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noun \ˈkōch\

Simple Definition: a person who teaches and trains an athlete or performer

What is Coaching?

Marianne Minor, faculty member at the General Electric Management Institute, New York, has defined coaching as: “a directive process by a manager to train and orient an employee to the realities of the workplace and to help the employee remove barriers to achieve optimum work performance.”

Depending on who you ask, there are many definitions of coaching. Essentially, in business, it’s an effective on-going process designed to help an employee gain greater competence and overcome barriers to improving performance.

Coaching takes time, and it involves commitment, patience, persistence, and a keen desire to actively participate in an employee’s development. Throughout the coaching process, the main objective is to improve performance. In some instances, it can also be used to overcome specific problems, such as absenteeism and tardiness.

What Coaching is Not

Coaching differs from training, which is a structured process to provide employees with the knowledge, skills, and working attitudes to perform a job proficiently. Training is appropriate when the person needs to learn a new skill to perform a given task or needs to enhance their knowledge regarding a new process, procedure, etc. Coaching, on the other hand, involves a change in behavior.

Coaching is not counseling. Counseling is problem solving directed at personal issues that are affecting or have the potential to affect performance. Very often, counseling involves personal problems such as marital and family problems, emotional and psychological barriers. However, counseling can be a supportive process by a manager to help an employee define and work through personal problems that affect job performance.

Why is Coaching So Important?

Today’s environment has created more pressure to do more with less. Sound familiar? The key to reducing pressure is to make the most of your most valuable resource: people!

If you have a sincere desire to develop and support your employees and the self-discipline to practice specific strategies and learn creative coaching techniques, you can help create an inspiring working culture.

  • Coaching is the most effective way to develop your employees.
  • It makes your job easier when your employees build their skill levels.
  • It can help improve productivity when employees know what the departmental goals are and how to achieve them.
  • High-performing employees will help you reduce the anxiety and stress of increasing multiple responsibilities.
  • Coaching helps avoid surprises and defensiveness in performance appraisals.
  • It helps employees develop high levels of self-esteem and job satisfaction.
  • Positive recognition and feedback increases staff motivation and initiative.
  • Coaches in an organization, as in sports, are great influencers. They know how to bring out the best and the most in others. They also know that it is an ongoing process and a primary responsibility.
  • Coaching builds your reputation as a people developer. It develops a sharing of leadership responsibilities and increases team cohesiveness due to clarified objectives.

How Do I Become a Good Coach?

Clearly, with the pressures in today’s business environment, coaching is one of the most critical skills to be mastered by supervisors and managers. As an effective coach, you need to demonstrate certain behaviors. Using the acronym “COACH,” you can easily identify and apply five specific behaviors of an effective coach:

  • Collaborate: The coaching relationship is a collaborative one. Work with employees to set standards and performance objectives and develop a performance improvement plan. It then becomes a matter of “How can we increase performance?”
  • Own: Examine your own personal behavior and accept some ownership along with the employee. Ask yourself, “Do I make my expectations clear?”; “Am I providing the proper training?”; “Does the employee have the appropriate tools to do the job?”
  • Acknowledge: Acknowledge successes through positive reinforcement, and also acknowledge an employee’s feelings and concerns. Acknowledging concerns is not the same as overlooking them or allowing behavior that is not at an acceptable level. For example, you can certainly understand an employee’s difficulty in juggling the multiple responsibilities of both home and work. However, if it results in chronic absenteeism or tardiness, you cannot simply acknowledge your understanding. Rather, it is a concern that must be addressed. Going back to the Collaborate step may result in an acceptable solution.
  • Communicate: This is probably the most important behavior and the one most managers seem to find the most difficult. Communication skills, including listening, questioning, giving and receiving feedback, are critical for success. You need to practice two-way communication daily. In particular, always clarify your expectations!
  • Help: As a manager or supervisor, you are not only a coach but also an advisor serving as a resource person and guide to other resources, both inside and outside the organization. In addition to giving help, you should also be seeking help from your employees. For example, if you need to increase production, ask your employees to help you develop a plan or at least solicit their ideas. You will be surprised how creative and innovative people can be if you ask for their input.

Providing Feedback

Another essential element for becoming a good coach is learning to provide feedback effectively. A coach is not a coach without providing feedback. In sports, how many coaches have you seen just sit on the sidelines and not give feedback? Here are some specific ways to provide feedback to your employees – ones that will encourage increased performance and generate positive behavior:

  • Be descriptive rather than evaluative. Describe observable behavior, not judgments on your part. Be careful not to put the employee on the defensive.
  • Be specific. Describe the behavior in the context of the actual situation.
  • Discuss only behaviors the employee can change. Some people have shortcomings over which they have no control.
  • Be timely, and do it frequently. Hold the discussion at the earliest opportunity after the behavior has occurred, whether positive or negative.
  • Take into account both the employee’s needs and the organization’s needs. Remember to look for a win-win situation.
  • Communicate clearly. Check for clarity by asking the employee to state their understanding of the discussion.
  • Do it when the receiver is ready to receive it. Keep in mind that timing is everything.

Using Recognition and Rewards

Feedback and reinforcement can be greatly enhanced when coupled with recognition and rewards for good performance and positive behavior. Individual recognition teamed with incentive programs can be very effective but should also be tied to organizational goals and individual performance and valued by the employee. If, for example, your organization is committed to responding quickly to customers, then you could reward the employee’s efficiency in returning phone calls or resolving complaints. You could recognize the achievement with public praise and offer a reward such as special privileges, choices of flex time, schedules, vacations, or tangibles such as gifts, money, plaques, or theater tickets. The reward should depend on the person receiving it. The employee with young children may appreciate being given more scheduling flexibility, whereas someone on a limited income would value the opportunity to work overtime.

Am I a Successful Coach?

Good coaches should always be evaluating their coaching techniques. One of the ways you can measure coaching success is to solicit feedback from employees on how you are doing. One easy and relatively risk-free method is to ask each employee to complete a brief “agree-disagree” questionnaire – anonymously, of course.

Another approach would be for you to respond to the list first according to how you see yourself, give the same list to your employees, then compare your self-perception with the perception of others. It could be a real eye-opener.

Regardless of which method you use and the outcome, you now have valuable data that either reinforces the positive approach and techniques you are already using or have uncovered an opportunity by identifying areas for improvement. You are well on your way to becoming a great coach!

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