To give your employees real feedback requires observation, preparation and follow up. It starts with you.
Coaching gets discussed constantly in business. Yet, most employees lament that they don’t receive coaching at work. Why the disconnect?
First, coaching is not the same as mentoring. Coaching requires direct observation. Mentoring is normally based on hearing a person tell a story. The advice is only as good as the narrative. Unfortunately, most people have blind spots and may tell the story in a way that reflects those blind spots.
Coaching requires direct observation and, based on that, developing two or three specific suggestions regarding what the other person could do better. It is skill- and task-focused. It requires preparation and thought on the part of the coach and discussion of specific actions which the subject could try to address the deficiencies.
So why don’t leaders do more coaching? There are lots of excuses, some of which you may recognize all too well. First, you may not want to confront the person in question — “I don’t want to demoralize them” or “I didn’t know how to tell them” etc. Second, you may not have time to prepare your thoughts about skill deficiencies you’ve observed and/or potential actions that could help the person. Third, you might be afraid that the subject won’t like you as much if you upset them. Lastly, the subject may give off a vibe that they don’t want feedback.
As a result, bosses often wait until the year end review to give coaching. This is too late!! The year end review is the “verdict” — it comes too late for employees to alter their behavior in order to change their compensation or promotion prospects. If you surprise someone in the year end review with criticism, they are likely to stop trusting you and possibly quit.
Coaching is a primary tool you have for aligning the organization and your people to achieving your vision and key priorities. It is also a primary way to motivate your people and help them feel that they are learning and developing. If done early in the year, it can build trust and create a learning culture at your company.
I have never had someone quit because I coached them too much. I have seen several people quit over the years because they didn’t feel they were being coached or were surprised in their year end review.
If you don’t have time to do this, consider whether you have too many direct reports. Coaching is one of your key responsibilities as a leader. It make you a more effective leader and helps your people perform at a much higher level.
ROBERT S. KAPLAN: Rob Kaplan is a Professor of Management Practice at Harvard and author of What to Ask the Person in the Mirror: Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential. @Robskaplan