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Managers Under Siege? Try Coaching Solutions

by Jennifer McCoy

Pity the manager or beleaguered team leader these days! Research surveys and productivity reports consistently lay the blame on them for everything - from standards of employee engagement to staff turnover to low productivity.

Now they are also being blamed for, potentially, causing a slow recovery from the economic downturn. before it has happened! And why? Because a lack of good management might mean staff will not engage and make commitment to business recovery.

Are the criticisms justified? Probably - disaffected employees usually claim poor management as the chief cause. But what do they mean by that?


Here’s what 2,400 employees, 40% Australians, said they hate at their workplace, from their ‘boss’:

  • Under-performing co-workers getting all the attention without accountability
  • Feeling unappreciated
  • Insufficient communication: not knowing what is going on and not being listened to
  • Being micro-managed – not trusted or respected for skills and expertise
  • A lack of support – little feedback, coaching or encouragement

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Rephrased in the positive, staff want to know where they are going; they want to be allowed to ‘have a say’, to be respected for their skill and contributions, and given feedback on their performance. Put like this their requirements sound reasonable, don’t they?

However, given the pressures of work, managers and team leaders usually want something tangible and immediate.  They need strategies, even the words to use, and a coaching system does that.

Hopefully there are few managers who hold to the beliefs of this CEO who declared to his management team: "It’s not my job to build on your strengths. It is my job to identify your weaknesses and make sure you develop them." His managers were divided, unsupportive of each other, and managed their staff in a similar manner. The workplace was secretive; blame and defensiveness went hand in hand, and staff turnover was high at every level.

The case for coaching at work

At its heart, coaching is about respecting people; valuing the contributions they make; working with them to ensure they can meet work commitments. Coaching means acknowledging the strengths people bring to a job and helping them to overcome weaknesses, whether by support, encouragement or training. Coaching also means holding people accountable for the responsibilities they accept.

Coaching works within a framework: a discussion leads to agreement on a goal, a timeframe and a plan of action; commitment must then be made to their achievement. Whilst achievements are applauded, failure to keep commitments must be met with logical consequences and these too can be spelled out.

Coaching skills are designed to build relationships, and used to assist people to achieve goals they agree are worthwhile. In a workplace this surely means staff can feel appreciated, involved and supported, accountable for their actions.

While the formal structure of a coaching system might appear only slightly different to a traditional performance review, where achievements are reviewed and plans documented, in practice the process is very different. That difference lies in the coaching skills the manager or team leader uses in working with an employee.

The manager becomes a leader/coach, replacing a directive management style with a leader/coach style: asking questions, discussing options and negotiating goals and action plans. A leader/coach works with an employee

  • building a trusting relationship
  • discussing individual goals: taking into account work needs as well as personal strengths and skill needs
  • encouraging initiative and resilience by allowing them to solve their own problems
  • negotiating a realistic plan of action to achieve those work goals
  • following through consistently: to support and applaud achievement
  • making sure non-performance is managed: coaching is not a soft option

 Five strategies

  • Take time to consider each of your staff members and write down something positive about each person
  • Ask each person to consider what they want to achieve at work and what they need to get there
  • Discuss just one goal with each team member and ask questions to see how they think they could achieve it and by when. Ask for an Action Plan.
  • Whenever a staff member comes to you with a problem ask: "What do you think might be a solution?" or "How far have you got with finding a solution?".
  • Make sure you follow through – praise achievement and manage non-performance.

See also:

Watson Wyatt. 2009. Looking towards recovery. Realigning rewards, and re-engaging employees. Read and download Watson Wyatt. Communication ROI Study 2009-2010. Read and downloadAdonis, James. Employee Enragement. Why people hate working for you. Read moreWhat's Happening in Workplaces Read more