Continuing with the same theme of developing your team, which I covered in my last article, I want to talk today about the importance of coaching your team for peak performance and how to do that most effectively. Many leaders do not like conflict, and therefore struggle to provide feedback and coaching to their direct reports. In 2013, Forbes published an article which stated that managers who scored in the bottom 10% in their ability to provide feedback received a measly average engagement score of 25% from their direct reports . This tells us that people want to receive honest feedback from their leaders, and when they don’t receive it, their engagement level goes down.
Development Dimension International (DDI) provides a three-step coaching technique which makes coaching and giving feedback simple and fun. Although feedback can be both positive and negative, many managers, including myself, have a harder time delivering negative feedback. It is easy to tell someone when they have done a good job. When something has gone wrong, however, most managers become lost for words on how to express that to his or her direct report. Consequently, emotions such as anger, bitterness, and anxiety ensue, causing a deterioration of the relationship and potentially a bigger conflict at a later time.
Before we delve into DDI’s 3-step coaching technique, there are two points to keep in mind when providing feedback to your direct report.
Point number 1: think before you speak!
“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Col 4:6).
The saying goes, “It’s not what you say but how you say it that matters.” I submit to you, however, that when providing feedback, it’s not just how you say things that matter. What you say actually matters as well, and perhaps even more than how you say it. Some managers berate their staff at every turn and quickly create a toxic work environment. Be mindful to use edifying and helpful words with your staff, remembering that each person is at a different level of performance. Think to yourself, “How would I want to hear this feedback if I were in my employee’s shoes?” Then seek to deliver it that way. This does not mean that you become soft. On the contrary, sometimes the helpful thing is a hard word. But always remember to deliver the message with the right intention.
Point number 2: it’s not about you.
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Phil 2:3).
Selfishness and conceit (otherwise known as pride) are the two deadliest sins known to man. The corporate world and its ever increasing demand of higher and higher returns each quarter is quick to breed these vices in even some of the best managers out there. In your interaction with others, your goal is to seek what is best for each member of your team. When your words and actions are for the good of others, you will find that delivering feedback, no matter how seemingly difficult, becomes very simple and easy. Esteem others better than yourself, because that is your role as a servant in leadership.
With these two points in mind, let us now consider the three-step coaching technique offered up by DDI.
Step 1: Seek and Leverage Data
Feedback and coaching are futile without accurate, objective data to support the conversation. This is why DDI encourages all managers to first gather accurate performance metrics before sitting down for the formal discussion with your direct report. The data prevents the conversation from descending into an emotional roller coaster, which can easily leave you and your direct report frustrated with the entire process. Good performance metrics can also be used to measure your direct report’s progress over time, after you have had the formal discussion with them.
If you plan to have a discussion around a direct report’s attendance, for example, gather data on how often they have called out in the past week or month. Check their time cards to see how late they’re arriving to work. Another example of strong performance data are feedback from customers about someone’s service skills. Data gathering can sometime be cumbersome, especially if there is not an existing data repository in your organization, but it is a necessary part of the conversation with your direct report. Don’t skip this step!
Step 2: Balance Seeking and Telling
We all have blind sides. And although we might think the data we have gathered is full proof, there is always another side to the story. Seek to understand that other side first, before you tell of your insights about the situation. Often as managers who are very busy, we want to dominate the conversation, draw conclusions quickly, and provide a few suggestions before moving on to the next task on our to-do list. This temptation must be resisted at all cost. As you seek the other person’s viewpoint, you have a better chance of gaining their buy-in and commitment in the process. This is after all what you want! As we said earlier, the goal of any coaching or feedback discussion is not to satisfy your needs, but to seek the good of the other person. Here are some things to keep in mind during this step:
- Plan the conversation ahead of time. This prevents you from going off track (DDI)
- This is a conversation, not an interrogation, so don’t bombard the person with questions (DDI)
- Lastly, and most importantly: “Be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath…” (James 1:19).
Step 3: Provide Ongoing Feedback and Support
Congratulations! You have had a successful coaching session with your direct report. You have won their buy-in and commitment, and the expectations around future performance are crystal clear. Now what? Follow through is the most difficult part of the coaching or feedback process, because this requires an investment from you as the manager. If this last step is neglected, accountability falls apart and the performance level is at jeopardy of not improving.
Be sure to setup a feedback loop with your direct report before the end of the conversation, so that you both monitor the progress over time. This can be a weekly check-in to discuss the performance metrics and to celebrate successes along the way. And when there is a lag in performance, make course corrections quickly to get the performance back on track. This is why getting the direct report’s buy-in early in step 2 is so important. Otherwise, you will be kicking against a brick wall in step 3. Finally, understand that support looks very different depending on the individual. Ask your direct how they wish to be supported and be sure to incorporate that in the feedback mechanism.
Coaching for peak performance is not always easy, but it is a crucial part of a manager’s role, just as developing others is. I find that a monthly 1:1 with each of my direct reports is the best way to keep this process alive on my team. I also hold a weekly rapid fire meeting with the entire team to outline and discuss expectations, which helps to minimize confusion and anxiety. If you are new to this process, understand that it will take some time to build a regular cadence around it. However, the fruits of your labor will be well worth the effort.
Always remember, coaching is not about you. It’s about serving your team!
– Led by the Book