The Magic of a Conversation

If you’re not coaching your employees who is?  Chances are it won’t be your best performer!  Not coaching your employees is akin to a football coach choosing to watch the scoreboard as his primary strategy for winning the game.  Unfortunately, that is what many managers do, they use the scoreboard to tell them there are problems (or successes), rather than being in the game itself.

In all of my years “coaching” managers and executives I have heard every excuse in the world for NOT coaching employees. The excuses run the gamut of “not having enough time” to “it won’t do any good.”  The message I want to leave you with today is that coaching matters and to help make sure you understand coaching for what it is and how it occurs.

When speaking with a coaching client I invariably ask how often they have conversations with their employees and the answer I usually get is “pretty regularly”.  I purposefully wait a little while and then ask, how often they provide coaching to their employees.  The answer I typically receive to this question is “not enough.”  While I appreciate the honesty, the gap in their thinking frustrates me to no end, so let’s start by defining “coaching.”

Wikipedia defines coaching as: “A method of directing, instructing and training a person or group of people, with the aim to achieve some goal or develop specific skills.”

To me, using that definition of coaching screams out “more time.”  We see words like directing, instructing and training, each of those activities are something else you have to do and most managers are already too busy managing to add that kind of stuff to their plate, which is why so many abdicate what they believe are their coaching responsibilities to anyone who will take them (HR, etc…).

So let me help reframe coaching a bit and simplify that definition.  I see coaching as: “A purposed conversation that facilitates learning and raises performance at work”

coachingI use those words specifically because it shows the context, action and result all in one which is key to understanding coaching for what it can be.  So let’s go back to the two questions I ask my clients, “how often do you have conversations…” and “how often do you coach…”  Using my definition can you now see why I get frustrated with their answers and the disconnection? I think most managers see coaching as something they have to do in their office sitting down with the employee in front of them (something extra).  Let’s go back to the football coaching example from earlier.  Do you think that a coach only coaches in his office?  Of course not, he coaches on the field, in the moment.  A football coach also coaches in the film room, locker room, and on the phone.  He prepares for some of his conversations, most of his coaching however is done in the moment as he sees things (good or bad).  While not wearing helmets and the like, being a manager is no different than being a coach.  Good managers see that their job is to be the coach.  To coach in the moment, to help the employees do their job better, just like the football coach manages his team (the ones doing the work – the only ones that can win).

The point in all of this is that managers have conversations with employees all of the time, but they fail to grasp the magic of those conversations?

So how do managers use that magic?  The first step taken is to change their mindset.  Managers have to move away from that stovepipe perspective where the manager is somehow separated from the employees.  Sure most managers have administrative duties that require an office and time in it, but how much difference would it make if managers flipped their paradigm and saw that spending time with their employees having conversations was more important than hanging in their office?  Grabbing the magic requires that managers can be in the moment with their employees and know what is going on.  Have a pulse of his employees and purposefully engages in conversations.  A conversation where a manager stops by someone’s desk to ask about a project status and takes few seconds to tell the employee they did a good job on that presentation last week, or offers corrective feedback on how he dealt with an escalation the day before.  Either one of those can take place in two minutes or less.  Those are coaching moments which are a part of regular conversations that occur daily.  To do this however requires that we leave the email behind (which is where we’d typically ask for that update), at least for a few minutes!

Now understand that I am not saying that all coaching should occur like that.  I am saying that there are simply more opportunities to coach than most managers think.  There are those formal coaching occasions that occur where a desk conversation simply won’t suffice.  There are also those times when more formal coaching conversations have to occur because the informal ones didn’t facilitate the learning or outcomes needed.  Outside the formality of how these types of conversations occur, the biggest difference is that the formal coaching conversation is planned and the manager has to prepare.  While different is fairly significant, there is still the fact that it is a conversation and the magic can still be present, only the magic comes from that preparation and planning rather than from the informality and timeliness.

The key to being a good manager is to be a good coach.  Without that skill set your best bet is to join the statisticians that capture and enter play results in the booth rather than the coaching staff!  So are you going to be a coach on the field, or the statistician up in the booth?

Remember, it’s a fairly simple concept, just not always easy!

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