Coaching is helping the employee to grow and develop in the organisation. Every manager is coaching his employee, knowingly or unknowingly, in his day-to-day work-life. An effective manager coach is one who helps his employees to become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses and helps them to improve further on the strong points and overcome weaknesses. By the process of mutuality and support, he helps the employee to develop, by providing the proper emotional climate. Mutuality involves working together with the employee and developing future plans of action for the employee’s growth and contribution to the organisation. Support involves acceptance of the employee as a total person, with his strengths and weaknesses, and encouraging him with warmth.
Coaching requires certain interpersonal skills which can be acquired easily if a manager is genuinely interested in developing his subordinates. Coaching skills are important for a manager, particularly at the time of performance review.
Figure 1 : Circular Helping Process – Two Types
Good managers, whenever the necessity arises, coach their employees in their jobs. Annual performance reviews provide formal opportunities for formal coaching. Such a formal coaching process passes through certain stages, which are important for the managers to note. The coaching process has the following three phases: rapport building, exploration, and action planning.
In the rapport-building phase, a good coach attempts to establish a climate of acceptance, warmth, support, openness and mutuality. He does this by empathising with the employee and his orientations, by listening to his problems and feelings, by communicating his understanding to the employee, and by expressing empathy and genuineness of interest in him.
In the exploration phase, the coach attempts to help the employee to understand himself and his problem better. He may do this by raising questions to help the employee explore his problems and diagnose the problem properly.
In the action planning phase, the coach and the employee jointly work out or plan specific action steps for the development of the latter. The manager makes commitments to provide the specific support to employee for development.
Exhibit-1 gives the three phases (and the sub-phases) of the coaching process. Against each sub-phase are mentioned types of coach behaviour which either help or hinder the coaching process.
Exhibit-1 : Sequential Process of Performance Coaching
Rapport building is essential for any effective coaching outcome. This phase involves generating confidence in the employee to open up and frankly share his perceptions, problems, concerns, feelings, etc. The coach-manager should level himself with his employee and tune himself to his orientations. This can be done by adopting the employee’s frame of reference.
Attending: The opening phase of coaching is very important in rapport building. General opening rituals may communicate messages of attending to the employee and give importance to the coaching transaction. Inviting rituals like offering the chair, closing the door to indicate privacy, asking the secretary not to disturb or not to connect telephonic calls during the conversation, may indicate that the coach is attending to the employee. However, all such rituals should come out of the genuine concern for and full attention to the employee during the coaching session.
Listening: It has already been discussed that listening is important for effective coaching. As already stated it is important to listen to what the employee says, as well as to his feelings and concerns. Physical posture (e.g., leaning forward) and keeping eye contact with the employee are indicators of listening.
Acceptance: Establishing a climate of acceptance is a necessary part of establishing rapport. The employee must feel that he is wanted and that his coach is interested in understanding him as a person rather than as a role or a position in an organisation. The coach communicates this to the employee by listening to all the problems of the employee and communicating back to the employee that he is listening. The coach can communicate back to the employee by paraphrasing or mirroring or reflecting what the employee says. For example, when an employee says, “I am really mad. I have tried to do my best in the past year. I have worked twice as hard as anyone else in the office. But I never get promotion,” he is expressing his anger. The coach may reflect back and say, “You feel that your superiors have not shown proper recognition for your hard work.” Such a reflection or mirroring would help the employee feel that he is being understood and that his coach is interested in him. This builds a climate of acceptance and facilitates the process.
Besides accepting the employee, listening to him, and establishing a climate of openness, the coach should attempt to understand as well as help the employee understand his own situation, strengths, weaknesses, problems and needs. Nobody would like to be directly told his weaknesses. Coaching skill lies in making the employee discover his own weaknesses, and identify his problem. At the most, the coach may use open and exploring questions.
