How to Become an Effective Performance Management Coach
Coaching is a collaborative and ongoing process in which the manager interacts with direct reports and takes an active role and interest in their performance.
Good coaches do three things: they direct, they motivate, and they reward employee behavior.
Coaching is a day-to-day and ongoing function that involves observing performance, complimenting good work, and helping to correct and improve any performance that doesn’t meet expectations. Coaching is also concerned with long-term performance and involves ensuring that each employee’s development plan is achieved.
Effective coaches establish a helping and trusting relationship, and this is particularly important when the supervisor and direct report don’t share similar cultural backgrounds, as is often the case with expatriates or when implementing global performance management systems.
Of course, coaching isn’t beneficial to large organizations only. In fact, it’s particularly important in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as well. A study conducted in the United Kingdom involving more than 1,200 SME managers over a three-year period showed that coaching training was seen as a very positive experience. Also, for some of the SME managers, coaching training was seen as a “life changing experience.”
Four guiding principles of effective coaches
There are four guiding principles you need to follow to become an effective coach:
- A good coaching relationship is essential. For coaching to work, the relationship between the coach and the employee must be trusting and collaborative. As noted by industrial and organizational psychology Professors Farr and Jacobs from Penn State University, the “collective trust” of all those involved in the process is necessary. You must listen in order to understand. In other words, the coach needs to try to walk in the employee’s shoes and view the job and organization from his or her perspective. Overall, you need to coach with empathy and compassion.
Establishing a good relationship with your employees and being a compassionate coach has an important benefit for you as a coach: It’s an antidote to the chronic stress experienced by many managers. Why? The experience of compassion elicits responses within the human body that arouse the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), which can help mitigate stress.
- The employee is the source and director of change. You must understand that the employee is the source of change and self-growth. After all, the purpose of coaching is to change employee behavior and set a direction for what the employee will do better in the future. This type of change will not happen if the employee isn’t in the driver’s seat. Accordingly, you need to facilitate the employee’s setting the agenda, goals, and direction.
- The employee is whole and unique. You must understand that each employee is a unique individual with several job-related and job-unrelated identities such as customer service rep, father, and avid football fan and a unique personal history. The coach must try to create a whole and complete and rich picture of the employee so that employees bring their whole selves to work and are fully engaged. It will be beneficial if you have knowledge of the employee’s life and can help the employee connect his life and work experiences in meaningful ways.
- The coach is the facilitator of the employee’s growth. Your main role is one of facilitation. You must direct the process and help with the content of a developmental plan. You must resist the temptation to take control. Keep an attitude of exploration: help expand the employee’s awareness of strengths, resources, and challenges, and also help with goal setting.
You need to understand that coaching isn’t something done to the employee, but done with the employee.
Based on the four guiding principles, it’s evident that coaching requires quite a bit of effort from the managers. But when done right, you can become a true performance management leader and your organization is able to create a healthy “coaching culture.”
Seven behaviors of effective coaches
Given the available empirical evidence, coaching helps turn feedback into results. For this to happen, you need to engage in the following specific behaviors:
- Establish development objectives. You work jointly with the employees in creating the development plan and its objectives.
- Communicate effectively. You maintain regular and clear communication with employees about their performance, including both behaviors and results.
- Motivate employees. You must reward positive performance. When you do it, employees are motivated to repeat the same level of positive performance in the future.
- Document performance. You observe employee behaviors and results. You gather evidence about instances of good and poor performance.
- Give feedback. You measure employee performance and progress toward goals. You praise good performance and point out instances of substandard performance. You also help employees avoid poor performance in the future.
- Diagnose performance problems and performance decline. You must listen to employees and gather information to determine whether performance deficiencies and declines in performance are the result of a lack of knowledge and skills, abilities, or motivation or whether they stem from situational and contextual factors beyond the control of the employee. Diagnosing performance problems is important because such a diagnosis dictates whether the course of action should be, for example, providing the employee with resources so she can acquire more knowledge and skills, or addressing contextual issues that are beyond the control of the employee (for example, the employee is usually late in delivering the product because he receives information too late).
- Develop employees. You provide financial support and resources for employee development (for example, funding training, allowing time away from the job for developmental activities). By helping employees plan for the future and by giving challenging assignments, you help employees learn new things.
Not all coaches follow the four guiding principles or engage in the seven behaviors I just described. But managers who do become performance management leaders.
Understanding your coaching style
Your personality and behavioral preferences influence your coaching style. There are four main coaching styles: driver, persuader, amiable, and analyzer.
- You can adopt a driving style in which you tell your employee being coached what to do. Assume that you want to provide guidance regarding how to deal with a customer. In this situation, the preference for a driver is to say to the employee, “You must talk to the customer in this way.” Such coaches are assertive, speak quickly and often firmly, usually talk about tasks and facts, are not very expressive, and expose a narrow range of personal feelings to others.
- Coaches can use a persuading style in which they try to sell what they want the employee to do. Someone who is a persuader would try to explain to the employee why it’s beneficial for the organization, as well as for the employee himself, to talk to a customer in a specific way. Like drivers, persuaders are assertive, but they tend to use expansive body gestures, talk more about people and relationships, and expose others to a broad range of personal feelings.
- Other coaches may adopt an amiable style and want everyone to be happy. Such coaches are likely to be more subjective than objective and direct employees to talk to customers in a certain way because it “feels” like the right thing to do or because the employee feels it’s the right way to do it. Such coaches tend not to be very assertive and to speak deliberately and pause often, seldom interrupt others, and make many conditional statements.
- Coaches may have a preference for an analyzing style in which they are logical and systematic and then follow rules and procedures when providing a recommendation. To use the same example, such analyzer coaches may tell employees to talk to a customer in a specific way “because this is what the manual says.” Analyzers are therefore not very assertive, but like drivers, are likely to talk about tasks and facts rather than personal feelings.
No style is necessarily superior to the others. Performance management leadership involves sometimes providing direction, sometimes persuading employees how to do things a certain way, sometimes showing empathy and creating positive effects, and sometimes paying close attention to established rules and procedures.
If you adopt only one of the coaching styles, and never the others, you will not be able to help employees develop and grow. Ineffective coaches stick to one style only and cannot adapt to using any of the other styles. On the other hand, adaptive coaches, who are able to adjust their style according to an employee’s needs, are most effective.