How to Coach for Improved Performance
An Edward Lowe In-Depth Business Builder
Make the most of your most valuable resource — people. This
innovative approach to solving performance problems presents a coaching
model and creative coaching techniques for managers to use in developing
a supportive environment. It shows how to address individual differences,
including language, culture, age, and value systems.
WHAT TO EXPECT
The goal of this Business Builder
is to help managers, supervisors, or co-workers coach employees
to overcome barriers or hurdles and improve performance. This
innovative approach to solving performance problems presents
a coaching model and creative coaching techniques for managers
to use in creating a supportive environment and addressing individual
differences, including language, culture, age, and value systems.
WHAT YOU SHOULD
KNOW BEFORE GETTING STARTED [top]
Coaching is one of the most critical skills to be
mastered by today's entrepreneur. Why is coaching so important?
Today's environment has created more pressure to do more with less.
The key to reducing pressure is to make the most of your most valuable
resource — people.
- High performing employees will help you reduce the anxiety
and stress of increasing and multiple responsibilities.
- Coaching is the most effective way of developing your employees.
- Improved employee performance leads to increased productivity
and bottom line results.
- Employees experience increased self-esteem and job satisfaction.
Successful coaches in business as in sports are great influencers. They
know how to bring out the best in others. They also know that it is
an on-going process and a primary responsibility.
Keep in mind that coaching takes time. It involves
real commitment and a desire to participate actively in the employee's
development. Throughout the coaching process, it is important to
keep in mind that the main objective is to improve performance.
Managers need to guard against jumping to early conclusions when
they identify a performance problem. As with any problem-solving
process, the first and often the most difficult step is to identify
clearly what the problem is.
YOUR EMPLOYEES [top]
To understand the coaching process, we will look
at the following areas:
- Definition of Coaching
- Qualities, Characteristics, and Skills of Effective Coaches
- Coaching Behaviors
- The Coaching Process
- Measuring Success
- …is an on-going process designed to help the employee
gain greater competence and overcome barriers to improving performance.
- …differs from training, which is a structured process
to provide employees with the knowledge and skills to perform
- …is appropriate when the person has the ability and knowledge
but performance has dropped, and he or she has not met expectations.
- …involves a change in behavior.
The idea is to move the employee from where he or she is to where
you want him or her to be. Coaching is not the same as counseling.
Counseling is problem solving directed at personal issues that
are affecting, or have the potential to affect, performance. Very
often counseling involves personal problems such as marital and
family problems, substance abuse, emotional and psychological barriers.
The manager should not try to counsel but should serve as a resource
person, directing the employee to a skilled practitioner for further
Identifying Qualities, Characteristics, and Skills
of Effective Coaches
Studies show that effective coaches share certain
personal qualities and characteristics, such as the following:
- Honesty and integrity
- Genuine concern for others
To be successful, coaches need to develop the following skills
- Setting goals and objectives
- Establishing appropriate priorities
- Relating to people at all levels
- Planning and organizing
Modeling Coaching Behavior
In addition to qualities, characteristics and skills,
as an effective coach you need to demonstrate certain behaviors.
Using the acronym COACH, we will review the following behaviors.
Try to relate each one to yourself and your situation.
The coaching relationship is a collaborative one. You need to
work with the employee to identify the performance problem, set
standards and performance objectives, and develop a performance
improvement plan. It becomes a matter of how can WE solve the
- Own. You need
to examine your own behavior. Ask yourself: "Did I make
my expectations clear?" "Did I provide the proper training?" "Does
the employee have the appropriate tools to do the job?"
As we will see later, you need to acknowledge successes through
reinforcement and also acknowledge an employee's problems, feelings
and concerns. This last point is tricky. Acknowledging problems
and concerns is not the same as overlooking them or allowing
them to excuse behavior that is not at an acceptable level. For
example, you can certainly understand an employee's difficulty
in juggling the multiple responsibilities of home and work. However,
the resulting chronic absenteeism or tardiness cannot be allowed
This is probably the most important behavior and the one most
managers seem to find the most difficult. As we noted in the
above lists, communication skills including listening, questioning,
giving and receiving feedback are critical for success. You need
to practice two-way communication on a daily basis. In particular,
you need to clarify your expectations.
