Coaching, for almost every organization, has always been considered a soft skill; what differentiates a soft skill from a hard skill is measurability. The way one dresses, their executive presence, social graces, voice intonation, body language, and so on are soft skills because they are not measured nor correlated to performance. Coaching, however, which was once considered a soft skill, no longer fits that definition since it can now be measured and correlated to decreases or increases in performance.
For example, when we measure how often a coach does joint work with salespeople, how often they have a career discussion, how often they provide feedback, how often they are holding one-to-one meetings, and how effective they are at all those activities, we can then correlate them to performance and draw fact-based conclusions on coaching effectiveness. With this data, decisions can be made about which performance-enhancing coaching activities and behaviors need to be improved and which bring little or no value and therefore need to be eliminated.
You Cannot Afford A Bad Coach
The cost of a bad coach, depending on the company, results in millions of dollars in lost revenue. The sad part is that likely one out of three coaches in every organization is weak—and nobody is identifying who they are. But what is worse is that the poor coaches have no resources or understanding of how to improve. All the while, low engagement, turnover, lost sales, and lost productivity pollute the organization.
For organizations to grow and sustain that growth, development programming with measurable outcomes needs to shift to the leadership team, with a strong emphasis on frontline coaches. Businesses have forever tracked financial information with amazing accuracy. They have learned to track client buying patterns, market trends, inventory turn, price trends, and so much more, all with the understanding that with accurate information outcomes can be affected. Yet it is ludicrous to think that nobody has any measurable data on the role that has the biggest impact on the performance of individuals and teams—the frontline coaches.
Coaching Quantity and Coaching Quality
Of all the tasks and duties that a coach can perform in a week, month, or year (and there are many), these four are the most important.
- One-to-one meetings—consistent, structured, individual meetings with your team members
- Team meetings—consistent, structured meetings with everyone on your team
- Performance feedback—objectively documented analysis of an individual’s ability to demonstrate the key skills that are proven necessary to role success
- Career-development plans—individual sessions with team members to discuss, prepare, and document career growth
What is the right frequency? What should the agenda for an effective meeting look like? How do you use one-to-one meetings to push your team members into the high-performance zone while also strengthening the trust between you?
Let’s look at research-based best practices that may help you answer these questions.
One-to-one meeting frequency used by the best-performing coaches was actually every two or more weeks. More meetings don’t necessarily yield better results.
Many coaches still prefer weekly one-to-ones, feeling it is necessary to their regular communication with their team members. If you feel that way, ask yourself if this frequency is really helpful to your team members or if you’re simply doing it out of habit.
Ultimately, consider what’s best for your team members and what is most likely to help them.
Team members notice when a coach cancels their one-to-one meetings, and they judge the importance of these meetings and their value as a member of the team accordingly.
More importantly, a regular cadence ensures that you do not let several weeks go by without taking advantage of an activity that drives the productivity of the people you lead.
Set an agenda
To get the most value from your one-to-one meetings, you need to first fine-tune what you discuss during them. Shift the focus away from only talking about current projects and priorities. Don’t just ask for status updates on your team members’ work.
Focus on personal updates
Always begin your one-to-one meetings by asking your team members about what’s going on with them personally. This can be a simple check-in such as, “Hey, how was your weekend?” Or touch base on what they care about by asking, “How was your daughter’s soccer game?” Or try to connect with them about their hobbies or personal goals by asking, “How is your landscaping project coming along?”
Check in on long-term goals
If you want to ensure that your team members are taking action on long-term goals, you absolutely must ask about them regularly.
You may elect to ask your team members for only a verbal recap of follow-up. Or you may prefer for your team members to send you next steps in writing so it’s easier to refer to them later. Regardless of the method you choose, it is important that your team members define their own follow-up items so they are the ones who own them.
Embrace the one-to-one meeting
A one-to-one meeting may seem like a simple thing, but done well it can have a significant impact on your ability to maximize your team’s performance. Conduct these meetings to create regular and effective communication, to strengthen your trust relationship, to ensure tasks are being done consistently, to keep strategic goals on target, to coach how work is executed, and, most importantly, to challenge your team members to develop and grow. If you’re already doing one-to-one meetings, use these tweaks to increase their effectiveness. And if you’re not doing regular one-to-one meetings, start— so you don’t miss out on this important way to improve the performance of your team.
While you may have to experiment to figure out the right formula for you and your team, we have some recommendations that should provide you with a good starting point for improving your team meetings.
Evaluate the frequency of team meetings
Perhaps once a month you can make your team meetings more extensive and educational, and then you can use short, weekly huddles to update your team members on critical information.
When you are considering the right frequency for your team meetings, think about what you are trying to accomplish with them.
