Over the past decade, organizations have moved away from the “I’m the leader at the top—command, and control, kind of leadership” and embraced the concept of “manager-as-coach”. Coaching has since become integral to developing an organization with high-performing teams and engaged employees.
When equipped with the right coaching skills, the manager-as-coach asks questions rather than provides answers, helping their people become independent critical problem-solvers. Employees are supported and mentored, not judged. Managers and leaders recognize that in most cases, performance can be enhanced by unlocking potential, not dictating what has to happen.
Essential coaching skills play a key role in organizational development
Coaching is not a “one and done” activity. Coaching has to be ongoing, and it has to be executed in various ways throughout the workplace in order to make a lasting impact on organizational culture and performance. Fortunately, it is recognized that coaching skills are something that leaders and managers at all levels can develop and implement through quality leadership training and team building programs.
The essential coaching skills for managers and leaders embrace five key areas.
- Confronting (performance improvement through corrective feedback)
- Counselling (problem-solving)
- Rapport-building and communication
Let’s look at each one to see why each skill is considered “essential” and how managers can apply these skills in the workplace.
Confronting (performance improvement through corrective feedback)
For generations, organizations have asked the same question: how do we get superior performance from all of our employees? No policies or systems are going to accomplish this. Rewards or punishments may work for some, but in general, these also aren’t the answer. Sustained, superior performance can be obtained only through commitment, and coaching is a primary means by which managers can build commitment with each and every employee.
This, of course, is easier said than done. How does a manager challenge an employee to do something differently, take on more work, or take the next step in their development? It comes down to an essential skill known as “performance coaching”.
Performance coaching is the kind of feedback and help a manager provides to employees in order to analyze their performance and other job behaviours and the impact these have on the employees success. The goal is to increase job effectiveness.
The following illustrates why, so often, such corrective feedback is mis-handled, or avoided altogether.
A well-meaning manager sits down with Bob the employee to talk about the fact that he always has an excuse for not having his part of a project completed. From the moment that the manager enters the room, the tone of the manager’s voice and her body language signals that she is very uncomfortable with the idea of giving corrective feedback.
The conversation rambles a bit; Bob isn’t really clear about what he’s being told. He leaves the meeting annoyed that his boss isn’t more understanding. The manager leaves the meeting not sure that the conversation is going to make any difference. Those on Bob’s team become increasingly frustrated because their work is being dragged down by Bob; in fact, one of the most talented members on the team is now looking for another job.
The above is why performance correction conversations, done poorly, are ineffective, or why, when a manager lacks the skill, corrective feedback is delayed, or doesn’t take place at all. And, many managers delay until performance review time, bringing forward too many issues at once, instead of course-correcting as things occur. According to Gallup (2019), only 14% of employees strongly agree their performance reviews inspire them to improve.
It’s easier to ignore poor performance and hope that the problem disappears—which, of course, rarely happens. Typically, issues become larger and even more difficult to address, leading to more avoidance.
Skills training in giving corrective feedback makes a world of difference. In the manager-as-coach model, the managers begin by building rapport and assurance of support through a coaching conversation. This demonstrates that the manager has concern and interest in an employee’s success.
It is critical during such conversations that the manager helps the employee examine for themselves the possible barriers and contributors to good performance. Good coaching skills help managers practice how to invite the employee to offer suggestions about how to resolve the problem or, at the very least, work with the manager to find appropriate corrective actions. These skills equip the manager-as-coach to confront the problem, not the person.
Next, the manager and the employee plan the specific action steps designed to solve the performance problems. It’s not about how the “manager would go about it”. Managers need to be skilled in helping the employee uncover the true problem, set up their best alternative approach, with a schedule to review progress.
Counselling (problem-solving) skills for reaching better team performance
Similar to giving performance feedback, the essential skill of problem solving is based on the concept that a manager does not have all the answers, and coaching employees doesn’t mean you should be constantly solving problems for them.
This is where managers can benefit from training in the techniques of “participatory problem-solving”, where both sides talk openly about the issue in a one-on-one coaching conversation.
In addition, participatory problem-solving is an extremely affecting coaching skill for teams. Instead of overlaying an instruction or command, the manager-as-coach helps a team identify and analyze a problem in order to set out a plan for addressing what needs to be done. When coaching teams, the essential skill of participatory problem-solving generally starts with two questions:
- What’s getting in the way of producing great work together?
- What opportunities exist for better team performance outcomes?
Problem solving skills are particularly used when it comes to working with conflict. Managers with conflict resolution skills can help defuse situations before they become toxic, or deal directly with a conflict through techniques such as “Listen to Learn”.
Mentoring for developing a learning organization
Mentoring is another coaching skill that starts with an employee, but has a ripple effect through the entire workplace in terms of its overall positive growth and culture. Through mentoring, each employee learns to be intentional in developing their career and how to function effectively within the organization.
Essential coaching skills for mentoring focus on how a manager can work together with direct reports to mentor them on higher-order attributes. This typically begins with a process to identify the areas and specific skills they should develop to advance their careers. Equipped with trusted advisors in leadership training and organizational development, a manager can point the employee toward the best assessments and training resources to get quality information.
Good self-awareness, and understanding of how to build skills, are the first steps to creating an effective action plan. A critical element in mentoring, of course, is follow-up with the employee in order to demonstrate sincere interest in the person’s career advancement.
Tutoring through strengths development
Managers who coach effectively are able to capitalize on their employees’ strengths and minimize their weaknesses. They know who needs support to do their best work, and they know where to tap specific resources.
As an essential coaching skill, tutoring is another way that a manager can demonstrate that they are actively involved and interested in the learning experience of each employee. Tutoring starts, of course, with being aware of the developmental needs of their employees —their levels of skill, knowledge, and confidence.
The first step is typically an assessment of the employee’s strengths, followed by a post assessment review. This is where the manager helps each individual set personal development goals so that the manager (or the employee’s supervisor) can support them in achieving them.
Again, it helps to have a trusted supplier of strengths-based training programs such as TTSI Success Insights. In addition, the manager-as-coach needs to have participated in their own skills based assessment and development in order to walk-the-talk and model continuous learning.
Summary: Building rapport and communication when coaching
All of the above essential coaching skills require a manager who is considered a good listener, an encourager, an enabler of growth, and sees themselves as a facilitator of their employees’ success. These all fall under the general category of being someone able to build rapport and communicate well. Managers can increase their skills in these areas by learning ways of building rapport through active listening, eye contact and body language; and oral communication skills, such as reflecting, summarizing, and open-ended questioning.
Learning how to have effective coaching conversations takes time, including training in all of these essential skills. The benefits, however, are clear. All lead to a manager’s success in obtaining sustained, superior performance from employees, work groups, teams, and organizations. Managers who coach get more enjoyment from leading teams and have greater influence in the organization’s success.