November 5, 2019
One of the great joys of being a manager is developing talent. It’s an honorable pursuit to help employees discover their full potential and to be a mentor as each develops his or her career.
At a time when businesses are running lean, however, the ability to develop employees has become more challenging. Hiring and/or developing individuals ahead of the curve is a rare luxury. Most companies have fallen into the “you need to hit the ground running” requirement, and formal check-in periods with management are more “check the box” exercises.
These reviews become tasks with imposed deadlines in a one-size-fits-all format, and in truth reflect a moment in time rather than a holistic assessment. This combination of numeric and/or qualitative assessments can run the risk of feeling critical, impersonal, and irrelevant, rather than insightful, holistic, and affirming.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how coaching rather than criticizing has been more effective as I’ve fine-tuned my approach to managing teams. From a top-down HR policy perspective, formal reviews are typically a necessary evil, but I’ve changed my mindset from “performance review” to “career path advisement.” When focusing on the individual, one can understand strengths, weaknesses, and motivations looking forward, rather than criticizing and critiquing past performance to date.
What’s key is a service mindset. A coach’s job is not to put people in a box, but rather to guide and inspire. When you put yourself in the mindset of treating teammates as clients rather than service providers, it is truly amazing to see how your perspective changes as their ambition grows. What a difference it is to look at an employee and strategically think, “What can I do to make this person great in service of our goals?” rather than “What do I need to tell this person to do so we meet our goals?”
Based on my experience in the service industry, there is no question that creating a brief and getting everyone on board before any actions are taken is the best way to get folks aligned. The core elements are the same for any goal, and they can be instrumental in setting expectations:
Objective. Have a clearly articulated statement of what you need to accomplish, not just what you need to do. It’s easy to allow oneself to be very busy doing things but accomplishing nothing. Clarity can help minimize this problem.
Strategy. Get each individual and team aligned on how you will get to your key accomplishment(s). The best outcomes occur when the coach can help the team and its individuals arrive at the “how,” so that each feels ownership and can pave a path toward that goal.
The single most important thing. There’s a lot of minutiae that can create chaos. A coach must reduce the noise so the team and individuals know what’s most important. Only one thing can be most important; other things may be important too, but a coach must ensure that all are aware of the hierarchy of importance. That way, people won’t put great effort against doing rather than accomplishing.
Desired outcome/success metrics. A coach must clearly articulate what success will look like—what will be accomplished and how that affects the business. Metrics can be a bit definitive and are good to establish up-front where applicable. But for a coach, it’s typically a bit “softer.” It’s more about relationship and personal development than numeric absolutes.
If you can create metrics that make sense and don’t diminish the relationship, great. But if not, recognize the softer value of having more frequent 15-minute informal check-ins, 100% focused on that individual’s growth rather than task performance, and evaluate the person through more “human” considerations. Don’t diminish the value of relationship and personal growth to make something fit into a number rating.
Desired response. Describe how you want associates to respond to the experience of working with you. What do you want them to feel? What do you want them to think? What do you want them to do? State it in the first person to put yourself in that associate’s shoes. Would you rather hear, “I got my job done well and did everything I was asked to do, so everyone should be happy with my performance,” or “I’ve come a long way thanks to my manager’s help in XYZ ways. I feel great—I never dreamed we’d accomplish what we did. I love working here and can’t wait to do something great again”?
Positivity. In the end, each individual and team should feel positive about what they’ve done; if they don’t, then the coach needs to reevaluate. The best people on a team are those who feel invested and good about the business and themselves. If the feeling is one of negativity, or even neutral, then the team is uninspired and the work will be too.
Being a great coach is not “one and done.” The best coaches keep perspective from the sidelines and constantly adapt toward incremental successes, in constant communication with the team and its layers individually. When done well, it is rewarding for all involved. As a manager, it could mean that you’ve motivated, guided, and influenced someone’s career—and perhaps even his or her personal life—in positive and wonderful ways. And what could be better than that?