Review the team meeting agenda
The reason for creating a more interactive team meeting agenda is pretty simple: if team members are asked to take a role in the meeting, they enjoy the meeting more and find that it provides information that is more valuable to them.
- Start your meeting by discussing progress toward goals
- Best practices should be shared among team members
- Give your team members time to share questions and solutions
- Share your own development topic
- Share with your team any information, person, exercise, or content that can improve their skills, motivation, or performance.
- End the meeting by recognizing success
- Rely on and look forward to team meetings
Team meetings present a great opportunity to build camaraderie, communication, and education for your team. However, these meetings must be done well in order to have the desired impact. It’s important to remember that how information is discussed and presented is as important as what information is discussed and presented. If you drive interaction, conversation, and shared ideas during team meetings, your team members will see them as one of the best parts of being on your team.
Dr. Peter Jensen lists Four Rules of Feedback that offer good guidance on how to facilitate an effective conversation with your team members.
Be specific rather than general
If they can’t get a picture in their mind of how their actions should look different, the feedback conversation probably hasn’t led to suggestions that are specific enough.
Describe their behavior rather than evaluate it
The quickest way to put a team member on the defensive when giving feedback is to place judgment on their performance. For example, rather than saying, “Your strategy doesn’t seem well thought out,” instead say, “As I read your strategy, I noticed it didn’t contain certain elements.”
Focus on behavior rather than the person
Instead of telling a team member who works in customer service that they need to be a “more helpful person” or that they should “care more about customers,” you can coach them to follow a new process for dealing with customer complaints. It’s easier for them to feel like they can change a current approach or behavior rather than who they are.
Maintain the relationship rather than self-indulging
It feels good to show off our knowledge. But when we are more focused on proving to our team members how smart we are, we are not focused on helping them learn and improve. Focus on the other person, their behaviors, their experiences, and how they can develop and grow. They will appreciate you giving them smart feedback
QUESTIONS: THE SECRET WEAPON OF EFFECTIVE FEEDBACK
If there’s one piece of advice for coaches who want to improve their feedback, it would be to ask more questions.
Questions increase engagement.
People tend to learn better when they are engaging in the conversation. And there’s no better way to help someone engage than to ask them questions.
Questions promote self-discovery.
By asking your team members questions, you are helping them learn how to evaluate their own performance. This allows them to self-identify the areas where they feel they can improve.
Be mindful of tone.
If you tend to be a very direct or matter-of-fact communicator, your questions could be perceived as aggressive. You don’t want to put people on the defensive, so be careful not to make your questions seem like a cross-examination in which you are trying to get the other person to slip up.
USE FEEDBACK TO DRIVE GROWTH
Best coaches deliver effective feedback because by giving good feedback, they are essentially facilitating a learning experience for someone else. And the only way people can actually improve is to first learn a new or different way from what they are currently doing.
As a coach who is trying to help others grow, challenge yourself to create at least one aha moment every time you give feedback. Your team members should always leave a feedback conversation with valuable information they didn’t have when they began it: they should have learned something about themselves or their work; they should have a new idea or strategy they want to try. This is what makes your feedback truly a gift to your team
CREATE A CAREER-DEVELOPMENT PLAN
During the discussion, your goal is to work with your team member to identify at least one, but no more than three, priorities they’d like to pursue over the next year to develop their career. Although numerous ideas will likely come up in the course of your conversation, you want to help them focus on the ideas that are most important to achieving their goals. Pursuing too many development priorities at once makes it less likely that they will be able to achieve any of them.
If you and your team member are struggling to come up with specific ideas to pursue, consider making the following suggestions:
- Take part in a company task force or special team assignments
- Lead a team initiative
- Train with other departments or divisions
- Attend external training courses
- Leading team meetings
- Become the team expert on a particular topic
At the conclusion of the career discussion, it is important to have clearly defined follow-up steps with your team member. These follow-up steps should include your team member’s creation of a written career-development plan and identification of how often the two of you will assess progress against this plan.
CHALLENGE YOUR TEAM TO GROW
The career-development activity should be challenging them to learn and work outside the areas they already know well. They may feel some trepidation or nervousness about tackling the opportunities on their plan—that’s to be expected. Frankly, if they’re not at least a little uncertain about how and if they will be able to develop themselves in this area, they’re probably not really pursuing a stretch opportunity.
As their coach, you need to be the one to challenge your team into Complexity. You cannot define their career interests, goals, or needs, but you can help motivate them to pursue them. In this process, your role is to be a catalyst for your team members. You do this by asking them interesting questions that stimulate their thinking. You do this by helping them identify growth opportunities they are currently not pursuing. And you do this by holding them accountable to executing the plans they put in place. Under your coaching, career development no longer will feel optional. It will feel like a vital part of their success, both now and into the future.