Part 1 of “Why Good Employees Leave” focused on poor communication. Part 2 focuses on the importance of feedback in coaching sessions. All feedback should be part of coaching and development. Many managers underestimate the importance of coaching and feedback in the development process. Better yet, many may think they understand how to coach and deliver feedback when they may be doing more damage than good.
The definition I use for coaching is from Harvard Business book, Manager’s Toolkit: The 13 Skills Managers Need to Succeed, which reads “Coaching is a two-way activity in which the parties share knowledge and experience in order to maximize a subordinate’s potential and help him or her achieve agreed-upon goals. Another definition of coaching is “unlocking a person’s potential to maximize [his or her] own performance. It is helping [him or her] to learn rather then teaching them” (Whitmore, J. 2009). Overall, coaching should be a two-way conversation with a goal of tapping into a person’s potential to help improve his or her performance.
I have conducted many training sessions on coaching and development and I often ask for participants to tell me their best and worst coaching experience. Many have responded that my definition did not match their experience.
Bad coaching experiences include comments like this:
- “My manager never listens to me. Her “coaching” was belittling and telling me how much I made her look bad. I never knew what to do differently.”
- “During the middle of my coaching session with my boss, she got up and walked out the room after I told her I needed help as I did not know how to do what she wanted. She said, “The world does not revolve around you.” And left. I gave my notice that same day.”
- “I only get coached once at year during yearend reviews. Then I am told all of the things I did wrong from the previous year.”
Good coaching experiences:
- “I was only team leader but somehow, my site director, encouraged and empowered each of us at every level. We left our meetings feeling we can make a difference in the results of the company by just doing our job to the best of our ability. Things we thought were menial we found made a difference. I felt valued.”
- “My boss seemed genuinely interested in my performance and goals. In our monthly sessions, my boss always gave me good feedback on what I could do better and what I could improve. She helped me create plans on how to improve my performance. She also helped me work towards my goals. I felt like she was really cared about me as an employee.”
The best coaching and development sessions equip employees on how to improve their performance, while reinforcing their strengths. Good coaching should guide the person being coached to develop their own solutions, ideas, and ways of achieving their goals. It should help coachees become more empowered and committee through being part of the decision-making process.
Another area where managers fail is not coaching the behavior that produces the desired or undesired results.
I’ve had people tell me they were told things that could not be readily tied to results:
- “If you want to be promoted, you need to stop wearing those colorful socks!”
- “You need to smile more!”
Or giving coaching that lacks specifics or are too general:
- “Be creative!”
- “You are not a team player.”
- “Be proactive!”
- Or one of my most favorites, “You need to do better!”
As mentioned in Part 1, a big part is how managers communicate with their employees.
Managers who coach with the phrases above will not get the results out of their employees that they seek. To get an employee to improve results, they need to know not only what was done incorrectly but also what it looks like to be done correctly. For example, instead of telling an employee to “do better” you may say,
“From listening to your calls, I hear you are having trouble providing specific directions to the customer. Customers leave your calls confused and often upset. One thing you can do is to ask the customer if they understand the steps you have provided thus far. Thus, you can assess what they understand or don’t before giving all the steps. Is there anything else you have noticed? How can I help?”
Granted, there are several different ways to approach this type of feedback in coaching. Also note, the communication should be “with” and not “at” the employee. Employees want to feel valued and know their organization cares enough to invest in their development. This cannot happen with a once a year session. Or a session that is merely a “box check” to say it was done.
Even the best employees need coaching and development; otherwise they cannot continue to get better.
Just think about it. Most of the best athletes don’t stop training after they win a championship. They continue to train. To improve their skill… otherwise, they can be surpassed. Invest in your good employees by providing training for your managers on how to coach effectively. Don’t allow assumptions of believing everyone knows how to coach. They don’t. Further, don’t allow poor performance to go un-coached as this will deter good employees also.
The bottom line is coaching needs to address the behavior, should be specific to the behavior, and should provide a picture of the desired results.
The employee should understand how the desired behavior looks. Part 3 will focus on the importance of employee engagement to maintain good employees.
- Manager’s Toolkit: The 13 Skills Managers Need to Succeed by Harvard Business School Press
- Coaching Questions: A Coaches Guide to Powerful Asking Skills by Tony Stoltzfus
- Coaching for Performance: GROWing Human Potential and Purpose – The Principles and Practice of Coaching and Leadership, 4th Edition by John Whitmore
Dr. Danon Carter
Diversity and Leadership Specialist / Consultant