March 31, 2023 4 Min Read
Coach For Performance with Coach Teresa Muller
One of the more challenging conversations between a manager and their direct reports is the performance review. It tends to be formal, scripted and not frequent enough to have impact. A survey of human resource leaders found that 77% of them feel that annual reviews are not an accurate representation of an employee’s work. The preferred alternative is a performance coaching conversation.
Performance coaching is a management technique whereby a manager and employee engage in a series of conversations, one-on-one tutoring, and skill development in order to enhance employee performance and professional growth in the company. Performance coaching in the workplace borrows many of the best practices that work in physical or spiritual pursuits, where coaches work individually with people to help them cultivate the skills and performance levels that are essential to their success.
Coaching for performance is the process of helping individuals identify their strengths and areas for improvement to achieve their goals. It uses workplace data and feedback to help them move towards improvement. The first step is to establish the current state of performance. The leader in this coaching role should know if clear expectations were set and understood. If they were not, then it’s likely the individual is acting on their perception of priorities or goals. Alignment on expectations is a precondition for any coaching that follows.
As the leader/coach collects data and other feedback on performance, a balanced perspective is needed – neither over emphasizing the shortfalls nor the accomplishments. The data keeps this objective, not subjective, and focused on the work and not the person. With the desired state established through expectation setting, and with the current state established through the data, the gap between current and desired performance, creates the performance coaching opportunity.
The next step is to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the team member to identify areas that need improvement. The assessment will help the leader tailor their coaching approach and identify areas of focus. Strengths and over performance can be celebrated and recognized. Weaknesses require a root cause analysis.
Can Do And Will Do
Imagine a graph with two axes. The vertical axis represents and ranks the individual’s desire or willingness to perform the task or act in a certain way. The horizontal axis ranks the job knowledge or skills required to perform the task. Both are ranked from low to high. When coaching for performance, you will want to know where your team member sits in this graph, because it will dictate your approach to guiding and supporting them.
The easiest situation is one where the individual is high on skill and high on motivation. This is a case where performance goals are most likely met or exceeded. The best coaching response is to step back, and delegate continued success to that person. In situations where the performance gap described above exists, it is helpful to know if the person has the skills but just isn’t motivated, or if they really want to succeed but are held back by a lack of skills or resources. How do you make this diagnosis? Conversation and observation provide the needed data.
The coaching leader needs to invest time getting to know team members and what motivates them, while observing their work and how they do it. A trust-based relationship opens the door to sharing frustrations, desires, and blockers. This allows the coach to flex in their coaching style. Here are four possible states of performance based on the “can do – will do” framework. In each case the role of the leader in performance coaching is to flex and adjust their leadership style according to need.
Flex Your Style
A frequent root cause of a performance issue is that the individual has a high level of desire to perform well but lacks the skills or knowledge. A new employee is the classic example. In this case, training is called for to get the skills up to where they need to be. A second example, most recently experienced in virtual work environments, is when a motivated and skilled employee is having trouble because their workspace isn’t conducive to getting the job done. Providing the tools to improve the work environment might be called for.
Someone who is highly skilled but has no desire to do a good job might be burnt-out or in need of change in order to re-motivate them. Lastly, the person and the job may be a bad fit. In this case a crucial conversation is needed to move this individual out of this role.
The Action Plan
Once the root cause of the performance problem is known, the action plan can be built. Ideally this is a two-way conversation, not a directive from the boss. Coaching for performance means providing the support – whether that is time, tools or resources, and the guidance to improve and close the gap. If the individual participates in the agreement on the action plan, they become accountable for the results. This action plan should be specific, measurable and time bound, and be monitored through regular check-ins on the progress being made.
Take A Holistic View
It is easy to assume that when we talk about performance, the output (the work) is under scrutiny and holds the most weight. However, the performance (or output) is an observable indicator of what is happening behind the scenes for the person doing the work. For example, often it is a lack of vision and purpose that influences performance – there is no clear direction and a lack of clarity around what is actually needed from the person. This leads a person to operate within a threat mindset as fear becomes the main driver due to confusion and a lack of certainty.
Coaching for performance aims to help create clarity and understanding, thus resolving the fear drive, allowing the brain to operate with a reward mindset. It is in this mindset that new behavior, creative thinking, and innovation can once again take place. It is from this stance that performance is able to improve.
Qualitative And Quantitative
This is important to keep in mind when coaching for performance. One way to create the reward mindset, is to have a positive trust-based relationship before a review or analysis of performance. It is about having a qualitative relationship so that quantitative data has an arena to be better received and understood.
It starts with the Leader as Coach having a strategy that involves building trust and rapport with the team member. The person as a whole needs to be taken into consideration. Your coaching skills are put to use in this space, asking the right questions, putting your own perceptions and needs aside to actively listen to the team member. Often a person is well aware of what they need, and would like extra focus and skill development, but without the right space to express this, that information is kept back or lost in miscommunication.
It is from a foundation of trust that difficult conversations are able to take place. Coaching for performance requires you as a leader to not only practice your skills of emotional intelligence, skill development, communication, and leadership, but also to have enough self-awareness that you too are learning in the process.
The payback for this investment is large. Unfair perceptions of performance reviews by employees dramatically raises their risk of quitting. According to one survey, 85% of employees are at risk for quitting due to an unfair performance review. The solution is to move away from the annual review and substitute an in the flow of work performance coaching conversation.
A Coach’s Perspective
If you feel you could improve your skills in coaching for performance, a TaskHuman coach is a resource at your fingertips.
Write down your questions that will form the foundation of a 1:1 conversation with a TaskHuman coach about the performance coaching process and building an action plan. Formulating your questions will make for a productive coaching conversation. Then, use the TaskHuman platform to connect with a coach – search by topic or name to book a call.
Book your session with Teresa Muller or another leadership coach today!