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Business coaching is becoming increasingly important, with many leaders and organizations adding “the ability to coach and develop others” to the list of required skills for managers. The problem is, not many managers actually know how to effectively coach and provide feedback in the workplace.
Coaching can help others learn new ways to grow, and is usually based on asking, not telling - on provoking thought, not giving directions. It can increase effectiveness, broaden thinking, and identify strengths and development needs, but many businesses don’t have a ton of time to devote to it.
With limited time for coaching, it has to be effective. You could do what many managers do -- strive to meet coaching obligations by “giving reviews, holding occasional meetings, and offering advice.” Or, you could use the Human Capital Management tool to help grow performance and engage employees.
Your employees are a worthwhile investment, but where do you even begin?
Become Buds (Sort Of)
Your employees are human - probably - and thus have vivid internal lives and feelings (unless they’re literal robots, in which case you can skip this first part). Building trust between managers and employees, as well as showing good judgment and being patient, will make any coaching or feedback more effective. After all, who are you more likely to listen to: your close and trusted friend, or your neighbor two doors down you’ve spoken to maybe twice?
Take your employees’ emotions into account and ask permission first whenever possible. Leading with something like, “Can I share some observations I’ve made?” and receiving an affirmative from your employee will make them more likely to listen and take any feedback to heart. It’s important to make them feel safe, comfortable, and valued in the work environment. They’ll be more motivated, too.
Keep Them in the Loop
Helping your employees gain self-awareness and insight is a major goal of coaching. Coaching usually focuses on bridging gaps between things like current and desired performance or words and actions. It’s important to provide your employees with assessments and a clear sign that you want to help them get better and aren’t just expecting them to figure it out themselves.
And speaking of assessments: be timely with any feedback you may have. Don’t wait long after an incident occurs to address it; if it’s severe, try to address it within 24 hours of the event, or the issue can get bigger and the recipient may be resentful that the feedback wasn’t timely.
The same goes for positive feedback: if someone’s performance deserves positive reinforcement, don’t wait too long to provide it.
Get Down to the Nitty-Gritty
You're not helping anyone if your feedback is vague or dances around the point. Telling Samuel that his people skills are lacking doesn't help him fix the issue, and doing so will needlessly offend him. Instead, first offer up a specific observation of an incident and its effect on others, and then provide clear, constructive feedback on what he can do to improve.
In a similar vein, when providing feedback, it's a good idea to veer away from negative language (e.g., "I don't think," or "You shouldn't"). Even if it’s well-intentioned, negatively-phrased feedback can feel like an attack and make the recipient defensive, and may cause them to potentially disregard it entirely. Productive language (e.g. “What if we tried…” “Have you considered…”) will be more eagerly accepted.
Be Nice (Nobody Likes Vinegar)
Any coaching or feedback should be caring and meant to help the employee, not hurt or embarrass them. “A great manager once [said] that you can tell people anything, as long as your feedback comes from a place of caring.” (IT Business)
Remember: you live inside your own head and are a victim of your own perception. In an interview with Monster, Chantal Westgate, Adjunct Professor of Organisational Behaviour at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management, recommended using “I” statements. These statements reflect an acknowledgement that what you’re saying is your own opinion, and using these types of statements can make the employee feel less threatened. Westgate provides the following example: “I read your Excel report, and I am not sure I understand your calculations,” is much less threatening and likely to cause issues or confrontation than accusatory “you” statements (e.g. “You made a mistake”).
Set Goals and Seek Results
To be effective, you need goals. Help your employees set meaningful ones and identify helpful behaviors and steps they can take toward meeting their goals. A clear, if somewhat flexible, plan is needed to make sure everyone is on the same page and working toward the same end result. A plan will also help you see when the group is veering off course, so you can get everyone back on track.
If possible, plant employees where they’ll bloom best. People tend to work better when they’re doing something they enjoy and feel comfortable doing. Placing employees where their aptitudes are suited will not only strengthen relationships, but increase performance and morale.
When goals are met and results and recognized, celebrate! Positive feedback is a rare and precious gem.