The importance of coaching your people

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Everest Group is in the business of creating exceptional workplaces and one way we are particularly passionate about doing this is through developing the leadership capability of managers – as a leader, as a manager and as a coach.

These three activities are complementary and are required to achieve business objectives, by enabling teams and individual team members to be self-led high performers.

When managers are LEADING, they create and share a vision of the future with their team and ensure that their activities are consistent with bringing about those objectives.

When managers are MANAGING, they deliver results to the organisation by controlling the work of the team, and agreeing and monitoring such things as budgets, timescales and quality levels.

When managers are COACHING, they support their team members in their learning, to enable them to develop the skills, knowledge and attitude necessary to successfully deliver their job responsibilities and goals. Without coaching, a manager’s leadership practice is like a three-legged stool balancing on two-legs.

We commonly hear that business demands prevent managers from having regular coaching conversations with their staff.  That’s not to say that coaching isn’t planned in many of these cases, but commonly it’s the first thing a manager will bump in the face of competing priorities – a practice that seems reasonably innocuous at face value, but over time it can be perilous to performance.

In subtle and not so subtle ways, lack of quality interaction with staff can compromise an employee’s confidence, their skill level and potential, their sense of value, their faith in leadership, and ultimately their engagement and contribution.

A people leader’s highest value contribution to an organisation is to keep their people working at high performance.

Coaching is about facilitating the performance, learning and development of another. At its foundation is the belief that people are not their behaviours, behaviours can change, and high performance is achievable and sustainable.   This requires the manager to develop strong interpersonal skills and a commitment to grow the potential of others.

Ask, don’t tell:  Pure coaching is about asking good questions and engaging the brain of the coachee, thus developing self-led high performing people, conversation by conversation. Engaging the brain ensures that they do the thinking, and connect the dots, that results in behaviour change.  It takes time and intention to do this well.

Unfortunately, fast paced, demanding work environments tend to generate quite the opposite behaviour. Managers fall into the trap of driving results through readily giving the answers and telling people what to do.  If this is the norm for their ‘coaching’ conversations, it achieves instant results at the expense of capacity development.  As a general rule of thumb, the ratio for coach talking compared with coachee is approximately 20/80; that is, the coachee is encouraged to do most of the talking.  To do this well, the main tools a manager needs are Questioning and Listening. Notice that availability and presence goes without saying, if you want to do these two things well.

Questioning 101: Developing questioning skills will help managers have effective, exploratory coaching conversations, with the ultimate goal of facilitating awareness, growth and accountability. A starting point to develop this skill is the 5Ws and How – Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? These little gems create targeted questions to uncover and explore key information in any situation. These questions dig deeper into factual information to uncover truths. They sit at the core of problem solving, evaluating, and identification of causal relationships. When used in coaching and performance conversations, questioning helps develop accountability.

Listening 101:  Active listening is not just sitting in silence while someone else talks. The skills of active listening can be summed up as follows: Look interested; Inquire with questions; Stay on target; Test understanding; Evaluate the message; Neutralise your feelings. Neutrality is powerfully important when coaching, and it takes practice. A conversation that stretches beyond biases, assumptions, agreements or disagreements will create profound learning and the accountability needed for self-leadership and high performance.

As this New Year gets into gear, consider the importance of taking time to actively coach your people. Look beyond immediate business demands to a future where everyone in your organisation brings skill and a sense of high accountability to all that they do. And with that goal in mind, recognise the value of building capacity conversation by conversation.

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About Author

Libby Gairdner

Coach and Trainer, Everest Group Limited,
Creating Exceptional Workplaces, www.everestgroup.co.nz

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