Coaching Line Managers to Improve Performance
In the current climate, getting the best out of your people is the eternal challenge and today, never more so. Despite the reduction in training budgets, businesses are at least attempting to develop their front line employees to do more for less. But what about the managers and leaders? In this article, Alec McPhedran of Skills Channel TV explores the value of coaching managers as a business critical skill.
As a skills development professional, I am constantly (and indeed, continually) amazed that there is still a perception that to move people forward, training is seen as the only option. As a trainer – great, a job for life. But training ISN’T the only option. It’s about development. It’s shadowing, secondments, buddying, watching, reading, coaching, mentoring and of course, training – where appropriate.
If we think of development as giving people new knowledge and skills, then we immediately open up our opportunities to give people those new knowledge and skills. Of course training can work, but training in isolation simply gives people knowledge, it instructs; it doesn’t always change behaviour. Training, along with coaching and mentoring, makes learning a more productive process.
There is still confusion over the difference between the three, particularly coaching and mentoring. True, similar skills are needed for all three but the purpose of each has very different approaches. Training is instructing, telling people how to do something specific, normally, to their current or future role. Coaching has the same end goal but it’s more about asking, helping people to work out their own ideas, thoughts and consequences. Coaching is typically a one to one relationship to help nurture and develop an individual within their current or future role. Coaching is facilitating the learning of others to help them move forward.
If those simple descriptions of training (tell) and coaching (ask) define training and coaching, then what makes mentoring different? Well it can be argued it contains elements of both training and coaching but a significant difference is that it is about the mentoree and not just the job performance. Mentoring is guidance, wise council, pastoral direction from, typically, an experienced person or senior manager. They are concerned with the individual.
For example, the hugely successful football club Manchester United work these three aspects really well. All the players train together on fitness, stamina, tactics and team working. They are individually coached and developed on their unique specific skills of goalkeeping, defence, forwards, free kicks and so on. And for the younger players, they are allocated a mentor; someone who has typically had the fame, money adoration and success at an early stage and it is that experience of which the mentor uses to guide the younger talent to remain focussed on maturing into a top flight professional.
Coaching is therefore the critical point in taking knowledge and turning knowledge into behaviour change. It is about developing and building experience and therefore improved the behaviour. For senior managers, business leaders, and front line managers, coaching should be a normal part of their everyday role.
In a survey by consulting firm Hay-McBer, they found six distinctive leadership styles common to the most successful of business leaders; coercive, authoritative, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting and coaching. Coaching managers and employees is a core skill for leaders. Every day, leaders and managers have opportunities to coach others. Working on a strategy document, planning a budget, preparing a pitch to a client, dealing with a problem are all opportunities to involve their line manager or employees.
Of course, there is a down side to coaching. It’s probably quicker to tell somebody how to do something rather than take more time to coach them to the same outcome. But it’s a bit like the old quote of “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.” That’s how I see coaching for managers; investing the time to help people stretch their thinking and management skills under your guidance will pay back the time in bucket loads as people will become more self reliant.
As a coaching leader, you are passing on and developing wisdom, knowledge and understanding. You are equally passing on company values and beliefs as well as developing their behaviour. For senior managers, this is particularly important as leaders are continuing the success on what the business was probably built on. Living values and behaviour through coaching helps to set the culture, behaviour and standard as well as the expectation.
Coaching managers is incredibly cost efficient as it is done on work activities, it does not require money and can be incredibly specific to the individual needs of the skills development requirements of each different manager.
There are two core areas of great coaching; the skills to coach effectively and managing the time of a coaching session. The absolute essential foundation of skills are questioning, listening and summarising. These skills are the platform to successful coaching and indeed, a great many other personal communication elements of leadership.
The coach needs to be able to get results out of a coaching session and therefore need to managed the structure, flow and time of the session., typically with the well used and highly effective GROW model developed in the UK by Graham Alexander, Alan Fine and Sir John Whitmore. GROW is a guide to the structure of a coaching session, irrespective of the time, through managing four distinct discussion points.
G stands for Goal, which is establishing the Goal of the session. R is for Reality, exploring what has happened to date, what worked, didn’t work and so on. The O stands for Options. The coach works with the manager to explore a range of options and determines criteria for sifting through the options to identify ideas for moving forward. That leaves W which stands for Will or Will Do – based on the Options selected, what they will now do as a result of the coaching session that takes them forward?
This approach sums up one of the key aspects of successful leaders. Not necessarily training people, more facilitating learning through using the core coaching skills and working with the GROW model in how they interact with others. People normally can have the answers when being encouraged and guided through coached. As long as the coaching is appropriate, accepted and timely, then conditions are created where they can explore ideas, experience learning and know how to use the new knowledge and skills to move forward. This in turn means the investment in taking time to coach will improve performance and therefore results.
Finally, as a bit of food for thought, if you think about it, sometimes you can’t move forward unless you have someone good enough to replace you. That’s actually up to you.
Alec McPhedran Chtd Fellow CIPD, Chtd Mngr CMI, Alec McPhedran is the director of Skills Channel TV, the learning and development company for busy creative people. He specialises in one to one coaching, facilitated learning, media training and team development. For further information, contact 0121 366 87 99 or visit www.skillschannel.tv.
Copyright © Alec McPhedran 2020
A trainer, coach and facilitator helping people acheive.