With the right guidance, anyone can be a good job coach. This article considers what effective job coaches do and how they do it so that you can coach your employees toward successful results.
Serve as both manager and job coachEven if you have a pretty good sense of what it means to be a manager, do you really know what it means to be a coach? A coach is a colleague, counselor, and cheerleader, all rolled into one. Based on that definition, are you a coach? Why or why not?
Surely you’re familiar with the role of job coaches in other realms. A drama coach, for example, is almost always an accomplished actor or actress. The drama coach’s job is to conduct auditions for parts, assign roles, schedule rehearsals, train and direct cast members throughout rehearsals, and support and encourage the actors and actresses during the final stage production. These roles aren’t all that different from the roles managers perform in a business, are they?
Coaching a team of individuals isn’t easy, and certain characteristics make some coaches better than others. Fortunately, as with most other business skills, you can discover, practice, and improve the traits of good coaches. You can always find room for improvement, and good coaches are the first to admit it. Following are key characteristics and tasks for coaches:
- Job coaches set goals. Whether a small business’s vision is to become the leading pizza franchise in the city, to increase revenues by 20 percent a year, or simply to get the break room walls painted this year, coaches work with their employees to set goals and deadlines for completion. They then go away and allow their employees to determine how to accomplish the goals.
- Job coaches support and encourage. Employees — even the best and most experienced — can easily become discouraged from time to time. When employees are learning new tasks, when a long-term account is lost, or when business is down, coaches are there, ready to step in and help the team members through the worst of it. “That’s okay, Kim. You’ve learned from your mistake, and I know that you’ll get it right next time!”
- Job coaches emphasize team success over individual success. The team’s overall performance is the most important concern, not the stellar abilities of a particular team member. Coaches know that no one person can carry an entire team to success; winning takes the combined efforts of all team members. The development of teamwork skills is a vital step in an employee’s progress in a company.
- Job coaches can quickly assess the talents and shortfalls of team members. The most successful job coaches can quickly determine their team members’ strengths and weaknesses and, as a result, tailor their approach to each. For example, if one team member has strong analytical skills but poor presentation skills, a coach can concentrate on providing support for the employee’s development of better presentation skills. “You know, Mark, I want to spend some time with you to work on making your viewgraph presentations more effective.”
- Job coaches inspire their team members. Through their support and guidance, coaches are skilled at inspiring their team members to the highest levels of human performance. Teams of inspired individuals are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their organization’s goals.
- Job coaches create environments that allow individuals to succeed. Great coaches ensure that their workplaces are structured to let team members take risks and stretch their limits without fear of retribution if they fail.
Job coaches are available to advise their employees or just to listen to their problems, as needed. “Carol, do you have a minute to discuss a personal problem?”
- Job coaches provide feedback. Communication and feedback between coach and employee is a critical element of the coaching process. Employees must know where they stand in the company — what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong. Equally important, employees must let their coaches know when they need help or assistance. And both parties need this dialogue in a timely manner, on an ongoing basis — not just once a year in a performance review.
Firing someone doesn’t constitute effective feedback. Unless an employee has engaged in some sort of intolerable offense (such as physical violence, theft, or intoxication on the job), a manager needs to give the employee plenty of verbal and written feedback before even considering termination. Giving employees several warnings offers them opportunities to correct deficiencies that they may not be able to see.
Identify a job coach’s toolsJob coaching isn’t a one-dimensional activity. Because every person is different, the best job coaches tailor their approach to their team members’ specific, individualized needs. If one team member is independent and needs only occasional guidance, recognize where she stands and provide that level of support. This support may consist of an occasional, informal progress check while making the rounds of the office
On the other hand, if another team member is insecure and needs more guidance, the job coach must recognize this employee’s position and assist as needed. In this case, support may consist of frequent, formal meetings with the employee to assess progress and provide advice and direction as needed.
Although you have your own job coaching style, the best coaches employ certain techniques to elicit the greatest performance from their team members:
- Make time for team members. Managing is primarily a people job. Part of being a good manager and coach is being available to your employees when they need your help. If you’re not available, your employees may seek out other avenues to meet their needs — or simply stop trying to work with you. Always keep your door open to your employees and remember that they are your first priority. Manage by walking around. Regularly get out of your office and visit your employees at their workstations. “Do I have a minute, Elaine? Of course, I always have time for you and the other members of my staff.”
- Provide context and vision. Instead of simply telling employees what to do, effective job coaches explain the why. Coaches provide their employees with context and a big-picture perspective. Instead of spouting long lists of do’s and don’ts, they explain how a system or procedure works and then define their employees’ parts in the scheme of things. “Chris, you have a very important part in the financial health and vitality of our company. By ensuring that our customers pay their invoices within 30 days after we ship their products, we’re able to keep our cash flow on the plus side, and we can pay our obligations such as rent, electricity, and your paycheck on time.”
- Transfer knowledge and perspective. A great benefit of having a good job coach is the opportunity to learn from someone who has more experience than you do. In response to the unique needs of each team member, coaches transfer their personal knowledge and perspective. “We faced this exact situation about five years ago, Dwight. I’m going to tell you what we did then, and I want you to tell me whether you think it still makes sense today.”
- Be a sounding board. Job coaches talk through new ideas and approaches to solving problems with their employees. Job coaches and employees can consider the implications of different approaches to solving a problem and role-play customer or client reactions before trying them out for real. By using active listening skills, coaches can often help their employees work through issues and come up with the best solutions themselves. “Okay, Priscilla, you’ve told me that you don’t think your customer will buy off on a 20 percent price increase. What options do you have to present the price increase, and are some more palatable than others?”
