PERFORMANCE COACHING

THE OBJECTIVES OF PERFORMANCE COACHING

Coaching aims at developing employees in an organization, by the following.

1) Helping them to realise their potential as managers.

2) Helping them to understand themselves – their strengths and weaknesses

3) Providing them opportunity to acquire more insight into their behaviour and analyse the dynamics of such behaviour.

4) Helping them to have a better understanding of the environment.

5) Increasing their personal and interpersonal effectiveness by giving them feedback about their behaviour and assisting them in analysing their inter-personal competence.

6) Encouraging them to set goals for further improvement.

7) Encouraging them to generate alternatives for dealing with various problems.

8) Providing them empathic atmosphere for sharing and discussing tensions, conflicts, concerns and problems.

9) Helping them to develop various action plans for further improvement.

10) Helping them to review in a non-threatening way their progress in achieving various objectives.

11) Strengthening the dyadic relationship between the employee and his boss. 

A) INDIVIDUAL LEVEL REVIEW

The purpose of performance review is to help the employee grow and develop. Others can help him as quite often he may not be aware of his own strengths, just as he may be blind to his weaknesses. Those who continuously interact with the person can act as mirrors. However, such a feedback should be specific and purposeful. It serves three main purposes: (1) general improvement of the person, (2) improvement of his performance in specific tasks, and (3) identification and development of his potential for higher level responsibilities.

  1. General Improvement : Feedback for the general improvement of an employee is a continuous process. It occurs either inside or outside the organisation through colleagues, friends, subordinates, family members, etc. Within the organisation, people who work closely can be instrumental in helping the employee continuously assess the impact he is making on people and the environment. Such an assessment would help him to understand his own characteristics and develop as a mature person. No formal system can help in such a continuous interpersonal feedback. However, it can be facilitated through an open climate, a climate of psychological security, and positive attitudes towards one another in the organisation.
  2. Improved Performance: While the senior officer help their subordinates to perform gains. Usually, managers guide their subordinates more in relation to specific, immediate task-related problems rather than on other aspects of behaviour. For example, whenever a subordinate faces a problem, his officer may give a solution for that particular problem. Merely providing the solution to a problem does not amount to giving feedback. This will not necessarily help the employee to develop the ability to solve future problems by himself. This ability to solve problems by himself can be developed through continuous education.

The formal appraisal system is another mechanism of giving feedback discussion. In such a formal system, the tasks are set much in advance. The qualities on which the individual is going to be rated are also identified in advance. At the end of a specified period of time, both the individual and his senior officer sit together for performance review. Feedback is a critical factor in such a review. In the performance review, the individual points out his own accomplishments in relation to the objectives decided upon. He may also identify the factors that have helped him in achieving whatever he could achieve, and the factors that prevented him from doing better. The individual may also highlight the qualities he has shown in that particular period. After he presents his own assessment, his senior officer tries to help him analyse his own performance in greater depth. He might add a number of other factors which have helped him to achieve whatever he has achieved, and a number of other factors that prevented him from doing better. The senior officer may also focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the appraises. He might also point out the consistencies or inconsistencies of behaviour he observed in the employee. Both the manager and his employee jointly identify the developmental needs and ways of meeting the needs.

  1. Potential Development of the Employee: Employees develop their potential if they are aware of the opportunities in the organisation and also of the mechanisms for developing this potential. Some organisations use mechanisms to appraise the potential of an employee. Usually, data are collected about all the employees whose potential is being assessed. It may be useful to give feedback to the employee on such data. Feedback on potential assessment would help the employee to understand his strengths and weaknesses, and help him to modify his career plans accordingly. If the employee has no opportunity to explore the feedback further, it is likely to demoralise him. Since emotions are involved here, it should be handled delicately. Such review should better be done either by one whom the employee trusts, or by an outside expert who has used objective measures of assessing the potential, or by a group of people from the top management who have a broader perspective and who can coach the employee. The officers one or two levels above the employee can give such feedback, either formally or informally, after a system of potential appraisal has been introduced in the organisation. In such a review with the employee, they would have with them the employee’s ratings and other data on his potential. The following points may be kept in mind in the potential appraisal review of the employees.

a) The employee should be given the source of feedback;

b) The employee should be told the limits of the feedback;

c) The employee should be helped to view alternative career opportunities;

d) Before giving such feedback, it should be ensured that the employee believes that there are opportunities to develop his potential and that human behaviour is dynamic and changeable; and

e) While giving the feedback, the relationship of the employee with others who work with him should also be kept in mind.

