When we think of traditional coaches, we envision an expert showing and telling us how to accomplish our goals. That strategy may work well for people who want to beat their opponents on the game field. In the workplace, managerial coaching of key employees calls for a different strategy.
In their recent column in the Harvard Business Review, Babson College professors Joseph Weintraub and James Hunt discuss why and how today’s managers should approaching the task of coaching. Most managers who take on the task of coaching have not had formal training on the process. These folks are busy people who squeeze in the task of providing guidance, because they recognize the activity will improve their employees' chances of success and the organization’s bottom line. The managers are also savvy and seasoned enough to realize they need to hire the best people they can attract and train them to excel in their positions.
Contrary to popular opinion, coaching is not all about telling people what to do. As Weintraub and Hunt explain, one key aspect of successful coaching is to listen to your employees. To get to the bottom of how an employee thinks, and what she needs to do her job, you should ask a few questions. Get a dialogue started and make her feel comfortable about sharing her concerns and ambitions with you. In these scenarios, coaching is not all about you talking. Listen to and internalize the employee's concern or ambition. Then, think about the kind of questions you can ask that will lead the employee to a good solution. If she wants a promotion, ask her what skills she thinks she’ll need to have in order to be qualified for a move up. Continue asking questions to help her streamline her goal setting process. This type of dialogue will encourage her to think about her role within the organization and develop her to possibly take on a management role at some point.
Asking questions and engaging in this types of dialogue is a time consuming process. Not every manager feels comfortable allocating resources to this style of coaching. In the long run, though, using part of your busy day to spend time individually with an employee shows her she matters. Establishing this kind of personal relationship, in the context of the work environment, will lead to more commitment from your employee and boost your bottom line.