- Help. As a manager,
you are not only a coach but an advisor, serving as a resource
person and a guide to other resources, both inside and outside
the organization. In addition to giving help, you should also
be seeking help from your employees. For example, if you need
to increase sales, ask your employees to help you develop a marketing
plan or at least solicit their ideas. You will be surprised how
creative and innovative people can be if you give them a chance.
Following the Coaching Process
Anyone can learn to be a coach. By applying the following
step-by-step process, you will improve the performance of individual
team members and get the results you want.
- Step One: Problem Identification.
The coach describes the current undesirable performance-related behavior
that is observable, measurable, non-judgmental and can be changed.
Telling someone he/she has a "bad attitude" is not descriptive — it's
judgmental. Try to eliminate the word "attitude" from your
thought process when dealing with employee performance. A simple example
is the employee who is frequently late. In describing this unacceptable
behavior to the employee, cite specific documented dates and time periods
that you have observed. Be careful not to rely on hearsay.
Using the employee you identified earlier
as a case example, describe the current behavior
including the situation and the person's actions.
Remember to be as specific as possible and focus
on behavior not attitude.
- Step Two: Employee Response.
Give the employee an opportunity to explain or question. Use open-ended
questions such as "What do you think is the problem?" "What
is keeping you from getting to work on time?" In the tardiness
case, the employee may give the standard excuses or may reveal a real
problem preventing him or her from getting to work on time.
Make a list of open-ended questions
you could ask your employee to uncover any underlying
problems or extenuating circumstances. Brainstorm
some possible reasons your case employee may give
Of course, when you really deal with
this individual, be aware that you may hear things
you hadn't anticipated so keep your mind open to
- Step Three: State Expectations
As a coach you need to state clearly what you expect of the employee.
For example, the manager of the tardy employee restates that he expects
the employee to be at her work station and ready to work by 9 am. The
use of empathy is very important at this stage. You might begin by
saying, "I understand that it must be difficult for you to manage
all your responsibilities; however, the fact remains that you are expected
to be here on time and you haven't been doing so."
State very specifically what you expect
the employee to do or not to do. Include an empathy
- Step Four: Get Agreement.
This step is also tricky because the employee may try various ways
to dodge the issue and accept no responsibility for his or her behavior.
Your careful documentation will be invaluable here. Through two-way
communication, you and the employee should agree on the problem and
the impact it has on the organization and others. If the person is
frequently late, that action places additional burden on others. It
also creates resentment that affects the entire office environment.
With your case employee, identify the impact of that person's behavior
on others or on your operation.
Step Five: Improvement Plan.
This step is critical. You and your employee must collaborate to identify
clearly the desired behavior. It will be very tempting just to "lay
down the law" and tell the employee what he or she should do.
The two of you should establish goals that are specific, realistic,
attainable, simple and time-bound, as well as strategies for overcoming
barriers to reach those goals.
Once again, use good questioning techniques
to get the employee to state what he or she plans
to do to solve the problem. To the tardy employee
you might ask, "What do you think you can do
to make sure you get here on time?" In this
manner, you are placing the onus on the employee
by making him or her take appropriate ownership.
By the same token, you will want to ask what you
can do to help. The employee may want you to do what
is not be appropriate or possible. If that's the
case, it's a good starting point for further discussion
and maybe even some negotiation. The employee may
offer a solution you had not considered.
What are some open-ended questions
you could use with your case employee?
Step Six: Gain Commitment.
In this step, the employee commits to changing behavior or improving
performance by stating exactly what he/she is going to do to improve
the situation. The tardy employee who has difficulty juggling the responsibilities
of getting her small children to day care with getting herself ready
and to work on time may need to get organized the night before and/or
get up earlier. Once you gain agreement and commitment from the employee,
ask the employee to summarize the discussion.
How would you determine if the employee has indeed
made a real commitment to improving performance?
- Step Seven: Set a time for the next meeting.
Before concluding the coaching session, you and the employee will need
to agree on a time to meet to discuss progress. The next meeting should
give ample time for the individual to practice the new behavior, yet
not so long that he/she assumes the matter is forgotten.
With your case example, how long do you think you should
wait before the next meeting?
- Step Eight: Monitor and Follow-up.
