The Achilles Heel of Management Coaching

While heading home at day's end, you begin reflecting on a coaching meeting you had earlier that day with an employee, Chris. You hope that, this time, you finally succeeded in getting her to understand the importance of spending less time in disruptive socializing in the office and more time elevating her performance. If not, you feel that your only remaining alternatives are to give her a poor performance evaluation or demotion or may even fire her. You're reluctant to do either of the first two things because you know these would disrupt the positive work relationship you've had with Chris. And you don't really want to fire her. On the other hand, you're running out of patience; this is the fourth time you've said something to Chris about the situation. Admittedly, the first few times, your comments may have missed the mark because you gave her only some casual feedback. But about a month ago, you held a formal coaching meeting with Chris, in which you discussed the situation in depth and came away thinking that she understood the need to change her behavior. In fact, she did change. But after a week or so, she was back to her old behavior.

Sound familiar? The most critical step in the management coaching process ? getting an employee to agree there's a need for improvement ? is usually not well understood or well executed. Without that, there's little likelihood of any permanent change.

Not a chewing out

As the use of coaching rises, so does the confusion over what it is and isn't. I define management coaching as an interpersonal process between a manager and an employee in which the manager helps the employee redirect his or her performance while maintaining mutual trust. Coaching differs from feedback, although feedback is part of the management coaching process. Feedback is given by a manager or supervisor in response to a specific event or situation; coaching focuses on a pattern of behavior along with strategies for growth and development. Coaching is all about the art of turning situations and events into learning and growing experiences. Examples include missing several deadlines in a short period despite being reminded that meeting deadlines is important, continuing to arrive late for work after being told tardiness is not acceptable, and continuing to interrupt others in spite of receiving feedback that such behavior isn't appropriate. Management Coaching is not "chewing out", taking to task, or threatening employees to try to improve their performance. Those tactics can work, but the results may be worse than the original problem. Such approaches tend to make employees passive-aggressive. They will walk the line and do nothing more or less than what is asked.

In general, a management coaching meeting should take place only after an employee understands clearly what's expected and has received feedback at least once that his or her performance is not what it could or should be. However, in some cases, certain significant events may be the focus of a coaching meeting, before they develop into a pattern of behavior. For example, a manufacturer decided that any safety violation ? no matter how minor ? would be addressed in a coaching discussion and, if significant, could lead to formal discipline.

Coaching involves these critical elements:

  • A two-way dialogue
  • A series of interdependent steps or objectives
  • Specific coaching skills and strategies
  • Courage and conviction
  • A personal sense of humor
The management coaching process has two primary areas of focus: helping an employee recognize the need to improve his or her performance and developing an employee's commitment to taking steps to improve performance permanently.

While all of the steps in the C.M.O.E coaching model are important, the most critical one is often not understood or carried out effectively ? getting an employee to recognize and agree that there is a need to improve his performance. That step is equally important whether an employee has a specific performance problem or an employee is an average performer who could do better. Without a felt need for change and greater self awareness, there's little likelihood that any improvement will occur or that it will be permanent.

The Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness (CMOE) seeks to improve individual leadership and team member skills within organizations.

For professional information on management coaching, visit CMOE.

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