Coaching – A one on one relationship

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Few have ever succeeded at anything without a great coach being involved at some point. For our purposes, coaching is directed toward an individual in an effort to help improve their job performance. Coaching involves a one on one relationship, its different other methods of training or development. Coaching isn’t always the best method to give certain types of instructions. Occasionally, group instruction allows participants to gain from the thoughts and questions of others. Instructions relating to product training or safety are best handled in a group setting. Alternatively, at a later date, help can be given to those who appear to need it on a coaching or individual basis. The best coaches are concerned with the whole person and have a sincere unselfish interest in helping. Coaching can be one of the most effective means of developing an employee. Coaching is at least as, if not more important than goal setting, seminars and workshops etc. Coaching fills the gaps that exist in all employee development methods.

Coaching is especially required for jobs such as supervisor, foreman or any job where there is responsibility for the work of others. In many cases, some of your best employees are slow learners. Coaching allows you to get to know staff, their capabilities and ambitions. They’ll offer valuable ideas as well. The chance to listen to them and understand their point of view results in a stronger team. Basic to coaching is a leader’s dedication and respect for the employee. A belief that they are irresponsible or possess little potential for improvement is fatal to coaching. A belief that most people can improve and grow with understanding and help is essential to coaching. We must thoroughly believe or buy in to the belief that they can be helped given the chance. Coaching requires that we help a person to recognize their own potential. We encourage them to believe in themselves. In addition you must be a good leader to be a successful coach. The examples set by the coach are one of the strongest elements of the process. Our actions speak louder than our words. Employees are much more likely to want to talk things over with and take advice from supervisor they admire and respect.

A coach leads others to an interest in their own self development. Leadership skill requires that you show tact and understanding, it must be demonstrated in everyday supervision. The results will be evident in the employee’s self-development. Miss-handling directions, guidance or advice stifle development and growth. A successful coach listens and shows empathy. Empathy involves being able to see things from their point of view. This can be a challenge but it’s essential to maximising the benefits of coaching. Empathy requires that we develop a meaningful relationship with employee. We need to understand them to coach effectively. We all possess varying levels of inner motivation. Some people have a high level of innate motivation, skill, attitude and ability. They eagerly seek out something to become committed to. At first glance they seem like ideal employees that wouldn’t need very much coaching. Avoid making assumptions, these self-starters tend to lack commitment and jump from goal to goal. You’ll have to spend some time with these people. The challenge is in helping them decide on what they would like to pursue over the long term before getting into the details of general development. It’s also important to help this type of person view their objectives realistically. We only accomplish in proportion to what we attempt. This effort should precede any actual coaching or development.

Your greatest challenge will be in helping those you consider capable, but lack self-motivation. These people are primarily focused on their compensation and holidays and show little interest in the job outside of working hours. Remember you can’t motivate people, you can only assist them in developing their own inner motivation. As previously mentioned, develop a work environment that nurtures individual development. Pay close attention to their feelings, ideas, and suggestions. Taking action when required is essential to fostering inner motivation. As you grow your relationship with them, you may come to realize what’s suppressing their overall motivation. Coaching is much easier when you understand the circumstances that led to them feeling the way they do. How a person sees themselves is important. The most powerful force within a person is the desire to remain true to who they believe they are. If they don’t value themselves, it’s unlikely they’ll value the job. Let them know that you believe that there job is important and that makes them important to you. Emphasize that their job is worth learning and doing well. Encourage employees to be proud their skills. Let them know that they don’t have to be the best but need to work on being better every day. Emphasis on what the employee understands and does well will help build confidence in their ability to learn and grow.
Effective coaching works in concert with a favorable work environment. We must first ensure that all staff members have clear understanding of what is expected and they have an opportunity to perform. They also need to know that help is available when needed. Once employees know what is expected and have received the required training, they must be given a chance to demonstrate their competency. Employees need the opportunity to progress from simple tasks to the complex to provide a sense of accomplishment. Recognition for accomplishment is a major factor in a climate built for performance. Production bonuses may not be applicable to all work scenarios but must be considered where and when possible. As previously mentioned, coaching is helping a person to identify and achieve their goals. It involves leading, discussing, encouraging and showing while keeping directing and telling to a minimum. A coach provides an environment conductive to a person to person discussion based on explanation and listening. A coach attempts to understand problems and clarify situations with the objective of increasing understanding. Another critical element of coaching is effective questioning.

There is an art to questioning. A question is good or bad to the extent to which it accomplishes the objective. As an example, a coach will ask questions during training or general discussion that arouse interest, obtain information or check understanding. Follow up questions include those that explore alternatives, uncover weaknesses or emphasize a point. Questions asked at the appropriate time are most effective. Always avoid questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. They tend to foster the idea that there is single correct answer for every question. Questions should seek answers that illustrate the employees considered opinions and beliefs. Yes or no answers rarely indicate possible areas that require improvement, development or exploration. If you do get a yes or no answer, ask why. Insist on getting the employees reason for the reply. A correct answer for the wrong reason indicates a lack of understanding. There is seldom one single best answer as it’s influenced by circumstances. The value of any answer is elevated when you seek to understand the employees thoughts and reasoning behind it. Above all, questions should be easily understood.