B) FEEDBACK TO GROUPS OR TEAMS

Feedback needs to be given to a group of people who constitute a small unit or a department within a large organisation. It may help the group to grow and develop as such. Feedback to groups is generally useful in terms of the process mechanisms operating in the group, like decision-making styles, collaborative orientation of the group with other groups, delegation, supervisory styles, morale, etc. Feedbacks can be given either by the organisational leader or through an external agent using the research and surveys. Mechanisms of giving group feedback using survey research are described in the section on research and organisation development. 

CONDITIONS FOR EFFECTIVE COACHING

Coaching is a means and not an end in itself. Development does not occur just because there is coaching. Coaching could be an effective instrument in helping people integrate with their organisations and have a sense of involvement and satisfaction.

The following conditions are necessary for coaching to be effective:

1) General Climate of Openness and Mutuality

If the organisation or department in which the employee is working is full of tension, and people do not trust each other, coaching cannot be effective. A climate of minimum trust and openness is essential for effective coaching.

2) General Helpful and Empathic Attitude of Management

Coaching involves effective helping, which is not possible unless the coach has a general helping attitude and has empathy for the counselled.

3) Uninhibited Participation by the Subordinates in the Review Process

Unless the subordinates in a department or organisation feel free enough to participate without inhibition in the process of review and feedback, coaching cannot be effective. Coaching is not a one-way process of communicating to the employee what he should or should not do. It is a process of developing a dialogue which eventually contributes to a better understanding on the part of the counsellee.

4) Dialogic Relationship in Goal Setting and Performance Review

Performance coaching focuses on the counsellee’s achievement of the performance goals set in consultation with his manager. Joint participation by the employee and his reporting officer is necessary both in goal-setting and performance review. Without such collaborative effort, coaching cannot achieve its purpose.

5) Focus on Work-oriented Behaviour

The main purpose of performance coaching is to help the employee to improve his performance. Coaching can be effective if the focus is kept on the work-related goals rather than on diffusing attention into various other areas. While doing so, discussion may involve other related and personal issues, but these are used to refocus on improvement on organisation roles rather than on personal or general personality problems.

6) Focus on Work-related Problems and Difficulties

Performance coaching is not only related to the achievement of goals, but also to the contextual problems in achieving or not achieving the goals. Analysis of performance therefore becomes the basis of coaching.

7) Avoidance of Discussion of Salary and other Rewards

Performance coaching may not serve its purpose if it includes discussion about salary raise, rewards, etc. The main purpose of performance coaching is to use performance appraisal in planning and improvement of the employee, rather than in understanding the relationship between performance and rewards like salary, etc. Bringing such discussion in the performance coaching may vitiate the main purpose of coaching. 

THE PROCESS OF COACHING

Coaching is given by one who is senior to the person, receiving the help in competence, knowledge, psychological expertise, or in the hierarchical position in an organisation. There are three main processes involved in coaching – Communication, Influencing and Helping. The coach essentially communicates with the employee. Communication involves receiving messages (listening), giving messages (responding), and giving feedback. The person who provides coaching does all the three things. Coaching also involves influencing the counsellee in several ways. The manager cannot deny the fact that he is influencing his employee in such a way that the latter is able to move in some direction. However, this influence is of a special that is, enabling the other person to exercise more autonomy, providing positive reinforcement so that desirable behaviour is further strengthened, and creating conditions in which the person is able to learn from the behaviour of the coach through the process of identification. The third element in the process, i.e., helping, also functions in a similar way. It involves three different elements. Firstly, helping behaviour is based on the concern and empathy the coach has for his counselee. Secondly, it is also based on the mutuality of relationship; the counselee responds as much to the coach’s needs as the latter does to the former’s. Finally, helping primarily involves identification of developmental needs of the counselee so that he may be able to develop and increase his effectiveness. This dynamic process of coaching is shown in Figure 1. 

Figure 1 : The Process of Coaching

COACHING PROCESS1

 

The various elements of the process is explained in more detail below.

1) COMMUNICATION

Interpersonal communication is the basis of performance review in which both the employee and his reporting officer are involved. Such a conversation in performance review should be congenial, which may help the employee to be in a receptive mood. It is important to keep in mind that communication is greatly influenced by how problems and issues are perceived by the two persons involved in the conversation. It may get distorted if people are not empathic to each other and do not try to understand each others’ point of view. Non-verbal communication is as important as verbal communication. People speak much more through their gestures and postures than through words. The tone and manner of speaking is also important. There are three main elements in communication. 

