May 13, 1998
Coaching tips for managers
By CLIVE SHEARER
Special to the Journal
How easy it is to blame others. "They forgot, they didn't listen, they made mistakes," are common refrains. And indeed there are times when the employee did forget, was distracted, or did make an error. But what about the other times?
The times it was the fault of the manager or the fault of the system.
When an employee makes frequent mistakes, who is to blame? Either the employee should not have been hired, or should have been reassigned or released. If incompetence is not the issue, perhaps the manager's instructions are not clear.
Sometimes employees spend weeks, months or even years trying to figure out what bosses really want. Being a mind reader should not be part of the job description. Here again, the manager or the system is at fault.
Here's a sample of workplace miscommunication situations:
- The manager's directions were clear -- but the employee was not listening.
- The manager's directions were clear -- but the schedule was impossible to meet.
- The manager's directions were clear -- but the employee was not fully trained to do the job.
- The manager's directions were unclear -- and the employee was too embarrassed to admit they were not understood.
- The manager's directions were unclear -- and the employee had to guess what was really required.
- The manager's directions were unclear -- and the employee couldn't find the manager to check the work in progress.
- The manager assumed the employee knew what to do and so gave no directions.
- The manager forgot to tell the employee what to do.
- The manager didn't know what to do and so gave no instructions to anyone.
- The manager was not around when the employee required directions.
When discussing coaching, it is common to think of the employee being coached by the manager. But frequently it is the manager who needs to be coached, usually by a senior manager. But the senior manager may not recognize the need, know a better way, or know how to coach. Sometimes the manager could be coached by the employee, if only the manger would listen. But what happens most frequently is that the staff member is reprimanded, reassigned or fired, when it should be the manager who is reprimanded, reassigned or fired.
Here are three coaching tips:
- When an error is pointed out, it is not enough to simply to show the employee or manager how to do it correctly. The reasons for doing it one way, rather than another are important too. Perhaps the employee's or manager is way makes sense in certain circumstances, but not in this one. These parameters should be explained. If a need or expectation has not been carefully explained to the employee, the mistake is always the manager's fault.
- Another coaching tip is to coach in private. Praising works well in public, but anything else might be construed by the employee as criticism instead of coaching, even being coached within earshot of others, may cloud the employee's ability to listen calmly and learn. What is central is the tone of voice of the coach. The right words said in a disparaging or a contemptuous way are best not said at all.
- A common mistake is to coach only when something goes wrong. What about praising when someone does something right? And don't wait for weeks or even for an annual review before giving praise. Showing appreciation on the spot is extremely effective. How to do it? First give the praise or compliment. Next refer to what the employee actually did, so that they know why they are receiving the compliment. Then state why the action was effective, and what will result. Coaching should be an on-going, every day event in the life of every effective manager.