Maintain a degree of difficulty to your questions to stimulate thinking. There should be at least one question that involves problem solving. Development occurs when the employee is required flex their intellect in the formulation of their answer. Avoid overly difficult questions as frustration can set in, tainting the entire coaching process. It’s also wise to avoid leading or embarrassing questions. It’s hard enough to develop and maintain a conducive coaching environment. Once lost, it’s almost impossible to get back. In leading groups, it’s best to pose questions to all. If no one volunteers an answer, pick someone at random. Not knowing who will be called upon keeps the group alert. It’s best to elicit answers from those unlikely to volunteer. Try to find something in every answer to commend, it encourages others to participate. When possible, plan your questions ahead of time. Organize them is such a way that they trace a line of thought. They must be written to be stimulating and thought provoking. You’ll still have to think on your feet because the exact path may develop as you discuss problems and consider solutions. With practice you can learn to word your questions tactfully while getting the desired results. Questioning is an art worth developing.

Coaching techniques can be invaluable in developing problem solving ability. We all face problems, at home and work every day. Many problems don’t appear to have an acceptable solution. If we are fortunate, and have a good listener, solutions seem to magically appear. The solution may not be perfect but talking things over seems to quell the frustration that impeded reasoning. Remember the times you found yourself frustrated. You found a person to discuss the matter with and they listened with interest, concern and added their own opinion on the problem. But they didn’t provide a solution, it was your own. How is it that the simple action of discussing your problem led to your finding a solution? The fact that someone took the time to listen with interest helped. It forced you to put the problem into words, clarifying the problem in your own mind. The questions the listener asked likely suggested some possibilities. They helped you analyze the problem, and identify some of the solutions available. This type of scenario is an often occurrence during a coaching session. Listening attentively is key. The best coaches let the employees do most of the talking. The coach has a pertinent question ready when they stop. Once again, the coach’s question should show interest and concern. It should cause the employee to re-think or question something previously said. The employee may ask you for your opinion. A good coach responds with something like, “Well, what do you suggest”. Allowing the employee to voice solutions they may have considered. Putting their thoughts into words, together with a few pertinent questions from the coach, usually leads the employee to decide they know the best answer. This helps development from within and is the best kind of coaching.

It’s best to formulate a coaching plan. The plan is basically a procedure to be followed to help the employee develop an objective. The plan should vary according to the employee’s role and personality. There are four common aspects of a coaching plan. Coaching may include some or all of these general aspects. First, establish a mutual understanding of the employee’s responsibilities and current challenges, should they exist. Second, have a joint appraisal of their job performance. Discuss how effectively they handle problems and what obstacles appear to exist. The third step involves a discussion on plans of action with the goal of improvement. This step focuses on solving specific problems and situations. Hopefully the employee comes up with their own solutions and an appropriate plan of action. In many cases the employee may come to believe that they alone devised the plan or solution. But more often than not, it’s the coach that skillfully led them to their solution. The fourth and final aspect relates to helping them put their plan into action. A coach observes, questions, explains, encourages and praises improvement. A great coach takes the time to teach by example as well.

In a coaching interview the supervisor usually knows the employee as a result of working with them. They’re not getting to know each other. The main purpose is to gain a greater understanding of the problems and difficulties that concern them. Then an only then can the coach help in the development of solutions. Coaching is initiated in one of two ways. Either the employee asks you to discuss a matter with them or the coach calls the meeting. If an employee initiates the meeting, they should be given ample time to explain the situation. They may have a solution to offer or they may be seeking support. Explore the reasons they felt such approval was needed. A better understanding of their responsibility and authority may result. If you initiate the conversation, you have the responsibility for explaining the objective. Always maintain a positive and supportive demeanor. Avoid being critical and never be derogatory. Regardless of objective, coaching sessions seek to improve mutual confidence and understanding. This type of communication should be a satisfying experience for both parties. There should be growth of confidence and understanding between the coach and employee. The development of basic values leads to increased respect for themselves and their jobs. A good coach stays alert and flexible throughout the interview and demonstrates patience. Regardless of the plan, a great coach will take advantage of a developing situation. Just remain focused on keeping the employee on track toward a productive solution. Listening is a much neglected but all important part of communication. Many mistakes could have been avoided if people had of taken the time to listen.

Here are few tips to help improve your listening skills. While listening, attempt to mentally separate the employee’s main theme from the supporting irrelevancies. Beware of emotionally charged terms or expressions that make you agreeable or antagonistic. When possible, and what was said warrants, write a note clarifying the essence. Ask the employee if “you got it right”. Their conformation forms the basis of your assistance. There may not be a straight line to the conclusion but at least you have a direction. It’s important that the employee fully understands you. The employee must recognize the objectives of the organization and focus their energy on achieving them. Avoid setting goals that are to lofty all at once, we’ll get there by building on goals accomplished. Another side benefit of coaching is a noticeable improvement in the employee’s communication skills. A good coach expects mistakes, a great coach recognizes, analyzes the mistake and incorporates it into training. Staff must never be afraid to make a mistake. Encourage staff to be free and open with admission of mistakes and to build future accomplishments on them. Remember coaching is the process of helping. A coach must be sincere and unselfish. The best coaches are patient, fair but firm.

Brad Porcellato