Listening: Listening is the first effective step in communication. Listening involves paying attention to the various messages being sent by the other person. The obvious message is the ideas being communicated (cognitive message). But there may be hidden feelings and concerns which the other person may not be able to put clearly in words. Listening to feelings and concerns is very important for effective coaching. This involves skills which can be practised. Some exercises can be used to improve listening of such hidden messages (Rao and Pareek, 1978).

Asking Questions and Responding: Questions can facilitate or hinder the process of communication. They can serve several purposes: they can help in getting more information, establishing mutuality, clarifying matters, stimulating thinking. Questions play a very important role in coaching. Some questions can shut off the employee, or make him dependent on the coach, while some others can build the autonomy of the employee. Obviously, the latter will be helpful, and not the former.

Questions that do not Help: The following types of questions are not only unhelpful, but they also hinder the process of effective coaching:

a) Critical questions: Questions which are used to criticise, reprimand or doubt the counsellee, create a gap between him and the counsellor. The way the question is asked (skeptical or sarcastic tone) may indicate that the question is a critical one. The choice of words may also indicate the critical nature of the question. “Why did you fail to achieve your targets?” communicates criticism, whereas “Why could you not attain your targets?” would normally communicate an invitation to examine hindering factors. “How did you again fall short of your target?” is a reprimanding question. “How can you achieve this target since you failed last time?” indicates doubt in the ability of the employee. All such critical questions either shut off the counsellee or make him diffident.

b) Testing questions: Questions that are asked to find out whether a person is right or wrong, or how much he knows, are evaluating or testing questions. Such questions may tend to put the other person on the defensive. In a testing question, the person asking the question takes a superior attitude, while the other person is put in a kind of witness box. Such questions may also take the form of a crossexamination. A reporting officer who proposes to find out why his employee was not able to meet his target can easily slip into a cross-examination, testing or evaluating posture. Again, the tone of the interviewer may determine whether the question is a testing question. Such questions are sometimes similar to critical questions.

c) Resenting questions: A person may ask questions to indicate his resentment of the behaviour of the other person. When an employee in a coaching situation asks: “How should I attain a higher target?”, it may indicate his resentment depending on the tone in which such a question is asked.

d) Leading questions: Quite often unknowingly, the questions asked indicate what kind of answers are wanted and such answers are actually received. Such a question may be asked after making a statement. For example, a reporting officer may say to his employee: “You could not attain the target because maintenance department did not cooperate. Is that true?”, or it may be put in the question form: “Were you not able to attain the target because the maintenance department did not cooperate?” Both are leading questions. A leading question almost seduces the other person to go along the line of thinking of the one who asks the question. This tends to stop further exploration and is not helpful.

Questions that are Helpful: The following types of questions may be of help in developing a more healthy relationship and in increasing the effectiveness of the other person.

a) Trusting questions: Questions which are asked to that the questioner is seeking help or suggestions may indicate the trust he has in the other person. The question “How do you think I can deal with the problem I am facing?” is seeking help from the other person. Such questions may be asked both by the employee and the supervisor.

b) Clarifying questions: Questions may be asked to collect information, more facts and figures. Such questions are very helpful. If a coach asks his employee several questions to help him to get more information about various aspects, the employee, in turn, would provide him with relevant information to understand his problems. After listening to a person for some time, the coach may paraphrase the counsellee’s statement (also called mirroring), and then he may ask a question to confirm whether his understanding is correct. For example, the question, “Are you worried about your lack of knowledge of the new system?” is a clarifying question. A clarifying question helps the manager and the employee to remain at the same level throughout the conversation.

c) Empathic questions: Questions about the feelings of a person, his concern, his problem, not so much for finding solutions as to indicate and express concern, may be classified as empathic questions. When a manager asks an employee: “How is your son feeling now?”, he is not merely seeking information, but in fact indicating his personal concern about the health of the employee’s son and thereby expressing empathy with the employee. Such questions help to generate more trust, and the necessary rapport with the employee. Empathic questions create a climate of mutual trust and human understanding.

d) Open questions: The most useful questions are those which stimulate reflection and thinking in the employee. “Why do you think we have not achieved the targets this year while the other company has?” is an open question inviting the other person to explore the various possible dimensions, and to share them with the person who is asking such a question. Open questions encourage creativity, and a tendency to explore several directions which might have been neglected so far. Such questions are very useful.

e) Responding to questions: Coaches sometimes use certain responses, some of which are useful and some dysfunctional. Some coaches may be using certain types of responses more often than others. It is necessary to be aware of this. Responses that alienate the employee, criticise him or order him, are more likely to be dysfunctional. Empathic, supportive, and exploring responses are more functional. Various verbal behaviours in a coaching situation that characterise these responses are shown in Exhibit 1.

