SALES

Better Way to Coach Employees

Coaching is more than just giving advice. Use this process to help your team members hone their own behavior.

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Coaching is the process of preparing your employees to succeed.  Good coaches can create the mental resources, emotional resilience, business skills, and career development that employees need to achieve their goals.

Unfortunately, while coaching is a well-established part of the sports world, it's a neglected art in the world of business. Much of the time, coaching is relegated to a five-minute conversation at the end of a yearly performance review.

There's a better way to handle business coaching. Try this five-step process,  based on a conversation with Linda Richardson, founder of the huge sales training firm Richardson:

1. Ask for a self-assessment.

Ask the employee's opinion of a recent event (e.g. meeting, interaction, project) in which the employee was involved.  Don't accept a pat response like, "Uh, it went fine."  Instead, ask additional questions that help lead employee to discover both the strengths and weaknesses of the employee's performance. If the employee says something like "You're the manager, what do you think?" respond with, "I want you think this through, then I'll give my ideas."

2. Give balanced feedback. 

Start with honest praise for the employee's strengths and your perspective on how those strengths were an asset during the event in question. Then identify one or two key areas where you feel improvement would have helped the employee's performance. You're not providing advice, just identifying areas. It's important to limit the discussion to one or two areas, by the way--more than that and you'll be "flooding the engine."

3. Check for agreement.

Resolve any differences between your understanding of the event and the employee's perception of the event.  Gain agreement on the area where there was a gap between the employee's performance and how the employee would have liked to have handled the event.  It's crucial to come to agreement at this point, because otherwise the subsequent steps will be off-kilter.

4. Identify the obstacle.

Ask the employee to identify the obstacle that he or she feels is keeping him or her from better performance.  Ask what he or she suggests to remove the obstacle, and what might be done to address that aspect.  Then provide your perspective on the obstacle and your ideas to address that obstacle. Decide together what needs to be done in order to improve the performance.

5. Set the next step

For each obstacle that's identified, establish an action step with a time frame for follow-up.  Provide positive input and express confidence in the employee's ability to succeed.  Then revisit the issue at the agreed-upon time.

According to Linda, this coaching method works for several reasons:

  • It reduces the amount of time that the manager must spend coaching.  Because the coaching process addresses only one or two of the most important skill areas, a typical coaching session need take no more than 15 minutes.
  • It encourages the employee to become more independent, because the employee gradually learns the self-assessment technique and is more likely to buy into the solution.
  • It puts the action items in the hands of the employee, leading your worker to become more independent and more likely to internalize the training into daily habits.
  • It strengthens the relationship between the manager and the employee through mutual success, and builds rapport throughout the entire process.
  • It provides a structure that's easily followed and can apply to virtually any business situation or problem.
  • It is not confrontational, thereby making it much easier for the manager and employee to participate in the process.

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Last updated: Jul 26, 2012

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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