When to Coach and When Not to Coach
Used in the right situation at the right time, coaching can make the life of a manager immensely easier. Conversely, managers will end up extremely frustrated if they try to coach employees who need something else from them, who are in situations that do not call for coaching, or who flat out don’t want to be coached. Learning how to recognize when and when not to coach is just as important as learning how to coach.
Coaching is a dialogue that leads to awareness and action. When an employee has the skills and ability to complete the task at hand, but for some reason is struggling with the confidence, focus, motivation, drive, or bandwidtch to be at his or her best, coaching can help. Employees tyoically struggle because one of three things is in their way:
Skills and abilities. They currently lack the sk8ill or ability to complete the task at hand; this relates to aptitude.
Themselves. They currently lack the motivation, focus, chutz-pah, confidence, or commitment to complete the task at hand; this relates to attitude.
Outside factors. They currently are being affected by things that are largely outside their control, such as not having available resources, changing market conditions, ineffective vendors and partners (internal and external), or poor relationships with various stakeholders and colleagues.
If an employee needs to develop specific skills and abilities, coaching is not the answer. You don’t teach someone how to create a budget for the first time by asking him or her curious questions in an unattached manner! You teach someone a new skill by giving them the proper instructions for that particular task. If you tried to coach them, you would end up driving yourself crazy and your employee out the door. To that end, when determining whether coaching is the right tool to use in a certain situation, first ask yourself this question: Is this about aptitude? Is there a lack of skills or ability getting in the way of the employee’s success?
If the answer is “yes,” then your answer to whether or not this is a coaching situation is “no.” If an employee needs a certain skill set, your job is to find a way for them to learn those specific skills. Whether that be sitting down and teaching them, or setting up another type of training, you need to find a way for them to acquire the skills or the situation will never change.
If, in fact, the answer to the first question is “no” or “not really,” next askyourself: Is this about attitude—their confidence, commitment, enthusiasm, focus, chutzpah, or frustration?
If the answer is “yes,” then you have a situation that is primed for coaching. You will want to create a dialogue that helps the employee become aware of what they are doing and then help them develop an alternative action that will lead to better results—in short, coach them.
If the answer to the second question is “no,” then most likely the answer to the next, and final question, is “yes.”
What about outside factors getting in the way of success? If the answer to this question is “no,” you need to reevaluate the answers to all three questions because, chances are, you’ve missed something along the way (see the accompanying box). If the answer is “yes,” you have two more questions to askyourself:
1. Does the employee have the skills and abilities to effectively deal with the outside factors in order to be successful?
2. Does the employee have difficulty dealing effectively with the outside factors despite having the skills?
The answers to these questions will lead you down the same path as before. If the employee needs skills, teach them, but be sure to do it while utilizing coaching skills such as concern and listening. If they need help with their attitude, coach them, but beprepared to offer suggestions and teaching tips along the way—dealing with outside factors can be tricky and there may be some skills you can teach as you go. Again, if the answer to both of these questions is “no,” you should probably rethink the situation or better yet, have a conversationw ith the employee that focuses on the questions in the accompanying box.
All of this being said, the world is not a perfect place that follows the rules. Many situations are not strictly about a problem with a single solution. Often, it’s a combination of two or three. The trick for managers is to be able to look at a situation and then use the right mix of teaching and coaching that is required to get employees what they need.
Brian Emerson and Anne Loehr are certified executive coaches and co-founders of Safaris for the Soul, leadership development retreats around the world. This article is excerpted, with permission of the publisher, from A Manager’s Guide to Coaching: Simple and Effective Ways to Get the Best Out of Your Employees by Brian Emerson and Anne Loehr. Copyright 2009, Brian Emerson and Anne Loehr. Published by AMACOM, a division American Management Association. For more information: www.amanet.org/amabooks