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Coach Your Employees to Succeed: A 4-Step Primer

Feedback is critical to coaching. But it won't go far unless you set clear expectations for your employees. Here's how.
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Every manager knows that feedback is essential to the growth and development of employees, but too often feedback lacks meaning for one simple reason: It's not linked to expectations.

Frustration builds. Managers become irritated that employees are not performing and employees are annoyed because they are unclear about what is expected of them. Such expectations are more than a job description, or annual performance metrics. Expectations include what an employee needs to do (the job itself) as well as how he does it (work with others). And it is the latter that is often overlooked in setting performance goals, but is evaluated closely when considering merit pay or promotion.

To clarify, a manager should not tell an employee how to do his job from a process standpoint but set expectations for how the employee works within the system. Too much of such direction is micromanagement. Similarly, managers can hold expectations for their employees’ behavior in the workplace.

For instance, collaboration is essential to strong teamwork but it must be built upon a foundation of coordination and cooperation. That is, managers can expect their employees to coordinate with colleagues outside of their team as well as cooperate with colleagues inside the team. Communicating such expectations may be obvious but too often it is ignored and so teammates fail to connect with one another in ways that will permit collaboration; that is, working together for the good of the project rather than the egos of its members.

How can managers set expectations more clearly? Through coaching. Management today is really about enabling people to succeed and that means providing them with the guidance, resources, feedback, and support they need to do their jobs.

An essential part of manager-to-employee coaching is conversation. Here's a model I have taught managers.

1. Affirm value.

If you want to open the door to good conversation, tell the employee about the good things he is doing. Opening with critical comments can cause individuals to become defensive and, when that happens, little conversation can unfold.

2. Focus on issues.
Address the situation. Talk about what the employee needs to do to improve. For example, maybe the employee needs to be more timely and meet deadlines more effectively. Or perhaps the employee needs to work more closely with colleagues. 

3. Listen for understanding.
Get the employee’s point of view. Your assessment of the situation needs to factor in the employee’s perspective. For example, a situation at home may be causing tardiness, or an employee may be amenable to more teamwork but is having difficulty connecting with teammates. 

4. Gain agreement.

Discuss the plan for improvement. Be specific as possible. Talk about what must improve and give a firm timeline. Specificity gives the employee the directives he or she needs to focus on.

Keep in mind all coaching conversations need not be corrective. Very often they are more developmental in nature. That is, you are working to help the employee develop his skills in order to achieve greater levels of responsibility. These are performance-based conversations.

Coaching requires commitment. It must be planned in advance, not done off the cuff. You need to decide when to have the conversation and how to have it. It is important that both manager and employee have the opportunity to talk about the issues and exchange points of view. That said, the manager does have the last word. It is the employee who must follow expectations.

Coupling feedback with expectations is the foundation of manager-to-employee coaching. It's also the method by which managers can help employees and teams get the work done and promote higher levels of engagement and productivity.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Jun 20, 2012

JOHN BALDONI | Columnist | President, Baldoni Consulting

John Baldoni is the president of Baldoni Consulting, an executive coaching firm. John speaks widely on leadership and has written 10 leadership books; his newest is Lead With Purpose: Giving Your Organization a Reason to Believe in Itself.

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



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