving beneficial direction and attention from someone who is respected and admired.
  • The intensity of the relationship is matched. It is taking up actual and mental time in proportions with which both people are comfortable. This time commitment is flexible as the mentee's needs change (e.g., there may be several meetings in a short period of time during a very challenging period, then none for months).
  • At any time, either party can stop the relationship and the mentoring process. There is no obligation for continuance.
  • The mentee is not a protégé. It is not a teacher-pupil relationship, nor does the mentee (necessarily) have the patronage of the mentor.
  • An effective mentor gives wise counsel, and the mentee feels comfortable speaking on issues that may be sensitive. Once this trust is developed, the mentor can give advice or assist with tough recommendations.
  • The mentor is not mentoring two people at the same time who have a close working relationship. Discretion and confidentiality are paramount. The rules of engagement are stated up front with an agreement between the mentor and the mentee on who should be aware of the mentoring relationship.
  • The obligation for continuing is two-sided. When the mentor feels he or she has value to add and the mentee is getting something from the relationship, the mentoring may go on indefinitely. Otherwise, either side can end it without justification.
  • Mentoring programs are about guidance and facilitation rather than formal training.

Becoming a mentor is a personal choice. Learning to effectively provide performance coaching is a necessary skill for retaining top talent within the management and front-line employee ranks. It is critical that leadership within organizations do everything in their power to give management the skills they need to successfully get results through people and processes.

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About the Author

Deborah K. Zmorenski, MBA, is the co-owner and senior partner of Leader’s Strategic Advantage Inc., an Orlando, Fla.-based consulting firm. During her 34-year career with the Walt Disney W...