When you notice that an employee is struggling or not keeping up, your first instinct might be to initiate disciplinary action or start the process by issuing a warning; it may even be your company policy to do so. But before you discipline or “counsel” your team members, try coaching.
As a small business leader, you will find that managing employee performance in a way that incorporates coaching to be more effective than relying on a disciplinary approach.
Managing Employee Performance
Skilled leaders recognize that they have a great deal of influence over the success or failure of the business and their employees. So while it is critical for employees to take personal responsibility for their success, it is not up to the employee alone to ensure their performance meets or exceeds expectations.
A manager’s job is to support their employees so they are able to do their jobs. You can’t be certain that an employee has what they need to do their job effectively without ensuring the lines of communication are open. Coaching is a way of opening communication with employees, building strong connections, and creating clarity around goals and expectations.
What is Employee Coaching?
As Ferdinand Fouries states in his book Coaching for Improved Work Performance, “Coaching is doing something during the race to influence the outcome of the race.” You don’t want to look at the race results and fire the employees who came in last without finding out why they fell behind or offering guidance for picking up the pace. The goal is to provide feedback and motivation to tweak their performance along the way.
Coaching is a proven approach to supporting workers in eliminating damaging habits and self-destructive behaviors to help them become more self-aware and effective in their work. It’s a manner of reflecting back to them how their actions affect the people around them and the performance of the business in ways they might not have considered.
When you learn how to effectively coach an employee, you know what to do and what to say to bring out the best in them. Coaching skills enable you to inspire even those you perceive as “problem” employees to give you their best work.
How to Coach Employees to Success
Leaders who embrace the role of coach are able to fully leverage the talents of the people who show up for them every day. You can transform your relationship with employees, resolve common workplace behavioral problems, and tap into the potential of your team by learning to coach employees to success.
Step 1: Open Lines of Communication
Two-way communication lays the foundation for coaching your employees to success.
Not only do leaders need to communicate expectations effectively but they also need to be effective listeners.
When communication only occurs to convey orders or complaints, employees don’t feel seen, heard, or appreciated—lowering their morale and lessening their enthusiasm for putting in a strong effort.
By truly engaging your employees, finding out what they need, and working to make their jobs better, everyone wins. When the lines of communication flow both ways, chances are you will be pleasantly surprised by what employees have to share and how well they respond when they know management values their input.
Step 2: Create a Supportive Work Environment
The most effective coaching happens in supportive environments. Happy employees are better performing employees. Your company culture can cultivate an employee’s growth or suffocate it. When you create an environment where people want to show up for work, they will be more receptive to your feedback and more likely to go above and beyond expectations.
At the root of many employee performance issues, you will find preventable problems that could be interfering with job satisfaction and performance.
By providing the right tools, equipment, training, and resources, you are setting them up for success. Allowing room to make mistakes, offering flexibility, and letting employees know you trust them can make a remarkable difference. This can’t happen when you’re laser-focused on punishment rather than nurturing success.
Step 3: Remain Curious and Open
Again, if you want your employees to know you value them as a contributor, you have to be willing to do what it takes to ensure they feel seen, heard, and appreciated. Otherwise, they will be more likely to distrust your motives and shut out your suggestions.
Invite them to bring their whole selves to work and incorporate their passions into their job. Some of the most innovative thinking often comes interests seemingly unrelated to your line of business.
Coaching brings about new possibilities and creative solutions. Your employee’s passion for travel, extreme sports, personal finance, tinkering with cars, cosplay, volunteering in their community, planning parties, or even playing video games could bring a surprisingly fresh outlook and approach to their work.
Step 4: Offer Motivation
Great coaches know what motivates their team. While we all wish everyone would be as self-motivated as we are, it’s important to remember that even the most driven contributor can get off track when their manager fails to motivate them.
Everyone is motivated by different factors, but foundational to employee motivation is developing a strong rapport and offering incentives that bring out the best in people. For some employees, a form of recognition or acknowledgment makes a greater impact than a token gift of appreciation. For others on your team, a title change is more motivating than a pay raise. And for others, designing their compensation plan to include commissions or incentivized bonuses is the ticket.
You might not be able to customize all of your programs, but a skilled leader as coach can identify what motivates their employees and make an effort to go to bat for them.
Step 5 : Empower Employees
You can’t coach an employee to succeed if you are not willing to give them room to fail or grow. Employees do not like to be micromanaged; they want a sense of agency in their daily role and ownership over their work. Watching or critiquing their every move is always counterproductive, and leaving little room for their input means they will probably just do the bare minimum.
If you want to get the best out of smart talented people, give them room to grow, experiment, fail, and learn. Remove yourself from the bottleneck where appropriate and give them decision-making power. Even a relatively small amount of leeway can go a long way towards enabling employees to feel more empowered.
Once someone has proven themselves to be responsible, let them know you have their back and they have your trust and support. Then entrust them with even more responsibility and encourage them to try more and do more.
Step 6: Identify Employee Strengths and Tap Into Them
Good leaders have a knack for recognizing and leveraging the strengths of their employees. In the coaching role, once you recognize strengths, the next move is to challenge them to rise to the occasion by offering opportunities to do so.
When motivated people see that there are opportunities for growth, they tend to expand into the container you create for them and beyond.
Far too often, smart, capable, skilled employees are overlooked and underutilized because they’ve been pigeonholed into a particular role or department. You could be overlooking a talented writer, tech wiz, or project manager just because their current position does not give them the opportunity to use their best strengths. With the right coaching model in place, these valuable gems won’t slip through the cracks.
Step 7: Find What Works and Do It Intentionally
A purely disciplinary approach to employee performance focuses on problems while coaching creates solutions. When you fixate on employees as a problem you miss out on their potential.
As a leader, it’s helpful to realize that your employees are most likely doing the best job they can with the direction they have been given. They are following company processes and procedures and using the tools available to do the work.
If your employees are not operating at the level you would like, it’s your responsibility to get to the bottom of why this is.
Of course you will have some poor performers that bring a bad attitude to work and are unwilling to change. But more often than not, you will find an operational shortcoming that, if addressed, could make a world of difference. Coaching opens space for these discoveries.
Look closely at the most productive and successful employees in each role or department, determine exactly what is working well for them, and take steps to replicate and model best practices.
Through careful observation and by speaking to employees who are great at their jobs, you can make the appropriate adjustments for employees who are lagging behind. When you do this in a way that honors top performers and supports those who are struggling, you will get the best results.
To get the best results from employee coaching, it’s important to commit to the process, be present with your employees, and take action. This is not the easy route, but the results are with the effort. You’ll need to get comfortable with tough situations, have hard conversations, and provide honest and clear feedback.
Your ultimate responsibility as a leader is to create conditions that facilitate the success of every employee. Keep in mind, you cannot want your team members to succeed more than they want it for themselves. While coaching is a collaborative approach to managing employee performance, you as the leader will need to make final decisions about what actions to take.
Work with an experienced coach or consultant to find a framework that works for you and your company and identify best practices to model. When you adopt or develop a philosophy about coaching, be proactive about sharing it with your team and take steps to ensure that your team members are prepared to be coached. You want them to feel supported and have a clear understanding of the process and what is to be expected.
Overall, consistency is key; if you want your employees to show up for you, you must be willing to show up for them.
Remember, demanding more from your employees is not the way to go and driving them harder is not the answer. Instead, the most effective leaders coach employees to success by helping them unlock their own potential and desire to do more.
Does your organization need support in developing coaching and leadership skills among your management team? Contact us for one of the following solutions:
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