Exploring helps an employee to search various dimensions of the problems, or discover unidentified problems and bring to the surface unnoticed issues. Exploring can be done by using questions and suggesting to the employee to talk more on a problem he mentions. As already discussed, a variety of questions may be used.
Problem Identification: After general exploring, questions may be asked to help the employee focus on the problem. It is necessary for the coach to use questions, both to generate information on some concerns and problems and to narrow down focus to identify a more probable problem. For example, if an employee feels that his problem is that others do not cooperate with him, the coach may ask questions to narrow down the problem to the employee’s relationship with a few colleagues, and then questions may be asked to help the employee see what he does that prevents possible cooperation. Eventually, the problem may turn out as to how the employee may deal with competitive relationship, and yet collaborate. Identification of a problem is the necessary step in planning for improvement.
Diagnosis: Diagnosis of the problem is the next step in exploration. Explorations should lead to the diagnosis. Without diagnosis there is little scope for solving any problem. Open questions like “Why do you think people are put off when you talk with them?”, “Can you recall occasions when you got full cooperation?”, “What do you attribute it to?”, “What personal limitations mainly bother you?” may help the employee more towards a better diagnosis. The main attempt should be to generate several alternative causes of a problem.
Managers are expected to guide their employees and contribute to their development. Coaching interviews should end with specific plans of action for the development of the employee. Identifying a training need, job rotation, sponsoring for further training, increased responsibility, role clarity, etc., are some of the likely outcomes in such action plans. Three sub-phases can be identified in action planning.
Searching: The main contribution of the coach to action planning is the help he provides to the employee in thinking of alternative ways of dealing with a problem. In addition to encouraging the employee in brain-storming such alternatives, the coach at a later stage can also add to this list of alternatives for further exploration. This should, however, be done only after some time. The employee should primarily take the responsibility of generating alternatives.
Decision Making: After the alternatives have been generated, the coach may help the employee assess the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative, raise questions on the feasibility of the various alternatives, and help finalise a plan to be implemented. This may, however, be regarded as a contingency plan, to be altered in the light of further experience.
Supporting : The final and, crucial stage of coaching is to communicate support and plan for such support in implementing the agreed action plan. Psychological contract of providing help should emerge after considerable exploration and discussion. Support and help should facilitate in further increasing the autonomy of the employee, and not his dependence on the coach. A system for monitoring and follow up of the action plan may be prepared. This closes the coaching interaction.
MAKING COACHING EFFECTIVE
In performance coaching formally organised by the organisation, the employee may not ask for coaching but his superior may organise coaching interviews as an organisational requirement. On such occasions, the employee may be forced into a coaching situation. If coaching is given without having been sought, it is likely to be of limited value. It may prove frustrating both to the coach and to the employee. In such situations, the coach would do well by forgetting about performance coaching and talk to the employee about his lack of interest in growth. The employee is likely to open up if the coach establishes an open climate. If the employee has serious emotional block in dealing with his superior, there is no use organising a coaching interview. They need a problem-solving session before that. Hence, before coaching, it must be ensured that the employee is willing to learn from this interview.
Some employees are so loyal and some superiors so protective, that there is a danger of employees becoming totally dependent on the coach. The coach should check from time to time through reflection, if he is making the employee too dependent on him. The coach must allow the employee to make his own decisions and perhaps help him in making decisions, but must not take decisions for him.
The employee must understand the purpose of coaching. If he does not understand, or has wrong expectations, he may not receive whatever is said to him in the proper perspective. If it is felt that he has some misunderstandings, it is better to use the first session to clarify them and then schedule another session.
Arguments should be minimised. One argument is sufficient to make both parties defensive. The coach should accept everything the employee says and try to build on it. Acceptance is the best way of bringing about self-realisation in the person. Good coaching sessions fail to produce effective results due to lack of follow up. Follow ups through informal exchanges go a long way in communicating interest in the employee. Otherwise, he may feel that the coaching is only artificial and may lose interest in it eventually.