It is important to monitor the employee's specific feedback in the
form of comments, instructions, and suggestions. For example, the manager
reinforces the behavior of the formerly tardy employee by saying, "Joyce,
I've noticed that you've been to work on time every day, and I really
appreciate the extra effort to make that happen." The coach may
suggest how to do something better by saying, "Next time, John,
try asking the customer how he/she is going to use the account so you
can offer the appropriate choices." Another example of reinforcing
positive behavior may be, "Sandy, you handled that customer well.
Although you couldn't give her what she wanted, you gave her a choice
and allowed her to make her own decision." Immediate praise is
a powerful reinforcer. If you want the behavior repeated, you need
to let the person know.
Using your example, write down some
ways you could monitor the employee's progress. Remember,
however, you are doing this in isolation. In the
actual situation, the employee would help determine
the appropriate plan of action.
Read the following discussion between
the manager, Barry, and employee, Robin. Then identify
the steps Barry follows to coach Robin to improve
Barry: Robin, come in and have
a seat. I would like to talk to you about a problem
I have been noticing with your job performance.
Robin: What are you talking
about? I've been doing my job OK.
Barry: Yes, Robin,
you perform your job duties very well. However,
I want to talk with you about your interactions
with the customers on the telephone. On six different
occasions during the past two weeks, I have noticed
that you allowed the telephone to ring at least
six times before you answered it. When you did
finally answer it, you told the callers to wait
a minute. Then when you got back to the customers
on the phone, you asked them what they wanted and
didn't apologize for keeping them waiting. I have
noticed this behavior on several occasions. What
seems to be the problem from your perspective?
Robin: I don't think
there is a problem. I get back to them as soon
as I can. After all, there's only one of me, and
I had other customers in front of me that I had
to take care of. What do you want me to do — ignore
Barry: As we have
discussed in our training sessions and staff meetings,
we are committed to providing the highest level
of customer service to all our customers both in
person and on the telephone.
Robin: Look, I'm
doing the best I can. Maybe if you hired more people
we wouldn't have this problem. I can't do two things
at the same time. Besides, if they don't want to
hold, they can call back later. And I'm not the
only one who doesn't answer the phone right away,
but I don't notice you giving anybody else grief.
Have you talked to John about it? He never answers
the phone unless he has to.
Barry: Let's keep
in mind that I expect everyone to provide the best
service to our customers, and right now, we're
talking about your performance. I understand that
at times you are pulled in several directions at
the same time. I did say that the customer in front
of you should take priority, however, the customer
on the telephone can't see that you have a customer
in front of you, and when the telephone rings and
rings, the caller gets frustrated and angry.
Robin: So what do
you want me to do?
Barry: Robin, what
do you think you could do to keep the customer
in front of you happy while responding to the incoming
Robin: I don't know.
That's what I'm asking you.
Barry: I suggest
that you ask the customer in front of you to excuse
you for a moment and then immediately answer the
telephone. Then ask the caller if you can put him
or her "on hold," or if he or she would
like you to call back after you're free.
Robin: That's what
I do now. I tell 'em to hold.
Barry: Robin, there's
a difference between telling someone to "hold" and
asking if he or she would like to hold.
Robin: What difference
does it make? Nobody likes to be put on "hold" so
why bother asking?
Barry: People like
to be given options. They like to feel they are
making the decision.
Robin: OK, fine.
I'll do it. Is there anything else?
Barry: Yes, Robin,
there is. When you get back to both customers — the
one in front of you and the one on the telephone — be
sure to smile and thank them for being so patient.
Robin: I can't go
around with a phony smile on my face all day and
be one of those gushy-gooey people.
Barry: Robin, I'm
not asking you to be phony. I am asking and expecting
you to demonstrate real concern for the customer
by smiling, using the customer's name, excusing
yourself when you need to answer the phone, and
thanking the customer for waiting. I know I'm asking
you to modify your behavior, and that isn't easy.
But what do you think you will gain by changing
the way you handle the customers?
Robin: I guess I'll
get to keep my job.
Barry: I'm not talking
about you losing your job, but I am talking about
doing everything you can to communicate that the
customer comes first. When the customer believes
that, it will also make it easier for you in dealing
with him or her. So what do you think you can do
to improve the situation?
Robin: I don't know.
I guess I can concentrate on being a little friendlier,
making sure I use the customer's name more, and
answering the phone more promptly.
