Management Through Coaching

By Craig Nathanson

What is a management system? 

The daily life of a manager is complex and requires a combination of skills and approaches. The important thing to remember is that action which a manager takes has a direct relationship to the whole system. When a manager plans a project, it impacts how the project will be organized. Who will be asked to lead and participate in the project. How the results will be measured. How all of this will be communicated. The Best manager knows that all actions are connected and have an impact on the people within the system. Improving the system will have a farther reaching effort than trying to change one component or person in the system. For example, imagine morale is low in the organization. People have lost confidence in the products and services.

A non-systems-thinking manager decides to implement a Friday dress casual day. People can wear jeans to work. The manager thinks this will help people to relax and perhaps improve their mood at work. This manager is surprised later when people complain about this and morale actually declines.

Another approach which a systems-thinking manager takes is to call a series of meetings with all staff to discuss what improvements can be made in the organization’s products and services. After a series of meetings, employees seem to be more productive, and it appears to be more energy in the environment. Customers start to see a better result. And people feel more vested in the organization.

What is the role of management? 

Of course, many might suggest that the classic role is to plan, control, measure, and direct work. While this may be true, the classic approach tends to ignore how work gets done. Work gets done with people. And people are not robots. They have feelings, motivations, goals, and, also, personal lives. Too many managers just assume if people are paid well, they should be motivated. And if they are not, the Friday casual dress policy should solve all motivation problems for people at work. Assuming that there is a vision in place, which has been well communicated, the manager’s role is to make sure that people are following the right path to close the gap between the desired state and the present. The manager’s approach WILL make the difference in movement toward success. Simply giving commands is not sufficient. While the approach of direct evaluation may gain short term success as a result of scaring people into line, it will not last for long. People can only work so long under fear of failure before stress settles in and short term gains give away to human error and breakdown.

For example, let’s call this employee John, who has a very demanding manager in the call center. His manager is always setting higher goals, demanding compliance, and always giving evaluation. John feels constant stress at work despite being one of the better performing employees. Regardless the new reward promise of a Hawaii vacation for meeting goals which he is close to, John worries what will come next after the vacation and time away. How much better can he actually become in this repetitive high maintenance job?

What is coaching? 

Think of a great coach you admire. What does this coach do right? Perhaps he or she is good at teaching the rules of the game, or at determining which roles each person must play on the team. Maybe this coach is great at facilitating all team members to get along and play fair together. In addition to this coach probably knows how to get the most out of people through positive feedback and encouraging words. Well, guess what, these same skills are needed for managers in getting the most out of their people at work.

What is the difference between managing and coaching? 

Manager’s role is very important. Managers need to pay attention to the bottom line and check on the following:

* If those activities are on track in order to meet current goals?
* If people are clear on the objectives?
* If budget has been met?
* If current plans are sufficient in order to meet changing demands?
* If customers needs have been met?

Imagine a bus with a sport’s team on driving to the new game. The driver has to make sure that the team will reach the destination on time. Along the way the bus driver ala manager checks that everyone has a seat belt fastened, that people are not making too much noise, and stay in their seat. The manager needs compliance and people to understand and follow the rules to ensure a safe and productive journey. The coach has another role on this trip. The coach must make sure that the team is comfortable during this long journey and assigned to sit with those people with whom they felt comfortable. The coach worked hard to prepare everyone to this game. The coach wants to ensure that everyone’s needs met during the trip. The coach knows what to expect. The coach is always ready to listen to any questions and/or feedback. Prior to the trip, the coach like any good coach had many practices with this team. The coach worked hard to get to the point when everyone had the right idea what to do. Given a choice during the trip, this coach was more focused on observing and giving feedback, than evaluations that were rigid and one sided.

Both managing and coaching are required for this team to win the game.

Why coaching is good for business

Coaching is not an alternative form of managing. It IS the best method of working with people to ensure both the business and its people are developing and making progress towards its most important goals. When people feel listened too, respected and paid attention to, they in turn feel more vested in the business, perform better, and are happier in their work. An environment of coaching is not another fad for SOME managers; it is a mandatory strategy for all managers to get the best out of the people they lead.

Coaching as a strategy for getting work done through people

Imagine this situation. Phil, a systems analyst, has a report due to his manager in the morning. He ran out of time at work and figured out when he got home, he would accomplish this in the evening. Unfortunately, his family had other plans. Phil forgot that tonight was his daughter’s musical performance at school. Ok, he thought he would just stay up late and finish this report after they got home. The family returned home around 9 p.m. Tired and yet determined, Phil started down to his table to pull out this report. His wife, however, reminded him that tonight was the only time they had together to help her decide on the schedule for her upcoming masters degree program. It was also due the next day and this was the only time to figure out together the schedule, finances, and so on. Needless to say that after putting the kids to bed and working together on his wife’s plans, it was 11:30 and Phil could no longer keep his eyes open. In the morning, Phil approached his manager to let her know that he would need another day for this report. As soon as Jean, Phil’s manager, saw him she asked, “Where is the report?” without even a good morning. As Phil started to explain his prior evening and what prevented him from completing his work, his manager suddenly said, “Phil, I am tired of excuses. It seems you may not be the person for this job and I need to reconsider your future role here.”

Well, the next day, Phil managed to submit his report but the quality was poor. He was more upset that his manager failed to give him a chance to explain why he was late. Shortly after submitting this report, Phil got the flu over stress, called in sick for several days and cancelled the family vacation worried now about losing his job. A few months later, Phil quit. 12 Months later, the organization rehired and retrained Phil’s replacement at a cost of $75,000 dollars which included a combination of recruiting costs, temp agency costs, and the increased costs a year later to rehire and retrain .

So, this manager’s response cost the company $75,000 thousand dollars, lost time, and most importantly loss of a very good worker. What would a coach have done?

Probably, a good coach would listen to Phil from the beginning and then provided a feedback which was helpful to Phil vs. direct evaluation without understanding all the facts. Would this approach have made the report on-time? No, but it would have saved a good worker, saved the organization money in the long run, and, as a result of showing empathy to Phil, he would have gotten a better report one day later.

How to be an effective coach

An effective coach listens before speaking. An effective coach uses feedback and not evaluation. An effective coach is a good teacher. Good coaching requires time for listening, observing and then responding in a way that always balances the business need and the need for preserving a person’s pride and self-worth. The great coach knows this is the best way to work with people to get great work done. The effective coach asks questions leading the person down the best path given the situation. The best coach knows that it gains more leverage to give suggestions and resources than to simply give evaluation. The good coach knows that people tend to be their own worst critics when things go wrong. What’s needed is new ideas, directions, and empathy to show that a person is respected and cared about above all else. A great coach knows that this is the best way to get great results with people!

The benefit from coaching feedback vs. management evaluation

Just like the child who gets reprimanded by an angry parent and then later repeats the same behavior, adults are much the same. Better to provide positive forward looking feedback to enable learning and development. Despite a challenging economy, as a result of technology and multiple opportunities, people today have more choices for what and how they do their work than ever before in our history. Smart organizations know that the way to a successful bottom line is through the retention and development of its employees. Management coaching is not only good for business; it is a competitive advantage.

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