Most managers are aware that the way they coach their people can play a big role in ensuring their team’s success. Unfortunately, however, when it comes to giving feedback, many don’t know how to coach, and simply resort to telling others how to improve.
This is NOT coaching! It’s unlikely to be effective or to be acted upon; and it won’t uncover any deeper problems or incorrect beliefs that may lie behind unhelpful behaviors.
It’s often much more effective to adopt a question-led approach when you provide feedback. When you do this, you’ll better understand your colleagues’ outlook on their work and their career, and their feelings about the organization you both work for. This helps you to engage with your team members as partners and stakeholders in the organization, which helps you to improve each individual’s performance and anticipate performance issues before they arise.
It can take time to perfect the art of coaching, but it’s worth persevering because one of the most valuable ways that you can encourage new ways of working is to provide feedback to members of your team. If you follow the guidance below, you’ll soon be on the right track!
How to Take a Coaching Approach to Providing Feedback
Most of us have been on the receiving end of both constructive and critical feedback [Add to My Personal Learning Plan] at some point in our careers. So you’ll likely know that when it is delivered well, feedback can be inspiring, and it can stimulate people to develop new skills or knowledge. However, when it is poorly delivered, feedback can irritate or demoralize people, and even push them to quit their jobs.
These steps will help you to provide effective feedback, thereby building a more talented team.
Step 1: Know what outcome you want to achieve
It is all too easy for a coaching conversation to degenerate so that it delivers little more than a long list of perceived performance flaws. This is totally counter-productive.
Why? Most likely the person you’re coaching will feel attacked on a personal level, and will be overwhelmed by the volume of information.
By being specific about the desired outcome of the feedback session, you’ll help the individual see the benefit of receiving the feedback, and remain focused on the precise behaviors to work on. For example, if you want your colleague to recognize the importance of keeping co-workers up-to-date on the status of a task, then keep to that agenda, and be open about that purpose with the individual concerned.
When you’re functioning purely as a coach, you are not required to direct the other person (as their manager) nor provide expert opinion (as their mentor). You’re acting as an objective provider of facts and questions that will support your colleague. Here, it is for your colleague to decide how to use the facts and what action to take next.
In the real world, though, this isn’t always appropriate. You need to use your judgment to find the blend of coaching, managing and mentoring that best suits the individual and the situation.
Step 2: Be specific about behaviors you have observed, and their impact
Where you’re addressing a negative behavior, inform the individual of what you have seen them do or heard them say. Be accurate and objective, yet sensitive, when stating the facts. Include specific dates or instances: it is important that there is no room for misunderstanding when giving feedback!
Next, provide information regarding the impact of that behavior on others. Do not understate or overstate the problem, or pull punches, or embellish the facts.
Although it may not seem that way, feedback can be a gift when delivered in this honest and open way. For the individual the solution, their solution, could involve signing up for skills training, or could just as easily involve adjusting the way they work or communicate. For instance, a worker who persistently arrives late to early morning team meetings may not be aware of the resentment this behavior can create. Once made aware of the issue, the individual has the opportunity to adapt their behavior, or recognize the need to explain their behavior to others.
To check whether your feedback is objective and free from emotional judgments, imagine someone delivering the same feedback to you.
How does it sound? How would you react to this feedback? Would the information prompt you to change your way of working?
We are all individuals and what works for you might not work for your colleague. However, this simple test can help you to shape the exact words you plan to use when delivering feedback.
Step 3: Use questions
Armed with specific, unambiguous and timely information about their behavior, most individuals can be coached to modify their actions. But first, it is essential that the individual “owns” the issue.
The key to turning a directional conversation into a coaching conversation is the use of questions. Questions can be used to come up with solutions, reveal feelings, or generate new ideas. Ask open questions to allow individuals to explore their own performance, and add information from your own observations when appropriate.
Follow the GROW model [Add to My Personal Learning Plan] , and focus in particular on establishing the ‘will’ to change. What motivates this individual? And what is in it for them to adapt and develop?
Step 4: Be timely
Effective managers use periodic personal review meetings to providing detailed feedback to team members. But why wait for those sessions?
Most people value prompt feedback, because it allows them to change their behavior immediately. As a manager-coach you don’t need to be in a formal situation to initiate a coaching conversation. As long as you ask permission from your colleague, spontaneous and informal coaching is an efficient way of helping people to improve their performance.
Alison is an account manager, and has just attended a client meeting with Graham, one of her team. The meeting was broadly successful, but Alison observed Graham talking over the client’s representative in pursuit of additional sales. This scenario is fictitious so the dialogue is unlikely to match the words you might use in the same situation. However, compare the following possible “tell” and “coach” versions of the conversation Alison and Graham might have after the meeting.