- Obtain needed resources. Sometimes coaches can help their employees make the jump from marginal to outstanding performance simply by providing the resources those employees need. These resources can take many forms: money, time, staff, equipment, or other tangible assets. “So, Gene, you’re confident that we can improve our cash flow if we throw a couple more clerks into collections? Okay, we’ll give it a try.”
- Offer a helping hand. For an employee who is learning a new job and is still responsible for performing her current job, the total workload can be overwhelming. Coaches can help workers through this transitional phase by reassigning current duties to other employees, authorizing overtime, or taking other measures to relieve the pressure. “Phoebe, while you’re learning how to troubleshoot that new network server, I’m going to assign your maintenance workload to Rachel. we can get back together at the end of the week to see how you’re doing.”
Effective job coaches teach through show and tellBesides the obvious job coaching roles of supporting and encouraging employees in their quest to achieve an organization’s goals, managers as coaches also teach their employees how to achieve an organization’s goals. Drawing from your experience, you lead your workers step by step through work processes or procedures. After they discover how to perform a task, you delegate full authority and responsibility for its performance to them.
For the transfer of specific skills, you can find no better way of teaching, and no better way of learning, than the show-and-tell method. Developed by a post–World War II American industrial society desperate to quickly train new workers in manufacturing processes, show-and-tell is beautiful in its simplicity and effectiveness.
Show-and-tell coaching has three steps:
- You do, you say. Sit down with your employees and explain the procedure in general terms while you perform the task.
- They do, you say. Now have the employees do the same procedure as you explain each step in the procedure.
- They do, they say. Finally, as you observe, have your employees perform the task again as they explain to you what they’re doing.
As you go through these steps, have employees create a “cheat sheet” of the new steps to refer to until they become habit.
Good job coaches make turning points big successesDespite popular impressions to the contrary, 90 percent of management isn’t the big event — the blinding flash of brilliance that creates markets where none previously existed, the magnificent negotiation that results in unheard-of levels of union-management cooperation, or the masterful stroke that catapults the firm into the big leagues. No, 90 percent of a manager’s job consists of the daily chipping away at problems and the shaping of talents.
The best coaches are constantly on the lookout for turning points — the daily opportunities to succeed that are available to all employees.The big successes — the victories against competitors, the dramatic surges in revenues or profits, the astounding new products — are typically the result of building a foundation of countless small successes along the way.
Making a phone-prompt system more responsive to your customers’ needs, sending an employee to a seminar on time management, writing a great sales agreement, conducting a meaningful performance appraisal with an employee, meeting a prospective client for lunch — all are turning points in the average business day. Although each event may not be particularly spectacular on its own, when aggregated over time, they can add up to big things.
This is the job of a coach. Instead of using dynamite to transform the business in one fell swoop (and taking the chance of destroying their business, their employees, or themselves in the process), job coaches are like the ancient stonemasons who built the great pyramids of Egypt. The movement and placement of each individual stone may not have seemed like a big deal when considered as a separate activity.
However, each was an important step in achieving the ultimate result — the construction of awe-inspiring structures that have withstood thousands of years of war, weather, and tourists.
Incorporate job coaching into your day-to-day interactionsJob coaches focus daily on spending time with employees to help them succeed — to assess their progress and to find out what they can do to help the employees capitalize on the turning points that present themselves every day. Job coaches complement and supplement the abilities and experience of their employees by bringing their own abilities and experience to the table. They reward positive performance and help their employees learn important lessons from making mistakes — lessons that, in turn, help the employees improve their future performance.
For example, suppose you have a young and inexperienced, but bright and energetic, sales trainee on your staff. Your employee has done a great job of contacting customers and making sales calls, but she hasn’t yet closed her first deal. When you talk to her about this, she confesses that she’s nervous about her own personal turning point: She’s worried that she may become confused in front of the customer and blow the deal at the last minute. She needs your coaching.
The following guidelines can help you, the job coach, handle any employee’s concerns:
- Meet with your employee. Make an appointment with your employee as soon as possible for a relaxed discussion of the concerns. Find a quiet place free of distractions, and put your phone on hold or forward it to voice-mail.
- Listen! One of the most motivating things one person can do for another is to listen. Avoid instant solutions or lectures. Before you say a word, ask your employee to bring you up-to-date with the situation, her concerns, and any possible approaches or solutions she’s considered. Let her do the talking while you do the listening.
- Reinforce the positive. Begin by pointing out what your employee did right in the particular situation. Let your employee know when she’s on the right track. Give her positive feedback on her performance.
- Highlight areas for improvement. Point out what your employee needs to do to improve and tell her what you can do to help. Agree on the assistance you can provide, whether your employee needs further training, an increased budget, more time, or something else. Be enthusiastic about your confidence in the employee’s ability to do a great job.
- Follow through. After you determine what you can do to support your employee, do it! Notice when she improves. Periodically check up on the progress your employee is making and offer your support as necessary.
Above all, be patient. You can’t accomplish job coaching on your terms alone. At the outset, understand that everyone is different. Some employees catch on sooner than others and some employees need more time to develop. Differences in ability don’t make certain employees any better or worse than their co-workers — they just make them different. Just as you need time to build relationships and trust in business, your employees need time to develop skills and experience.