Coach Responses

 FEEDBACK

Interpersonal feedback is an important input for increasing self awareness. It helps in reducing the blind area of a person, helping him to become more aware about his strengths and weaknesses. If properly used, it results in a higher mutuality between two persons. The process of interpersonal feedback, and conditions which make it effective, have been discussed in detail (Pareek, 1976). The following hints are reproduced from that source:

Feedback will be effective if the person giving feedback (coach) makes sure that it is:

  1. Descriptive and not evaluative;
  2. Focused on the behaviour of the person and not on the person himself;
  3. Data-based and specific and not impressionistic;
  4. Reinforces positive new behaviour;
  5. Suggestive and not prescriptive;
  6. Continuous;
  7. Mostly personal, giving data from one’s own experience;
  8. Need-based and solicited;
  9. Intended to help;
  10. Focused on modifiable behaviour;
  11. Satisfying the needs of both (giver and receiver of feedback)
  12. Checked and verified;
  13. Well timed; and
  14. Contributes to mutuality and building up of relationship.

From the point of view of the one who receives the feedback, it is necessary that the reaction to feedback is more in terms of exploring ways of improving behaviour rather than of defensive behaviour. The following defensive behaviour might not help in using feedback properly; (the behaviour which are opposite of these may be helpful)

1) Denying feedback as opposed to owning up responsibility for behaviour.

2) Rationalisation (explaining away feedback by giving reasons) as opposed to self-analysis to find why such behaviour was shown.

3) Projection (contributing negative feelings to the other persons) as opposed to empathy (trying to understand the point of view of the other persons).

4) Displacement (expressing negative feelings to one who may not fight back) as opposed to exploration (taking help of the other person in knowing more about the feedback given).

5) Quick acceptance without exploration as opposed to collecting more information and data to understand the behaviour.

6) Aggression towards the person giving feedback as opposed to seeking his help in understanding the feedback.

7) Humour and wit as opposed to concern for improvement.

8) Counter dependence (rejecting the authority) as opposed to listening carefully to the person giving feedback.

9) Cynicism (generally strong scepticism that things cannot improve) as opposed to a positive, critical attitude to accept some feedback and to question some other.

10) Generalisation (explaining things in a general way) as opposed to experimenting.

2) INFLUENCING

Influencing would mean making an impact on the person in relationship. Such impact need not necessarily be of a restrictive type. Influencing in coaching would involve the following three aspects:

a) Increasing Autonomy of the Person – Usually, influencing is understood only in the sense of restricting the autonomy of the person and directing him into channels which are predetermined by the person exerting influence. Positive influencing is the opposite of this; the autonomy of the other person is increased, and he has larger scope of making his own choice. Even this is influencing, but of a different kind. Flanders makes a distinction between the two modes of influence, viz., the direct mode of influence (which restricts the freedom of the other person), and the indirect mode of influence (which increases the freedom of the other person). Flanders has developed some categories to indicate the two modes. He classifies criticism and punishment in the first category, and encouraging a person in the second category of influence. The reason is obvious. When a person is criticised or punished, some actions for which he is criticised or punished are inhibited and the person avoids doing those in future. This restricts his freedom. On the other hand, if a person is praised or recognised, he feels encouraged to take more initiative in exploring new directions. This results in an increase in the field of his autonomy. In coaching, much more use is made of the indirect mode of influence, by recognising and expressing feelings, acknowledging and praising good ideas given by the counsellee, and raising questions which promote thinking and exploration.

b) Positive Reinforcement: It has been established by Skinner that change in behaviour cannot be brought about in human beings through punishment or negative reinforcement, but only through positive reinforcement. Influencing would involve providing encouragement and reinforcing success so that the person takes more initiative and is able to experiment with new ideas. Change cannot take place without experiment and risk taking. And these are encouraged through positive reinforcement.

c) Identification: One major influence which helps an employee to develop is the opportunity for him to identify himself with individuals having more experience, skill and influence. This is the first stage in the development of psycho-social maturity, or power motivation. This legitimate need should be fulfilled. Levinson states several barriers which may come in the way of such a legitimate process of identification: lack of time, intolerance for mistakes, complete rejection of dependency needs, repression of rivalry, and unexamined relationship. Levinson suggests that, to help the development of the process of identification it is necessary that the manager also examines his own process, and needs of interacting with the subordinates.

