How Managers Can Become Better Coaches

When Google launched a research project to prove that managers didn’t matter, they found that in fact, they do, both for productivity and happy teams – as long as that manager is a good one.

What makes a manager great?

The number one attribute, according to Google’s manager research, is effective manager coaching. Because each manager’s team is comprised of individuals, manager coaching styles need to be adapted to individual teammates, such as teaching when an employee needs to learn a skill or facilitating when an employee needs to listen and work through a challenge on his own. Seldom, if ever, does this mean telling employees exactly what to do.

Although the execution of manager coaching must be tailored to individual teammates, managers can improve their coaching by implementing several practices.

Best Practices for Coaching Managers

Conduct Regular One-on-Ones

Meeting with team members consistently and regularly fosters a natural environment of feedback, allowing managers to provide guidance to team members. This meeting doesn’t have to be a formal one in a conference room; instead, managers can walk outside with the employee. While the conversation can be informal, establishing an outline to cover key points can provide structure to the conversation. This can include roadblocks, current workload, goals, administrative tasks, next steps and career development. As part of establishing rapport and conveying respect for the employee, arrive on time, avoid canceling, and ensure you remain fully engaged and present in the conversation.

Provide Specific and Timely Feedback

Thanks to an established 1:1 meeting time, you’ll have a regular opportunity to provide feedback. And, after you’ve cultivated a relationship where providing feedback is natural, giving feedback in the moment shouldn’t feel jarring. Good coaching requires specific, actionable feedback. For example, “You need to pay better attention to details” is too broad to drive behavior change. Instead, coach your employee with actionable feedback: “I noticed you followed up with several questions that could have been answered if you read the report in full. I’d like you to answer these questions by paying attention to the details in the report.”

Balance Positive and Negative Feedback

Positive feedback should motivate employees, and negative feedback should offer constructive insight. Ensure employees receive both types of feedback, and be sure to keep individual strengths and opportunities in mind when providing feedback.

Listen – Actively

Allow your employees the opportunity to speak uninterrupted. When they finished speaking, allow a moment of silence to digest what they’ve told you, and provide an opportunity for them to finish processing their statements as well. This also means listening to ideas and suggestions, allowing employees to express emotion, and appreciating different perspectives. Finally, listen without distraction.

Ask Open-Ended Questions Instead of Being Directive

Launch valuable dialogues with open-ended questions that inspire creative, thoughtful responses. For example, ask: “Which skill would you like to develop this week?” In a coaching role, your job isn’t to provide tangible action items; instead, your employee needs to determine their path forward. Support your teammates by asking them questions that facilitate the employee defining their goals, articulating challenges, and establishing the answers.

Cultivate Accountability

Coaching conversations can easily be swept aside with the pressure of daily tasks. However, you can ensure your employees remain accountable to the steps you’ve discussed by establishing development plans, and following up on progress. Establish deadlines for your employees, and ensure you meet any you have as well. Hold employees accountable for their work as well, with relevant and appropriate metrics and evaluations, and be sure to celebrate successes when they achieve milestones.

Establish Clear Expectations Aligned with Organizational Goals

Managers should partner with employees to develop goals that align with organizational priorities and employee objectives. And, in the face of often dynamic organizational goals and practices, this may need to be an ongoing discussion, where needs and expectations can be clarified. 

Apply the GROW Model

Adopted by many at Google, the GROW model provides an outline for coaching conversations that puts the ownership of the conversation topic and the outcomes, on the employee, while the manager helps to facilitate outcomes.

  • Goal – What do you want?
  • Reality – What is actually happening now?
  • Options – What options do you have?
  • Will – What action will you take?

Adopting a coaching mentality will require you to apply empathy, good listening and creativity to managing each individual team member and, in the long run, it may make your team happier and more productive.

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