Barry: Good, that's
all I ask. Let's get together again in two weeks
at the same time to discuss how things are going.
How does that sound to you?
Robin: OK, I guess.
I'll give it a try.
The importance of feedback in the coaching process cannot be stressed
enough. Keep in mind the following guidelines for effective feedback:
- Be descriptive rather than evaluative. Describe observable
behavior not judgments on your part.
- Be careful not to put the employee on the defensive.
- Be specific rather than general.
- Describe the behavior in the context of the actual situation.
- Discuss only behavior the employee can change. Some people
have shortcomings over which they have no control.
- Be timely and do it frequently.
- Hold the discussion at the earliest opportunity after the behavior
has occurred. Take into account both the employee's and the employer's
- Remember to strive for a win-win situation.
- Communicate clearly. Check for clarity by asking the employee
to state his or her understanding of the discussion. Do it when
the receiver is ready to receive it.
- Keep in mind that timing is everything.
Recognizing and Rewarding Positive Behavior
Feedback and reinforcement need to be followed with
recognition and rewards. Individual recognition teamed with incentive
programs can be very effective but should be tied to organizational
goals and individual performance and valued by the employee. If,
your organization is committed to responding quickly to customers,
then you should reward the employee's efficiency in returning phone
calls or resolving complaints. That reward could be public praise,
special privileges, choices of flex time, schedules, vacations,
or tangibles such as gifts, money, plaques or theater tickets.
The reward should depend on the person receiving it. The employee
with young children may appreciate given more scheduling flexibility
whereas someone on a limited income would value the opportunity
to work overtime.
List some non-monetary ways you can reward your employees
for outstanding performance.
One of the ways you can measure your coaching success
is to solicit feedback from your employees on how you are doing.
One easy and relatively risk-free method is to ask each employee
to complete a brief "agree-disagree" questionnaire — anonymously,
of course. Your questions (or statements in this case) could include,
but need not be limited to, the following:
- frequently tells me how I'm doing
- gives me both positive and negative feedback
- tells me what he/she expects of me
- asks my opinion and involves me in decisions that affect me
- keeps me informed about changes taking place in the organization
- does not use threats or intimidation
- acknowledges my extra effort with some type of praise or recognition
- takes the time to explain new procedures and makes sure I understand
provides the training and resources I need to do my job
- treats me with respect
- is not afraid to admit his/her mistakes or to say, "I'm
Respond to the list above as you think your employees would respond.
Are there any areas you would like to improve?
Another approach would be for you to respond to the
list according to how you see yourself. Give the same list to your
employees, then compare your self-perception with the perception
of others. It could be a real eye-opener. Regardless of the outcome,
you now have valuable data that reinforces the positive approach
you are already using or identifying areas for improvement.
___ How does coaching differ from training and counseling?
___ What is the goal or objective of coaching?
Qualities, Skills, Characteristics
___ What necessary coaching qualities, characteristics,
and skills do you already have?
___ What areas would you like to develop further?
___ Why should the coaching process be considered
a collaborative effort?
___ Are there any ways in which you could be part of the problem?
___ Do you let people know when they're doing something right?
___ Are your employees clear about what is expected of them?
___ In what ways do you help your employees?
___ When do you ask your employees for help?
___ To what extent do you document employee performance — good
___ What are some observable behaviors on which you can focus?
___ Do you tend to ask open-ended questions or questions that can be
answered "yes" or "no."
___ How do you ensure two-way communication?
___ Who should develop the improvement plan?
___ What should the improvement plan contain?
___ How do you gain commitment for the behavior change?
___ How will you monitor an employee's performance?
___ When should you give feedback?
___ How often should you give feedback?
___ What is the most important thing to keep in mind when giving feedback?
___ What tangible and intangible ways can you
reward positive behavior?
___ What should rewards be tied to?
following are articles Karen Lawson has written for the Edward
Lowe Foundation's web site.
Table of Contents
What You Should Know Before Getting
Coaching Your Employees
- Defining Coaching
- Identifying Qualities, Characteristics and Skills
of Effective Coaches
- Modeling Coaching Behavior
- Following the Coaching Process
- Using Feedback
- Recognizing and Rewarding Positive Behavior
- Measuring Success