The Public Manager

Coaching for High Performance

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You can improve your team's performance by following a few simple steps.

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As a manager, you recently evaluated your team's skills and abilities and determined that most of your team is underperforming. The realization that you may not be able to meet the assigned objectives set by your manager is now beginning to sink in—followed by a cold sweat. You are thinking, "Should I be looking for a new job?"

Turn your focus into a positive direction! You can develop your team to a higher level of performance through coaching.

Coaching vs. Mentoring

When managers discuss mentoring and coaching, there is often some confusion about these two activities. A mentor is typically not in the chain of command of the person being mentored. Mentors guide their mentees into making smart professional choices as they navigate their career. Mentors may suggest that mentees obtain additional education or experience, redirect them into another field more suited to their skills and passions, or even open doors to advance their careers.

Coaching, unlike mentoring, is working with a direct report, or someone in a similar business relationship, to help that person to develop the skills needed to become a high-performing team member.

Some Thoughts About Coaching

At a recent seminar I attended, the facilitator asked the audience how many were managers. About half responded that they were. Then he asked the managers how many of them coached their employees. About 60 percent raised their hands.

Then the facilitator asked one last question: "What percentage of your time, as a manager, is devoted to coaching your employees?" By a show of hands, most of the managers indicated that they spent no more than 10 to 20 percent of their managerial time in coaching. I was shocked with this percentage. This percentage should be in the 50 percent or higher range.

Of course, the managers gave many reasons as to why they were so busy and could only allocate that small percentage of time. But managers must realize that they can only be successful if their direct reports are successful. The most vulnerable time for the new hire is during the first six months. If new hires cannot be grounded and learn how to apply and develop their skills and abilities to their new job, they will likely leave.

In a similar way, the seasoned employee may have been neglected by a previous manager or reassigned into a new position and feel unable to meet the expectations of the position. These people can either be a drag on your team or they can become high performers. It is all up to you!

Coaching: What to Do

Try these strategies to help the underperformers on your team achieve their full potential:

  • Ask questions. Learn to ask questions, rather than make statements. Questions tend to be unintimidating and create bonds between you and your direct reports. When you make a statement, you may build a communication barrier.
  • Discover. Learn specifically what is holding employees back. If it is lack of experience, connect them with someone who has experience and a positive attitude. Teach your staff how to network with people who hold similar positions in other organizations.
  • Set objectives. Be specific and mutually set small objectives that must be met. Larger objectives can be set later as the confidence level of the direct report increases.
  • Make an agreement. Create an agreement between yourself and your direct reports. The employees agree to meet the set objective, and you agree to continue to coach them.
  • Be positive. Let your direct reports know that you believe in their potential and what their work will mean to the team and the organization.

Do these things on a regular basis with all of your employees, and you will build a high-performing team.

About the Author

Fred Lang is a consultant for Blackboard and a former chief learning officer for the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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