Good coaches find balance

Every manager is supposed to be a "coach" these days. And if you've ever taken on the challenge of a coaching job-from little league to adult volleyball-you know it's not easy. You've got to balance a lot of factors at once: for example, the desire to win needs to be balanced with having fun and letting everyone play. Your new coaching role at work isn't much different...corporate goals must be met while helping everyone participate and stay challenged on the job.

But even though the word "coaching" is thrown around a lot, I've found that few people are able to actually define what "coaching" really means when you apply it to the workplace. For instance, most bosses err on one side of the spectrum or the other. They say, "Just do it right. Figure it out for yourself" or, "Here's a list of everything you're doing wrong. Now fix it." If you were on an athletic team and heard that "coaching" would it help your performance?

I've studied master coaches as a part of my work in organizational change and leadership development. I've watched them and analyzed their techniques. Then I've worked with them asked them to coach me-- to see if their techniques made a difference in my performance. They did. Here are a few ideas to try with your employees. Don't be discouraged if you don't catch on right away--these master level techniques take awhile to learn.

1.    Identify what I call the "performance gap" between their current performance and the desired performance. Here's an example: "What Linda's doing is taking the customer's order. What I'd like her to be doing is taking the order and then cross selling other products."

Once the gap has been identified, the master coach begins to closely observe and analyze the behavior patterns that are contributing to the gap. For instance, in a retail store the manager might observe a new sales representative working with a customer and study the way she greets the customer, suggests products, and other behaviors.

2.    Pick out and isolate one thing in the performance gap and create a "drill" for the person to practice. Etch the new behaviors one at a time. Master coaches don't try to close the performance gap all at once. They know that the gap is made up of numerous little skills that need to be isolated and improved. Sometimes coaches even work on the isolated behavior to an extreme in order to put a spotlight on it. Then when the new skill has been learned, they ask the performer to refine it down to where it can be integrated into the whole process. This is a technique I learned from Jerry Warren, master coach for the Professional Ski Instructors of America and member of the U.S. Demonstration Team.

An example of this is the golfer who practices swinging the club with only the left hand to create a new mental "groove" to etch the sensation of letting the left hand lead. Once the groove is made, the golfer can go back to a two handed swing. Similarly, the retail sales rep could isolate and practice a new suggestive selling technique until she is ready to integrate it into her whole approach.

3.    Use the Warren learning model: SEE, FEEL, UNDERSTAND. Most of us just coach by explaining things to the learner. Unfortunately, most of us aren't auditory learners. Instead, try to combine talking with showing and doing.

In the SEE, FEEL, UNDERSTAND approach, first show the person what the performance looks like when it's done correctly. Either demonstrate it yourself or ask someone else to do it. They will SEE what correct performance looks like. Together with the learner, analyze the good performance and isolate one thing to practice.

In order to FEEL the new behavior they need to try it out for themselves while the coach watches. The coach looks for anything that is even close to "right" and reinforces it with comments such as "That's the idea!" Master coaches don't wait until it's perfect to praise. They know that self-esteem is a powerful factor in learning. If they constantly say, "No, that's not quite right" the energy for learning drains quickly.

UNDERSTANDING comes when the performer starts using the skill on their own and internalizes it. When they can describe what they're doing and why, they have integrated the new behavior.

Here's an example of a leader who used this approach recently with his construction foremen who needed to learn public relations skills with residents who lived near a new construction site: He took a small group of foremen with him to visit five homeowners.

First, he did all the talking and answered all the questions. After each one, he asked them to analyze what he did to isolate what made it work.

Then, he asked each one to take different parts of the presentation. As they walked between houses, they gave each other feedback and further refined their skills.

Next, he asked them to divide up the remaining homeowners and do presentations on their own.

Then, they got together periodically to discuss how it was going and to share approaches.

These tactics make people love learning. They will willingly try new behaviors without prodding from you. With effective coaching, employees will experience progress and will feel like winners with the self-confidence to pursue more. And isn't that what "continuous improvement" is all about?

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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