by Stew Bolno, MBA, EdM

In sports, teams have coaches. They recognize the importance of the role and working with individuals in order to improve performance. It is presumed that the professional coach knows more about the subject matter under discussion, than the player. However, the possession of knowledge is the minimum expectation for the coach. Those who thrive in the position have the capability to gain trust, communicate the message, encourage application, provide feedback, and help to improve the player’s performance. Sadly, in business, too many individuals who are called upon to coach have no awareness about their role as trainer and teacher. Rarely, if ever, does their organization provide the manager with the tools and techniques that facilitate the ability to help people improve outcomes. It seems that, all too often, the organizational leaders expect that the title and position of “manager” is enough to make the difference in helping to reach a higher standard.

Effective coaching is a process not an event. It is done over time and requires serious effort by the manager as well as the person being coached. Below, is a fundamental and simple model for that can help a manager understand and remember the requirements for assisting their team members in the improvement of their performance.

C – commit
The wise coaches recognize that they can’t be successful unless those that they supervise are performing at high levels. Effective managers focus on getting the most from those who report to them. They accept the simple reality that excellent outcomes occur as a result of clear goals, self-motivated individuals, and employees who put their heart, as well as their head, into everything they do. This requires commitment. Coaches who dedicate themselves to high performance outcomes, show their own high level of commitment by doing the right thing at the right time. By performing your role as coach at the highest level of quality you need to become the “star” in your own coaching video. This type of behavior is infectious and has a powerful impact on others. In this case, as in most meaningful messages, your actions will speak much louder than your words.

O –observe
Individual managers always have preferences in regard to how jobs should be performed. However, the effective coach behaves in a thoughtful manner prior to offering assistance. Prior to engaging the employee in conversation, step back and take in the “big picture” of a situation prior to offering help. By doing so, you will present a perspective that is grounded in fact and will be more able to present your message in a clear and cogent manner. Observing the present situation also provides the coach with a clear understanding of the difference between the current reality and the desired goal, as it relates to an individual’s behavior. Possessing the ability to visualize the “gap” enables the person being coached to appreciate that any improvement is built upon an existing foundation and that improvement is guided towards a clear outcome.

A – ask
Lou Holtz, a successful football coach said, “I never learn anything talking. I only learn things by asking questions.” Managers who get listened to, are those who understand a cardinal rule of communication; it is not what you say, nor even how say it, but rather, how the individual hears it that impacts on the person being coached. When helping others, think of great questions in order to understand the perspective of the employee. After all, your goal is to engage the individual in such a way that harmful tendencies are diminished, removed, and replaced with productive behaviors. Your ability to engage your employee in the conversation increases the possibility that there is a person willing to make the appropriate changes in behavior.

C – coordinate
The word “coordinate” is defined as “putting things in their proper order.” The back end of the coaching process requires the scheduling of events that measure and evaluate the results obtained by changed behaviors and techniques. Therefore, there must always be a plan developed to align expectations and to obtain agreement on follow up dates. The transfer of information is merely the start of the coaching process. Unless the employee is willing and able to apply new techniques, the team of two never has the opportunity to achieve improved levels of performance. It is at this stage when the two partners bond themselves in a formal process for success. A conversation about change, without application and measurement, is merely a discussion – not a coaching process.

H – help
Most managers have a span of control of three, five, or more. Therefore, it is essential for you, as coach, to avoid adding to your sphere of responsibility. As coach, encourage your employee to place the performance monkey on his or her back. The true satisfaction of coaching is helping others succeed. This does not diminish the importance of an open door policy, continuing conversations, and informal updates prior to the review of formal results. Between the end of the coaching meeting and the follow up date, it is essential that the coaches apply the wisdom of Ken Blanchard in his classic book, The One Minute Manager, and “catch the employee doing something right”! When the employee knows that you are aware, supportive, and focused on success, motivation for performance is strengthened. This type of team approach, then, becomes the most significant factor contributing to changed behavior and improved results.

Coaches need not expect immediate home-runs or touchdowns after the conversation. Many teams learn to win by hitting singles and achieving consistent gains that add up to numerous victories in the long term. Continuous improvement is an important concept for manufacturing and production lines. It can be just as meaningful and impacting in regard to changed work habits and behaviors as well.
Your success as a coach depends on improving the performance of the person you are helping. Therefore, your attitude, behavior, and language should indicate that your relationship is about helping – not directing. A coach does not hit, catch, or run for the player. The job is to help the player perform all of these skills at a high level of competence. When you, as a coach, are able to gain the trust of your players, they will be more willing to go the extra base in order to improve their productivity.

Problem Solving to create Trust
Baseball is a game of statistics. It is relatively easy to identify the areas of weakness. Sometimes, in business, we have the same advantage, as the weaknesses are often observable or measurable. However, where statistics are not available, ask your new partner where he or she experiences the most frustration. Generally, the reason for frustration is a lack of success. Asking the right questions, in the right way, will help to create motivation on the part of the player. This motivation is essential for the coaching process to work.

Preparing for Success
Once the challenge has been identified make certain that you have a clear vision of the end result. Stephen Covey said it best when he declared, “begin with the end in mind.” When the end goal is stated, it creates a balanced alignment between the coach and the person asking for the help. Preparation is strategic and tactical. If you wish to avoid errors, make sure your partner is on board with the what, how, when, and why of the effort prior to the coaching events that will be taking place in the future.

Praise Performance
When a player is successful on the baseball diamond the teammates applaud, the fans cheer, and the manager is likely to provide more opportunities. The same thing has to be done with the partner you are coaching. New habits need to be reinforced to ensure that they are instilled and ingrained. As improvement occurs, make sure that you acknowledge and celebrate the small hits as well as the home runs. Achievement creates confidence and encourages the individual to step up to the plate in pursuit of greater challenges.

Coaches are essential players on any winning team. They spot weaknesses and seek opportunities. Sometimes the player being coached is a star and sometimes, that person is the least talented individual on the team. However, when done well the average player always improves. Are you ready and willing to help your players on your team improve as a result of your coaching conversations?