Category Archives: Coaching Skills

You Decide

“You decide,” I said. “You decide what you want to improve on.”

The class had just completed a survey, looking at strengths and weaknesses.

“You decide, if you would like to focus on and improve an area of weakness. Or you may decide to focus on and improve an area of strength.

“Correcting a weakness only creates a mediocre performance. Building on a strength creates mastery. You decide what you want to improve upon.”

Negative Feedback

“I don’t think it’s me,” Marion repeated.

“You are angry at the person who gave you the negative feedback and you would like to ignore the feedback,” I confirmed.

“Besides, even it were true about me, I can’t change, that’s just not me. I couldn’t do it. Out of the question. I don’t see how anyone could do that.”

I looked at Marion. Without a word. Silence.

“But if you could change, what would you do first?” I asked.

Five Questions

Stephanie got quiet. “I coach. That’s what I do. But, how do I do what I do?”

“That’s a recursive question,” I said.

“I mean, I think I coach. But, it’s intuitive. I don’t know if I know how to coach. Maybe it’s something I do, but is there a method?”

“Just ask these five questions.”

  • What did we expect?
  • What did we do well?
  • What went wrong?
  • What can we do to prevent that next time?
  • When will we meet again?

Moving Levels of Performance

“I think we covered this before,” Stephanie chuckled. “I always seem to drop back to training, more training. If I see something I don’t like, the answer is more training. But training doesn’t seem to move the needle anymore.”

“Think about it this way,” I suggested, “if training is something that happens before the behavior we want, and gets the team to a minimum level of performance, then why doesn’t more training move the needle?”

Stephanie paused. “To move the needle is only going to come with practice. Training only tells the team what to do, in what sequence. Training doesn’t observe their behavior, watch their repetition, suggest small changes in method, drill them with more repetition.”

“Stop!” I said. “Listen to your description. Observe behavior, watch repetition, suggest small changes. Does that sound like training?”

Stephanie’s chuckle turned to laughter. “No. Training gets the team to a minimum level of performance. Observing behavior, watching repetition, suggesting small changes is coaching. Higher levels of performance don’t come with training. Higher levels of performance come with coaching.”

Mama Told Me

“My mother taught me that if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself,” proclaimed Judith, repeating the sage advice she learned in her youth.

“Interesting,” I replied. “Why do you think your mother said that?”

“Well, people just never do things the way we expect them to be done.”

“And, why is that?” I wanted to know. “Why do you think they might miss the quality standard?”

“I don’t know,” Judith replied. “I tell ’em what to do, they just fall short.”

“Did you explain what the project should look like when it’s done?” I pressed.

Judith paused. “I just told them to get it done.”

“So you told them what to do, but not how well or by when?”

“Shoudn’t they be able to figure that out?” Judith sighed.

“I assume they did figure it out, it’s just what they figured is different than what you figured. Didn’t your mother also tell you if you don’t like what’s for dinner, you should say something sooner?”

Change or Shift?

“Look,” I said, “if you want to fire this guy, or just cut him off at the knees, you don’t need this. Do this, only if you want to see him correct the misbehavior. Otherwise, just fire him and get it over with. You don’t need me for that.”

“I just don’t see any other way,” Alice stated flatly. “I gave Barry a list of about 15 things he needs to change if he wants to stay on the team.”

“What about the other five that didn’t make the list?” I grinned.

“You’re right, I guess I was piling on.”

“Look, if the solution seems difficult,” my grin disappeared, “what is the likelihood that Barry is going to jump in and make everything right?”

“Not much,” Alice replied.

“If you want to raise the probability that Barry will actually change his behavior, he has to truly believe that the solution will be easy for him. You have to break it down to its simplest terms so he can understand that we are not asking him to scale Mount Everest.”

“So, I need to just pick one thing he needs to change?” Alice said, narrowing her list.

“Instead of asking Barry to change, why don’t we start by asking him to shift. Shift is a lot easier than change.”

