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The Art of Great Coaching

Ten Proven Tips for Effective Performance Coaching

Many managers seem to cringe at the thought of coaching their employees when performance comes up short. I mean, after all, don’t they already know their jobs? Why in the world would they need coaching? I feel like I’m a teacher, counselor, career guru, and sometimes a baby-sitter! I just want them to do their jobs!

Well, of course the ugly truth is we have to inspect what we expect, and that means constant monitoring of performance among our direct charges. One thing for sure about our world is that it’s constantly changing and especially in retail environments that means customers are changing too. A manager has to keep up with these changing customers and their needs, expectations, and concerns. So, the last thing you want to deal with is coaching for performance improvement, right?

Wrong. In fact, keeping up with how well your team performs, whether it be sales results, production, competition, etc. is the key to your success and theirs. OK, your sanity too. Therefore, as in most business acumens, having a formula for success and a guideline for great results is critical. Mentoring or coaching your team to excel starts with a basic understanding of expectations, and delivering them in a manner that helps your employees understand the goal. Everyone plays a part, so break it down for them. Give them a recipe for success, and your coaching becomes a rewarding and enjoyable part of your job.

Here are ten basic guidelines to an effective coaching improvement session. See where they might be applicable to your situation:

Look in the mirror first.

If you haven’t provided the guidance, expectations, and actual hands-on training the employee requires, how can you expect success? No wonder the performance falls short; employees who don’t understand what their jobs require often falter, become discouraged, and will deliver bad results, usually ending in a resignation or termination. Great, now you have to take your time to go hire someone else. Like my grandfather always told me, when the heck will you have time to do it right a second time? Ever hear the phrase “it’s either knowledge or attitude?” Be sure you provide clear training upfront.

Have the employee self-evaluate.

Getting your employees to reflect on the performance helps them recollect the steps they took. You can ask questions like, “So, tell me how you think you’re doing this quarter?” “How did it go with that customer out there?” “Walk me through that playbook move so I know what you were thinking.” Once that’s done you must follow-up with their assessment. “How did that work for you?” “What was the outcome?”

Now share your observations.

It’s time to compare their behavior to what you already established when the employee was hired. Language here can include questions like, “Remember when we set up your goals, we talked about reaching 40K in parts sales per month,” “We talked about listening to customers’ concerns and acknowledging them before talking about solving them” and “You have to watch the third base coach for the OK to run through to home.” It’s important that you’re clear on the shortcoming. “You’ve been slipping below that 40K” or “You didn’t pay attention and as a result you fell short of satisfying the customer” are examples of showing that you’re watching!

Remind them of your expectations.

Again, guiding the employee back to your behavior requirements when they were hired, or whenever the last change to their job was implemented, will reset the baseline for them. No character assassinations here; just address the behavior and remind them of the exact expectations you have.

Discuss the effect non-performance has on business.

Many times, employees become victims of tunnel-vision, and forget they are integral to a larger operation. If the firing pin malfunctions, or the starter fails, or the QB gets taken out, every other part or person in the process is affected in a certain way. In a car dealership for example, if a customer is treated poorly in the parts department, she may decide not to bring her car in for service, which hampers the service relationship, which in turn reduces likelihood of repeat business, leading to the customer buying the next car from another dealer. It costs money when performance falters. Keep your employees’ eye wide open to the effects.

Always include the why.

Along with the effect the lack of performance can have, always validate with why it’s important to improve. Discuss the benefits, not only for the customers and the business but also for the employee. These days there is always a WIIFM (what’s-in-it-for-me) involved, so address it. It’s a best practice for making change meaningful.

Confirm understanding along the way.

My mom used to say “am I just talking for my health?” usually accompanied by a stern look (or worse; but that’s another story). Don’t talk for the sake of talking; be sure the employee understands you. During the coaching, pause after important points and ask something like, “Does that make sense?” or “Are you with me?” Once the salient points are presented, ask the employee to repeat them back so you’re convinced he/she understands.

Establish an action plan.

You’re kidding, right? An action plan?? Yes, you have to write down what will be done to improve the performance. This has to come from both of you; if the employee has no skin in it and only hears you going on about “here’s what you’ll do” and “you better do this or else…” then the change is probably either not going to happen or it will be delayed and seriously diluted. Give them the opportunity to present their idea to improve, and even if it’s the same as yours, make it theirs. This doesn’t mean you have to accept the solution; just that if it’s feasible, give it a go. Remember the SMART process for goal-setting: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely! If the employee thinks it’s out of their ability you’re already reducing the likelihood of success.

Agree on follow-up date.

You can’t just cut them loose and expect success. That’s what got them in trouble in the first place (probably!). Set up checkpoints along the way to the goal. Follow-up in two weeks at the next sales meeting, after the next few practices, or the next several customer interactions. As you have these interim follow-ups/check-ups, test the progress against the action plan. Incremental improvements have deeper roots and are likely to remain in place once the habit is developed.

Reinforce and encourage successful behavior.

When you see the changes in behavior or performance start to take hold, get right in there and give the attaboy for it. Everyone likes to be recognized for good actions, don’t they? The very worst thing you can do is spend all that time showing concern for poor performance and establishing an effective action plan, just to ignore employees when they do well. In the employee’s mind the thought is “What’s the point? Not even getting noticed for doing good?” Praise goes much farther than critique.

Yes, each employee situation is different. If you have twenty-five employees you’ll have twenty-five different personalities and twenty-five different learning approaches. Take the time to listen to what’s important to each. Understand what motivates them and how each one best learns new things. Include these ten best-practice coaching ideas during performance discussions and you'll have a 'win-win-win' all around. I wish you the best of success!

Glenn Harriman - Leadership and Client Relationship Specialist

Glenn Harriman
Glenn Harriman

Let me help you improve your life at work and at home!

Leadership & Client Relations Specialist

Facilitator, Audi of America

Certified ATD Master Trainer

Background in Automotive Dealership Operations Management and Hospitality Management

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