This past Wednesday, I had the pleasure of attending another Leadership Training For Managers program. This one was in Session 3. The topic of discussion was the Performance Results Description document, and coaching team members to reaching their performance standards.

The discussion eventually turned to the negative effects coaching can have on performance and an example was cited to reinforce the idea.

See if you can identify with this scenario

A staff person was responsible for meeting a performance standard (so many units per day of throughput) and a quality standard (so many rejected pieces per thousand). The quality standard was set high such that the person needed reject rate of less than 0.00001% (about 1 failure out of every 100K pieces).

One day, the staff person missed the quality standard and his manager coached him on his mistake. After the passage of a year, management discovered that this particular person’s throughput had steadily dropped over the year.

The reason? Our staff person had become extremely careful not to let any failures through, so he checked and double-checked everything, reducing his throughput.

Therefore, the argument was that coaching produced a negative result and maybe we should be careful about coaching.

Coaching vs Feedback

When I think about coaching, I remember what one of my NLP trainers told me. He said that if you look up the word coach in any dictionary, you will find that the definitions typically include some version of transporting people from point a to point b, as in a Prevost Coach.

He defined coaching in a similar manner, as helping people get from where they are, their point a or “as is”, to where they want to be, their point b or “should be”.

Feedback, on the other hand, is returning part of the output of a system back to the input in such a way that will affect the system’s output. I guess this applies to human behavioral systems as well (sorry, my systems training is coming out).

Feedback is not coaching, but it is a tool used by the coach.

If you’ve ever participated in any type of organized sports and had a team coach, you’ll noticed that they probably started with asking you what you wanted to achieve.

They helped you define a path to get you from your “as is” to your “should be”, identified some of your available resources as well as the more obvious obstacles, and set up ways to overcome those obstacles.

Afterwards they followed up with reminders of your target and the fact that you said that you wanted to achieve this target.

Then they provided you with feedback of your accomplishments, your milestones and your goals in addition to whether or not you were getting closer to your target.

Of course, they also provide their own version of “special encouragement”.

Most of the time, when we speak about coaching, what we are actually talking about is providing feedback on the ways that a person can improve. We say, “Look at where you want to be and look at where you are. You currently don’t have what it takes to get there. Go out and get it so you can get to where you want to go.”

Rarely do we employ a coaching process where we start with identifying where a person wants to go and identifying where they are starting.

Rarely do we say, “Look at where you were and where you are now. Look at all of the resources you acquired in the process to get you from there to here. What else can you do with those resources and how can they help you get closer to where you want to be?”

When coaching your direct reports, or sports team members, remember to:

  • Identify what the person wants by asking questions and listening to their responses.

  • Begin with praise and honest appreciation. They deserve some recognition for taking on the challenge.

  • Praise the slightest improvement and every improvement that a person makes in moving closer to their target.

  • Make the difference from “where they currently are” to “where they want to be” seem easy to overcome.

In your next coaching session with one of your direct reports, use these 4 ideas in the process and notice the difference it makes over what you’ve gotten in the past.