Time to Step Up

“I am ready to throw up my hands. I have come up with eight ways to Sunday for our route technicians to do a better job on their service calls. I am ready to do a Flutie drop kick and just let them deal with it.” Russell commiserated, hoping I would be sympathetic.

“Well, I think it’s a good idea,” I said.

“What do you mean?” replied Russell, still looking for sympathy.

“I mean, I think you should call your technicians together and let them deal with it. Look, the problem isn’t that your ideas are bad; the problem is they are your ideas. If you want your technicians to do a better job on service calls, the ideas have to come from them.

“One of the biggest mistakes young managers make is thinking that you have to solve all the problems of the world. You don’t. Spread the burden. You will be surprised at how your technicians will step up to the plate.”

Leading Indicator

“They missed it again,” Isla complained. “The goal was very clear. Sometimes, the team gets close, but last month, dramatically disappointing.”

“We’re already two weeks into this month,” I nodded. “You’re the manager, what are you going to do?”

“The team better brace themselves for another speech,” she replied.

“And, how are you going to build this speech?” I asked.

“It’s pretty easy, I’m going to copy the speech from two months ago. Better get in gear, chin up, pay attention, focus.”

I waited. “Focus on what?” I finally said.

“The goal, of course. They know what the number should be,” insisted Isla.

“And, the goal comes at the end of the month, you don’t get your reports for two weeks. Isn’t it a little late by then?”

“I suppose I could get my reports out earlier,” Isla floated.

“Right now, you have a monthly number in mind, but by the time you get to the end of the month, no amount of effort will save you. And, yet, one week into each month, don’t you already know how the month will turn out?”

“You mean, like intuition?” Isla looked puzzled.

“Okay, let’s call it intuition. During the first week of each month, what is going on that gets your attention?” I wanted to know.

“You’re right. The number of sales appointments are always light during the first week, barely better the second week, improving by the third week, then crammed on the last week, right before we miss the target at the end of the month,” Isla’s eyes became distant, imagining the numbers in her head.

“So, in addition to measuring completed contracts at the end of the month,” I probed. “What would happen if you tracked sales appointments each week, while there is still time to impact closings at the end of the month?”

What Tone Do You Set?

What is more contagious than a positive attitude? A negative attitude, of course!

I always ask, “Think of one positive thing that has happened to you this past week.” Often, I receive blank stares, quizzical looks, some hard thinking going on there. Given another thirty seconds, most can finally come up with something. What makes this exercise so difficult?

A much easier question would have been, “What is the worst thing that happened to you this past week?” People never have trouble coming up with that one. They are happy to tell you about things not working out in their lives. Interesting that makes them so happy.

Thinking negative thoughts is largely an unconscious activity. People express negative thoughts without thinking. Idle gossip is rarely intentional, it just happens and those who get sucked into it are not even aware they are traveling in that direction.

As a manager, if you want to set a positive tone, you will have to challenge your team to think about positive things. The expression of positive thoughts is a conscious activity. It requires active thinking. It is work to think that way. Positive thoughts and positive expression only occur intentionally. As a manager, it is your responsibility to challenge your team to think this way.

Think of the tone it sets for the rest of the meeting/day/week?

Action First

“Sometimes, I feel like I am fighting an uphill battle,” Camella explained. “I call a meeting and describe what I want done. We go over all the details, but some just want to rain on the parade. They talk it down in the meeting so it has no chance when it makes it to manufacturing. I know I want to do the right thing and get buy in before we get started, but I feel like I am stalemated.”

“Have you ever reversed the process?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” said Camella, gaining curiosity.

“Sometimes, when I know the explanation is going to draw fire, I don’t explain. Sometimes, I just sweep people into action. Before anyone has a chance to protest or complain that something won’t work, we demonstrate that it will work. We don’t have to go through the whole process, just enough to warm the team up to the idea. Action first, then we debrief and go for buy-in, after they have proved to themselves that it will work.”