Updated: Jun 11
I've noticed a trend in organizations regarding the use of language. What was once constructive criticism became "feedback." Performance management became "coaching." Human beings became "assets." And don't even get me started on what the annual performance review became.
Language is changed in the workplace to make people more receptive to the ideas. We don't want people to feel like we are criticizing them so we call it something else. And when people are not performing to expectation, they get the "opportunity to be coached."
Contrary to popular belief, coaching should not be the outcome for the employee that made a mistake at work. The purpose of coaching is to help people learn. It's to provide guidance . . . preferably before a mis-step can occur. It assumes people have the answers within them and are just not accessing those answers for some reason (lack of confidence, empowerment, etc.). Coaching is about asking the right questions so people can work through their own issues. And when individuals can solve their own problems, they are empowered. And when employees are empowered, they are happier and more productive. See that? It's a cycle. A positive cycle.
So, how is it done effectively? Well, this requires a little skill on the part of the leader but it is so worth the effort. If you played sports, you know an effective coach brings out the best in you. Somehow, you are able to do things you never dreamed possible. You are able to do things you didn't even know you wanted to do! Great coaches have a way of inspiring while driving results.
It works kind of the same way in the workplace. But since the workplace is generally a place of strategy more than physical skill, we do it a little differently. It's about asking the right questions so people can become outstanding problem-solvers on their own. While you might think asking the right questions should be easy, it turns out, it's not.
It's much faster and easier for a leader to give direction than to coach or help the employee come to their own solutions. The result is the leader continues to feel overwhelmed with all the questions and tasks to accomplish while the employee becomes an unhappy, bored work drone. You don't want that.
I should probably write an entire post on open and closed-ended questioning but for now, just know the more questions you can ask that are open-ended, the more you are going to be able to develop your employees. A closed-ended question results in a one-word answer such as "yes, no, 10 am, yesterday, etc." An open-ended question requires more thought as well as a more detailed response.
Are you finished?
When will you be here?
Basically, any question starting with Did you, Have you, Could you, etc.
How do you think we ought to proceed?
What's your recommendation?
What happened next?
Now, how do you put this into practice you ask?
Let's start with an easy example:
Sarah comes to you with a problem. In the past, because you were busy, you answered her question or just told her how to solve the problem. You did this without even thinking and quite honestly, it felt good to have the answer. One less thing to worry about. Problem solved.
If you are coaching Sarah, instead of solving the problem yourself, you might give it back to her in the form of a question.
"What do you think is the best solution Sarah?"
She looks at you dumbfounded because you are asking her opinion and you have never done that before. Then she probably says,
"Uh, I don't know."
So, you (validating your original thought that this process is too hard) go ahead and solve the problem. WRONG! Stop right there!
You say, "I apologize. I know I put you on the spot. You're very capable and I value your opinion (although I haven't always shown that). How about you think about it and stop by my office in a couple of hours and let me know what you came up with?"
You've just empowered Sarah, by telling her you trust her and value her ideas. She will likely do everything in her power to come up with the best solution possible.
Let's just play this scenario out a bit more. I know what you're thinking. What happens when she shows back up in two hours with a great idea? You reply "I knew I could count on you. Great work. Go implement it" (The Go implement it comment further empowers her).
And if it's not a great idea? You continue to coach by asking the right questions. Such as "How might that work? What are the risks associated with doing it that way?"
As time progresses and Sarah gains confidence, she will come to you with a problem and a suggested solution. As your trust grows and you continue to empower her, it will become a discussion of the solution she implemented.
Some people need more coaching than others but if you are always the one providing the solutions you are being selfish, a bit arrogant, and missing out on the opportunity to have an empowered and happy workforce.
Does it take extra time in the beginning? Absolutely. It takes a conscious effort to shift into coaching mode and it takes more time to have the conversations - time you feel you don't have right now. Look at it this way. It's a time investment in your people. It's a short term investment for a long term gain. The sooner they are able and empowered to solve their own problems, the sooner you will have more time to focus on more strategic initiatives and the sooner your team will be happier and thereby more productive at work.
As always, if you would like help learning how to do this more effectively, I'd be happy to provide some training/coaching for you and/or your team. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.