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What is Standing in the Way of Creating Partnerships to Improve Performance with Coaching?

(For individual use only, not to be reproduced or used in any way without permission)


By : Magella Sergerie, associate, Center For Coaching & Mentoring, Inc.

Fifteen years ago, I became involved in a project that was to become a way of managing performance for many organizations. My goal was to merge a "new" competency with a newly implemented program called "Performance Management" and bring this concept into the four walls of my Employer to replace the old "Annual Evaluation Program" utilized with all employees. The difference between the two approaches was tremendous: The Annual Evaluation was used to put in writing an employee?s accomplishments (work wise), and it was also used to determine a rating that would assist in deciding the salary increase allocated to this employee. The Annual Evaluation was focused on what was done in the past. The employee was told what was done well, not so well, and given direction for improvement in the upcoming year. Sometimes, the conclusion of this meeting was "good luck and talk to you next year!".

The new Performance Management Program needed to focus towards the future while giving some accountability and connection to both the supervisor and the employee. Each employee was asked to determine what he or she was doing well and what needed development while the supervisor was doing the same exercise with the employee in mind. They both had to determine how they would contribute to the Organization?s objectives for the upcoming year. After this part had been done, they were to unite in a meeting at the beginning of the fiscal year to discuss these objectives and how they would accomplish the tasks ahead.

The supervisor?s goal would be to locate an answer of the following questions:

What are we going to do?

What are our goals for the next fiscal year?

This was the first step of this new process. During the year, employees and supervisors were requested to have follow-up discussion(s) with the following questions in mind:

How are we doing?

Are we accomplishing our goals ? where are the areas for improvement?

This involved both parties into a new kind of discussion aimed at improving performance in order to achieve their objectives. During these discussions, the supervisor was expected to use a new competency called "coaching." This new competency was aimed at assisting employee development in the areas identified at the beginning of the year (during the first step of the process), as well as, looking for ways to meet the objectives agreed upon by the employee (often linked together). This second step of the process relied mostly on this new competency and training was available to help supervisors and employees develop the required coaching skills.

The third step of the process was a final discussion between the employee and the supervisor to put into writing the answer to the questions:

How did we do?

Did we accomplish our goals ? where did we come up short?

If the supervisor had done his or her second step regularly and used coaching discussions effectively, it became very easy to determine what should be going onto this final document for the year. It was also easy to determine what would be the answer to the question of the first step (What are our goals for the next fiscal year?) for the following year. This was an ongoing process and it was helpful to support the continuous improvement initiative present in the organizations at the time. There are a few things learned as we started using the "new" skill and the "Performance Management" Program. I have titled them: The 3M's Standing in the Way of an Effective Coaching Based Performance System: Misunderstanding, Misuse and Misleading.

Misunderstanding because a large number of supervisors and employees still believed that Performance Management was just another name for what had been done in the past (Annual Evaluation). They were convinced this meant they only had to use a different form now. Therefore, the discussions were still done in a top-down kind of way i.e.: Here is what you are not doing well and here is what you will do to improve it. Now, go to it! Great for helping employees and developing partnerships?Right!

Misuse because the individual using coaching did not want to help the employee. The important thing in his or her mind was to ensure the results were achieved. If that meant pushing employees to get what was needed, we were doing it. In fact, some supervisors used this approach long enough to get a promotion out of it. Someone else had to deal with the outcome later! These supervisors believed it was coaching?? It often sounded like the ineffective coach in professional sports i.e.: The basketball coach says to the players that he wants to see a score of 42 rather than 27 on the scoreboard at the end of the game in order to win?. At all costs. When a player asked for help on how to do that, the answer was: I don?t care how you do it, just do it!

Misleading because we have used the word "coaching" in so many ways that employees and supervisors believed that it was just another way to get all the juice out of employees in order to satisfy the shareholder regardless of the impact it had on human beings and ultimately the organization. Many training interventions have been developed to meet the different needs of the organizations with the existing workforce, as well as the new employees that were not part of the "baby boomers" category, and had other values when coming to work. Unfortunately, coaching was used to describe many different things and it was hard to be clear about it. Often, the word "coach" and "mentor" were interchanged. The boss became the coach. Some organizations even allocated a specific amount of time to do coaching on a regular basis. The coach was not always the supervisor or vice versa. Some advocated that coaching was a skill needed by the boss, and others seemed to believe that coaching was more a process that could be done by someone else other than the boss. Coaching was a process delivered to a group of employees informally rather than individually. Coach was the new title for a supervisor. Executive coaching was becoming the "in" thing. Coaching Associations and even a Coach University appeared, as it became a growing demand at all levels of organizations. What about the employees, or the "coachees"? Who would they consider an effective coach? What was their definition of coaching? One thing we know for sure (based on different surveys through the years) is that employees need and want effective coaching on a regular basis.

Developing a partnership between employees and supervisors to help improve the performance of human resources within the organization is the primary objective of coaching. The outcome is better performing employees producing better results for the organization. The better results are an outcome of the partnerships developed, and effective coaching is the process used to develop that kind of relationship. I am not debating the fact that shareholders need results, I am simply suggesting that the results achieved as an outcome of an effective coaching relationship is long lasting and much more appealing to employees in today?s organizations. It may even be an important strategy for the challenge faced by organizations with regards to keeping and attracting employees. Based on the last two decades spent with thousands of supervisors at all levels in different organizations, I have often heard the following sentence from employees: "Walk the talk" and I will commit to doing everything I possibly can to improve my performance. Perhaps it is time to take leadership to a new level in order to achieve the goals of the employees, supervisors, organizations and ultimately the shareholders.

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Contact Matt Starcevich at matt@coachingandmentoring.com
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