How to Coach Employees to Help Themselves

BY Kathy Crosett
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Managers sometimes find it hard to draw the line when it comes to helping their employees. If your new sales assistant seems intimidated by the bully in the budget office, she might be in the habit of relying on you to get the monthly sales numbers. Duplicate this scenario thirty times a month with your other team members, and you’ll be running from one task to another, instead of getting your own job done. To prevent this situation from getting out of hand, follow the advice of Marlene Chism and train your team members to solve more of their own problems.

It’s not appropriate for managers to hand off all their duties to their team members. It’s also not appropriate for you to do their jobs. In the case of the sales assistant, you could get on the phone and order the budget assistant to deliver the sales numbers immediately. But, there are times when a team member should be handling issues herself. To get out of this rut, you’ll need to establish a coaching plan.

Your team members can easily work themselves into an emotional state about a perceived unfairness or slight. If your assistant has decided she can't work with the budget manager, you need to get to the bottom of the problem. Ask your assistant to explain a specific encounter with the budget manager. Maybe the budget manager barked at her when she went into his office, or he told her to leave him alone. His conduct might not be acceptable, but to develop as a professional, your assistant has to learn how to handle these exchanges independently in order to get her job done. Listen to your assistant’s description of the problem, without adding emotional fuel to the fire.

Brainstorm with your assistant about various ways she could get what she wants. Instead of reacting angrily to the budget manager’s outbursts, she could calmly tell him she’ll be back later. She could also schedule a brief, but regular meeting with him for the purpose of getting the sales numbers. That way, the meeting is on his calendar, and he may even have the numbers prepared in advance. Another form of relationship building might involve bringing him a small gift – a cup of coffee or tea. The point is to prompt your assistant to think strategically about building a working relationship with this person and show her that running to you is not appropriate or the path to success in the long term.

Chism reminds readers that there’s a "final step to coaching to empowerment." Now that you’ve helped your assistant identify the problem and possible solutions, confirm the action she plans to take the next time she’s ready to secure those monthly sales numbers. Follow up with her after the encounter to discuss how things went and how they could be improved. Point out that she can use this process to solve future problems with employees who aren’t always cooperative.

If you follow this plan often enough, you'll have your own schedule under control and you'll be able to reach out to your independent confident team members for help.