How do you best develop the talent of your current team? How do you groom a direct report to take on new responsibilities? How do you grow your employees so that they can start scaling your business with you?
The secret ingredient is for you to coach and grow your team, and here are five tips to help you structure and run one-to-one coaching sessions with key team members.
This advice doesn't come from theory. It comes from a lifetime of real-world experience.
Thirty years ago, I played field hockey for the US national team. To support myself while I trained for the Olympics, I coached teams on three continents from kids to college, both men's and women's teams. Then, when that dream ended after injury, I moved into the world of business.
For over twenty years now, I've coached business owners and business leaders to thrive in their companies. In that time, my business coaching firm has worked with tens of thousands of businesses. And our methods have helped our clients spark and maintain a growth rate five times higher than the average among privately held companies.
These ideas work. They aren't theory or conjecture. The five-step-process that I'm about to share with you has proven its effectiveness in the place where it matters most -- the marketplace.
These five steps will help you structure formal coaching conversations with key team members. Ultimately, this work will help you train your team to become owner-independent so that they can scale your business for you.
1. Get An Update
You should begin every coaching conversation by asking your employee for updates on the one or two most important projects that they're working on.
We actually like to have our business coaching clients send us their updates in advance of our meetings. We call these our "Big Rock Reports" because clients use them to update us on the big rocks that they're trying to move -- the one or two most important business activities that they've been working on. In these reports, they share their victories, their key challenges, and their aspirations for what big rocks they'd like to have moved next time.
But you don't necessarily need a formal pre-meeting report. You can just ask your key team member to deliver a rough, three to five minute update at the top of your meeting.
While they give you that update, be sure to take notes -- and not just on the bad stuff either. When you're coaching your team members, you're always going to have a dozen ideas for how they can improve. But now is not the time for that. These first five minutes are really for just two things: creating accountability and celebrating progress.
Of course we're not going to give out blue ribbons just for participating. But you should give credit where it's due. Hopefully, you'll be able to find two or three specific victories to acknowledge.
Not only will this make your employee feel more fulfilled and appreciated, but it will also reinforce their desirable behavior. By contrast, if you focus on their failures, you'll actually be reinforcing that wrong behavior. If you've ever been river rafting, you'll know what I mean.
Before I had kids, my wife Heather and I used to do a little bit of whitewater kayaking. One of the principle things we learned early on was that when you're going down a rapid, you don't look at the rock. When you look at the rock, without even being aware of it, you change your body in such a way that you'll end up steering your raft directly into it. Instead, you should keep your eyes focused on where you want to go.
Of course, that seems counterintuitive -- you would think that if you want to avoid the rock, you need to keep your eyes on it. But I can tell you from experience -- keep your eyes on the rock and you hit the rock.
So in business as in river rafting: Focus on where you want to go. As you wrap up the first few minutes of your coaching session, give special attention to the positive behaviors that you want to reinforce -- the things that your employee has done well.
2. Lay Out The Agenda
Next, summarize the two or three things that you'd like to talk about during this meeting. Then invite them to add their own items to the agenda. Ask, "Is there anything else that you want to make sure we cover today?" And if they bring anything up, be sure to cover it.
Now, you could take the step of sending an agenda in advance. But generally for a one-to-one coaching session, you're not going to have time to do that in. And that's fine -- you'll probably come up with plenty of material during their update.
That said, please do restrict yourself to no more than three items. If you give your employee seventeen different things to work on, it's going to be mind-numbing and overwhelming. When you're just coaching for immediate, technical results, you might be able to get away with having more like five, six, or seven items on checklist. But if you want to coach them to help them grow and develop, then trust me: less is more. Stick with the one, two, or three pieces of guidance that will make the biggest impact. That's one of the key principles of good business leadership.
3. Review Key Deliverables
Presumably, in previous coaching conversations, your employee promised certain deliverables. Now is the time to create accountability: check in on those items and see how they're going.
It's important that you not rely on your memory to track what your direct reports' ongoing projects are. If you're busy running a company, there's a good chance you'll lose track of what individual employees are supposed to report back on.
Instead, you'll want to keep a written list of deliverables that this employee is committed to. One way to do this is to use an app of some kind -- a project management tool that gives the two of you a shared view of all ongoing projects. You could alternatively keep notes in your planner or on your computer. Personally, I keep a leather-bound journal with tabbed pages for each of my four main direct reports. (Read more about good CEO journaling habits here.)
When you're on step three, don't just talk in the abstract. Get specific. Say something like, "Last time we spoke, you committed to deliver such and such items by this date. Where do they stand now?" The more specific you are, the more effective your coaching will be.
4. Determine Next Steps
Now is the time to formally identify any key action steps that you'd like this team member to report on next time. This step also includes scheduling your next coaching session.
Be sure to consider each of your key team members individually when setting meeting frequencies. Remember that different employees thrive with different level of coaching. For an employee with a high level of autonomy and big demands on their schedule, you may be able to check in just once or twice a month on large action items. By contrast, an employee who has less experience or struggles with accountability might make more progress with weekly or even daily check-ins. And you'll want to break their projects down into a series of micro-goals that they can report on more frequently.
Because you'll be coaching your direct reports at least once a month, you won't be able to coach everyone personally. If you're coaching twenty-five people, when will you ever find the time to run your business?
Instead, focus on the two, three, or four most important team members whom you manage.
Finally, as you conclude your coaching, finish off with a quick recap of what you've agreed to -- something like, "We're meeting again on the 26th at 2 p.m. in this conference room. You'll be reporting back on x and y. I'll be delivering z."
After the coaching session ends, your employee should send a recap that lays out a quick summary of what you agreed to during your meeting: who promised what, by when, and how they will close the loop.
Closing the loop usually involves notifying the other person when a project is complete. Be specific about how that notification will happen -- will it be by email, in a project management tool, in person, or in the next coaching session?
Notice I said your employee should own this recap, not you. Why? Two reasons:
- You're running a business. You have enough pressure and obligations as it is. This puts the workload on them and frees up your time.
- This way, you have a feedback loop to make sure that they understood the action steps that you discussed. If something's missing or misconstrued in the recap, you can spot the miscommunication immediately and respond to their recap message with a clarification.
That said, you should still keep your own recap notes for future reference.
And your employee should send this recap out as soon as possible -- ideally within half an hour after the coaching session ends. The sooner they write the recap, the clearer the communication will be. Demanding a rapid recap also reinforces the importance of accountability -- it shows how serious you are about execution and following through on promised deliverables.
If you follow these five steps, your coaching sessions will become infinitely more productive. You'll reinforce desirable behavior, develop clearer communications, and see better follow through on commitments made. In the long term, this process will help you grow your key team members and work toward building an owner-independent company.