Coaching—the Most Essential Part of Performance Management

Performance management has three elements—planning, day-to-day coaching, and evaluation. When I ask managers which of these elements takes the most time, they almost always say evaluation. Sometimes I hear long statements full of frustration about the forms, activities, and deadlines involved in the evaluation process. It makes me realize that people are putting the emphasis on the process—not the performance. And that is where many managers make the wrong choice.

Effective managers should spend most of their time on day-to-day coaching. Let’s take a closer look.

As a leader, it’s true that you have to spend time up front to set clear goals. Once you’ve completed that part, however, your job is to be there to coach your employees and help them accomplish those goals. I think of it as turning the traditional hierarchical pyramid upside down so that you work for your people. You are there to help them.

If you spend most of your time coaching your people and helping them succeed, what do you think happens when it is time for the evaluation? You get to celebrate accomplishments! When you help your people win, you win, your department wins, and ultimately your organization wins. That’s why I say coaching is the most essential part of performance management.

Coaching: The Key to Being an Effective Manager

Why is it important to use coaching skills if you want to be an effective manager? Because when people get the coaching they need, they perform better. Managers who provide day-to-day coaching have more effective teams, grow and retain their key people, and experience higher productivity overall. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Over the years when I’ve asked people to describe their best boss ever, they often say it was a manager who helped them be successful in their role through coaching. It is important to set clear goals with your people, but it is critical to then use coaching skills such as

  • asking what they need from you to reach their goals,
  • listening with the intent to learn, and
  • working closely together to solve problems.

Coaching is the key to building a trusting work environment and improving the competency of your staff. Remember, your most important job as a manager is to help your people succeed.

In the short video below I share a story of how, as a college professor, I used coaching skills to help students get an A in my course.

Please give coaching a try. I know when you make coaching a priority, you’ll help your staff improve performance levels.

 

Building a High-Trust Work Environment

Building trusting relationships is one of the most important elements of being an effective leader. The good news is that turning around a low-trust environment isn’t rocket science. It starts with performance evaluation. If you are evaluating your people’s performance with a judgmental mindset, I guarantee you are eroding trust.

But if you partner with your people to set clear goals, and then provide day-to-day coaching to help them reach those goals, you’ll build high levels of trust—and that leads to higher morale, increased productivity, and improved engagement. And, as a leader, the constant communication you have with team members makes the performance evaluation part of your role much easier.

Remember, placing an emphasis on judging performance instead of coaching performance will create a low-trust environment. Setting clear goals and working side by side with your people to help them do their best will not only build trust and create effective teams, but also form the kind of working environment where people flourish.

A Simple Framework to Manage Performance

A critical skill for any leader is managing the performance of others. In our book Putting the One Minute Manager to Work, Bob Lorber and I introduce the ABCs of management as a framework to help leaders and their people succeed. It is a simple way to get back to the basics of influencing performance.

A stands for Activators—this refers to things a leader does before performance. All good performance starts with clear goals, so in this phase of the framework leaders must make sure employees understand (1) their areas of responsibility and (2) what good performance looks like in each of those areas. Goal setting is critical because it activates the management process. Once goals are clear, the leader provides the appropriate leadership style—directing, supporting, coaching, or delegating—to help the employee achieve the goals.

B is for Behavior. Here is where the leader observes what employees say and do while working on their goals. Leaders take note of tasks being completed (or not), deadlines being met (or not), and progress being made (or not). Since goals are clearly developed and agreed to in the first step, it is easy to determine whether people’s behaviors are contributing to the accomplishment of the goal or taking away from goal achievement.

What leaders observe in the Behavior stage determines the basis of a response. This leads to the C element in the framework—Consequences. In this phase, leaders manage the behaviors they have observed. If an employee is making progress, the leader praises that progress; if not, they redirect the employee to help them get back on track.

The ABC framework makes managing performance easier for leaders as well as their people. Employees have clear goals and an understanding of performance expectations—and leaders manage consequences in a helpful, respectful way. Give it a try!

Leadership is a Partnership

Leadership is not something you do to people. It’s something you do with people. I have believed this statement my entire career—and it might be even more important now than it was 35 years ago. Workforces are more diverse, workplaces are less centralized, and technology continues to revolutionize how business is conducted and how people communicate. The most successful leaders are the ones who partner with their staff.

Partnership starts with clear and frequent communication. Leaders must establish a rhythm or consistent schedule of discussions with team members. I suggest that leaders meet at least once a week, for 30 minutes with each direct report. That might sound like a lot of extra work, but I guarantee if you spend this time you’ll create trusting relationships with your team that will improve morale and productivity in your department.

Use these meetings to work with your team member to set clear goals, to praise progress on tasks, to redirect efforts if necessary, and to celebrate the completion of each project. It is critical that the leader and team member participate equally in these meetings, speak their truths, and listen with the intent of learning something—not judging.

Some of you reading this might be saying, “This isn’t new information.” You’re right it isn’t—but it is such a simple truth of leadership that I want to remind people again and again. You’ve probably heard me say that the information I provide for leaders is just common sense. But I also say that my philosophy isn’t always commonly practiced.

My goal is to have every leader start having these important conversations with their teams. I urge you to partner with each team member to help them be successful. So, I provide this reminder for you to be a leader that makes this common sense, common practice. You’ll soon realize how a small investment of time spent partnering with your people will build a stronger, more self-reliant team.