3) HELPING

Coaching is essentially helping. Helping involves several processes but the following three are mainly important.

a) Concern and Empathy: Without the manager’s concern for his employee, effective helping cannot be provided in a coaching session. Such concern is shown when the coach is able to feel for his subordinate and is able to empathise with him. This would be reflected in the kinds of questions asked and the tone in which the conversation takes place. Managers may constantly ask themselves how much concern and genuine empathy they have for the employees they are coaching. Without such genuine concern, coaching may only degenerate into a ritual and cannot achieve its goals.

b) Mutuality of Relationship: Coaching should not be regarded as merely giving help. It is also receiving help on various aspects. Unless such a relationship is established – i.e., both persons involved in the relationship feeling free to ask for and provide help to each other – coaching cannot be effective. Mutuality is based on trust and the genuine perception that each person has enough to contribute. Although the coach is in a superior position, he continues to learn and to receive help from the counsellee.

c) Identifying Developmental Needs: The main purpose of performance coaching is to identify the development needs of the employee which can be met through various ways. It is necessary that coaching results in clear and systematic identification of such needs and in subsequent plans as to how these needs will be fulfilled.

Sperry and Hess (1974) have advocated the use of contact coaching, which they defined as “the process by which the manager aids the employee in effective problem solving, and develop using the techniques or keying, responding and guiding.” Contact coaching is based on a transactional analysis approach and makes use of several skills already discussed. Keying refers to reading people. The supervisor uses an appropriate frame of reference to perceive what the employee means by his verbal and non-verbal responses. Responding concerns what the supervisor communicates back to the employee. What is learnt from keying is replayed in a manner which adds to, on subtracts from, the interchanges with the meaning the employee communicates. Guiding is the techniques the supervisor uses to motivate or help the employee to change his behaviour. The supervisor as motivator can increase the employee’s drive and direct it so that he accomplishes his objectives better.

Morrisey (1972) has suggested a few other techniques, such as a you-we technique, second-hand compliment, advice-request and summary. In the you-we technique, one uses you to compliment and we to criticise (“you are doing a great job, we have a problem”). The second-hand compliment is communicating to the subordinate a compliment for him received from a third party (Mr. Raman says that you have done an excellent job for him). The advice-request is asking the employee for suggestions and advice. Summarising at the end helps in clarifying the decisions taken and fixing the responsibilities and integrating the whole discussions. 

Values in the Helping Process: The central issue in a helping process relates to the values of the helper. The helping behaviour and strategies flow out of the basic stand he takes in relation to the client. Figure 2 gives in summary the dynamics of the helping process in value terms. The helper should ask himself/herself what values he/ she holds, and with what consequences. Okun (1976) has suggested that the following set of images of people is essential for an effective helping process:

1) People are responsible, and capable of making their own choices and decisions.

2) People are controlled to a certain extent by their environment, but they are able to direct their lives more than they realise. They always have choices and freedom, along with responsibility, even if they have restricted options due to environmental variables or inherent biological or personality predispositions.

3) Behaviours are purposive and goal-directed. People are continuously striving towards meeting their own needs, ranging from basic physiological needs to abstract self-actualisation ones (fulfilling physiological, psychological and aesthetic needs).

4) People want to feel good about themselves and continuously need positive confirmation of their own self-worth from significant persons. They want to feel and behave congruently, to reduce dissonance between internal and external realities.

5) People are capable of learning new behaviours and unlearning existing ones and they are subject to environmental and internal consequences of their behaviours, which in turn, serve as reinforcements. They strive for reinforcements that are meaningful and congruent with their personal values and belief systems.

6) People’s personal problems may arise from unfinished business (unresolved conflicts) stemming from the past (concerning events and relationships) and, although some exploration of causation may be beneficial in some cases, most problems can be worked through by focusing on the here and now, on what choices the person has now. Problems are also caused by incongruence between internal (how you see things inside) and external (how you see things outside) perceptions in the present.

7) Many problems experienced by people today are societal or systemic rather than personal or interpersonal. People are capable of learning to effect choices and changes within the system as well as from without.

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