Once the learner/employee has learned the skills through the initial training, one might believe the job of training is complete.
Not so! The next phase of the training cycle is on-the-job coaching, an ongoing process generally performed by the learner’s manager or supervisor.
Peer coaching is also being used more frequently, particularly in team environments and especially within self-directed work teams.
Coaching is a continual process designed to help the learner/employee gain greater competence and overcome barriers to improving competency once he or she has the knowledge or skills to perform job tasks.
Coaching encourages people to do more than they ever imagined they could and is appropriate when the person has the ability and knowledge to do the job but is not meeting performance expectations.
- Have never been trained
Don’t value the time required to do it
Don’t have the patience
Think the employee can sink or swim
On-the-spot coaching takes place whenever an opportunity presents itself.
One of the inherent dangers of immediate, on-the-spot coaching is the supervisor’s natural tendency to take over and do the task for the employee instead of helping the worker learn to do it better. Let’s take computer training as an example.
An employee may be working independently with a new software program, having received formal OJT. At some point, the worker gets stuck, either forgetting something previously taught or being confronted with an unusual problem or application. When the employee asks the supervisor what to do, the supervisor says, “Move over and let me do it. I can do it quicker myself,” in stead of taking the time to coach the employee through the process.
As with OJT, before you begin on-the-job coaching you must be clear about your expectations.
Otherwise, you cannot communicate them to someone else. Specific performance standards are critical. If you want the learner/employee to answer the telephone within three rings, then you must be sure you have communicated those expectations clearly.
If you want the learner/employee to greet customers in a friendly manner, be specific as to what you want the employee to do or say.
Primary Feedback Topics:
- Specific behaviors
Positive aspects of performance
An effective coach must also be a good observer. Before you can give appropriate feedback to the learner/employee about his or her performance.
Observation should be an ongoing process. When you are observing an learner’s/employee’s performance, there may be many things going on, verbal as well as nonverbal, positive and negative.
It is neither possible nor desirable to focus on everything at once. Therefore, as you observe, think about three primary areas as the basis for the feedback discussion.
Focus on describing specific behavior – what the employee actually said or did – rather than a sweeping remark such as, “You are warm and friendly” or something widely judgmental like, “You come across as disorganized and unprepared.” Instead, say something like, “When a customer sits down to open a new account, you frequently fumble through several drawers before locating the necessary forms.”
Emphasize positive aspects of the employee’s performance as a way of reinforcing and encouraging that behavior to continue. For example, say, “When Mr. Smith shouted at you, you maintained good self-control and responded to him very professionally.”
Prioritize the behaviors the employee needs to improve. Too many areas for action at the same time will confuse the employee and dilute his or her efforts to improve specific work-related behavior. Focus on one or two issues at a time.
As you observe an learner’s/employee’s performance, be sure to document exactly what the person does or says.
Be as objective as possible, focusing on the person’s behavior and not on your reaction to it or your evaluation of it.
Preparing for the Formal Coaching Session
A formal coaching session is not something that just happens. It takes preparation and planning, sometimes even rehearsal.
Identify the Coaching Focus
The next step is to identify the behavior for which coaching is needed.
Compare the specific expectations or standards of competency to the employee’s current performance.
The gap between the desired and the actual performance levels is your coaching focus.
Determine the Cause of the Problem
Here is where a coach’s analytical skills are critical. The coach collect data and analyzes it, trying to determine preliminarily what might be causing the unsatisfactory performance. One or more of several possibilities may surface.
Unclear expectations: Does the learne/employee clearly understand what is expect of him or her?
External obstacles: Are there extenuating circumstances preventing the learner/employee from doing his or her best? Possibilities might include lack of resources, unrealistic parameters, or too many other responsibilities.
Lack of proper training: Has the learner/employee been given the skills or knowledge to do the job?
Lack of innate ability:
o Does the learner/employee have the ability to do the job?
o Do we have a duck when we really need a cat? Sometimes the problem is that we simply have someone in the wrong job.
At this point your analysis of the problem may be little more than educated speculation. You will verify your preliminary findings and assumptions during the actual coaching session by using your questioning, listening, and feedback skills to help the learner/employee increase the present level of performance.
To help you prepare further for the coaching session, ask yourself the following questions:
Does the learner/employee know my expectations? Be clear about what you want.
What obstacles are there to meeting those expectations?
Make sure the learner/employee has the training and resources to do the job.
Does the learner/employee have the ability to meet my expectations or standards of performance?
Be certain you have the right person in the right job.
Address the problem with the learner/employee
Spend time establishing rapport and clearly stating the purpose for the coaching session.
For example, after some friendly conversation you might say something like, “What I would like to discuss with you today is how I can help you be more effective in dealing with irate customers.”
Identify for the learner/employee the expectations or performance standards and how his or her work is not in line with them. You might state this in a way similar to the following model:
In my observation of your performance, I noticed that you …
State your perception of the problem using specific examples gathered from observation of actual performance.
I understand that it must be difficult for you to … but as you learned in your initial training …
Express empathy and understanding.
We expect you to …
Restate/clarify your expectations.
Measure performance in precise, objective terms.
State expectations clearly
Focus on the positive performance they want rather than the negative consequences
Ask open-ended questions
Listen actively to what the learner/employee says
Offer help as the learner/employee strives to improve