Often, articles on managing performance are focused only on poor performance or what needs to be done to help the individuals whose performance has slipped below acceptable standards. In this article, we wish to focus more on performance coaching for those individuals who are doing an acceptable job in general but can be encouraged to “stretch” themselves further or to aim for higher standards.
But if we are to coach any employee, we first need to gather information about his or her performance and this is typically done by regular or ongoing monitoring or review. Monitoring will help any manager to gather the information needed to ensure that performance is not only on track but has the potential to be even better in the future.
Monitoring is not a passive activity or one that you can only do occasionally. It is therefore much more effective to adopt a particular method (or several methods) to gather the data that you will need. In the context of performance coaching, it should always be remembered that data gathering is not a casual activity but one that needs commitment and effort. A manager consequently needs to get close to the individual they are seeking to coach and make careful observations about what might be worthy of further performance discussion (and when and where this discussion might best take place of course).
To gather information on performance, a manager can use one or more of the following:
- Regular scheduled meetings with employees to review how work is going.
- Checking work progress against pre-established accountabilities statements or Action Plans to see if performance is on target.
- Reviewing reports or target checklists that have been developed at the beginning of the performance appraisal cycle.
- Walking around to observe how the work is going and holding informal discussions.
- Getting feedback (formally and informally) from other people with whom the individual works.
- Encouraging an individual to engage in 180-degree of 360-degree feedback through competency based questionnaires.
- Inspecting the work output, results or consequences to check on its quality or accuracy.
- Asking individuals who are potential coachees to provide progress presentations or updates.
Although it is possible to add other monitoring techniques to the above list, our point is that any coaching intervention that is planned needs to be made on the basis of sound monitoring processes and data gathering (not guesses and assumptions, or by listening to second or third hand hearsay comments). In other words, effective data gathering methods provide a strong foundation upon which helpful performance coaching can subsequently take place – we can then look at how this coaching is carried out.
Setting the Right Climate for Performance Coaching
When we coach for performance we are mainly helping an individual to rise above their own expectations. But for a manager to give his or her coaching intervention the best chance of success a manager need to do his or her homework and make sure that the climate established helps the coaching to occur in the most positive climate possible. A great way for a manager to do this is to put him or herself in the coachee’s shoes and to think about how a particular individual might welcome the opportunity you are offering them through coaching. A key question to therefore ask at this stage is: “Does the person trust me?” If your answer to the question is “no” your chances of quickly building a good coaching relationship are not good, and more works to be done. Trust is the basis of good coaching and it has to be a two way thing. Not only does the person you are coaching have to trust you, but you have to trust them. The more the relationship grows as a partnership, the better and more successful the whole experience is likely to be.
Trust is the key to overcoming initial defensiveness to performance coaching and this is best built by established good rapport as early as possible. One thing which can really help rapport building is if a manager is self-revealing and shares experiences which he or she has which are similar to the experiences of the person being coached.
Planning and Preparing to Coach
Performance coaching with an individual requires lots of forethought and preparation to enable a manager to take advantage of possible “coaching opportunities” as they come up. If the manager is well prepared, he or she can then step right into working with an individual to lift their performance, enhance their job skills, expand their job responsibilities, or enhance his/her career aspirations.
Opportunities to coach crop up formally during regular performance review/update sessions for instance and informally on a regular basis in the course of everyday work and projects. In every case, the pre-planning questions can help a manager to be well-prepared. Examples of such questions might be:
- What are the particular coaching opportunities you have with this individual?
- Why are they important?
- How can you use these opportunities to develop the employee’s potential?
- What specifically have you observed that may help you to performance coach?
- Which of the individual’s greatest strengths or competencies seems to be most to aspire to higher levels of performance?
- How can you tie this performance coaching to the employee’s interests and career aspirations?
- From your experience, what potential pitfalls will you need to overcome in order to achieve success in coaching for optimal performance?
- How will you overcome these pitfalls?
Of course, ensuring that you have at least a few answers to these questions before you start coaching an individual is only a start. However, an effective performance coach will add their own questions, drawing upon their own past experience (and even develop their own process to help guide the discussions and achieve the most positive outcomes possible for both parties.