Coaching for Performance
As we noted in our last article, the world of HR is seeing an increasing focus on performance management. Companies of all sizes are moving away from annual performance appraisals to more regular check-ins. This trend is being driven by employees seeking development and growth. Since millennial employees are becoming the driving force in today’s economy, employers who don’t embrace new trends risk losing their top performers. As a Canadian, and global, recruitment agency, we have seen this trend first-hand.
It’s important to note that most employees don’t want to eliminate performance ratings outright. Facebook, for instance, found that 87% of its employees wanted to keep performance ratings. A global study by CEB found that eliminating performance reviews actually had a negative effect on productivity and results.
However, we know that assigning a rank and focusing on people’s faults simply doesn’t motivate people – quite the opposite in fact. A meta-analysis recently showed that “appraisal is unlikely to motivate employees, without frequent feedback throughout the review cycle and their being given meaningful performance standards.”
Clear standards and frequent feedback have a synergistic relationship to one another, raising employee engagement. We know that engaged employees are far more likely to outperform the competition. The experts tell us that the focus should be on ongoing coaching, personal development and training, especially in today’s highly technical and constantly evolving job environment. A study by Leadership IQ found that fewer than half of employees knew when they were doing a good job, however, so the message isn’t getting through in most workplaces. Why? Some of the reason would appear to be a lack of manager coaching training.
No matter how much investment a company makes in performance management, the managers are the ones responsible for motivating and managing employees. Employees are looking for a manager who is also interested in their development, not just the bottom line. For this reason, HR professionals are beginning to devote more resources to developing the coaching skills of management.
The fact that someone is an excellent individual contributor doesn’t mean they can inspire or manage others to achieve goals. Today, the responsibilities of senior management include recruiting or promoting individuals who have leadership and coaching abilities, or at least the potential. Those with potential should be provided with the tools and training to conduct on-going performance and development conversations. What should these manager/employee conversations look like? Here are some basic tips.
- Provide positive feedback. Let employees know what is working, reinforcing the kinds of actions and contributions you are looking for.
- Focus on objectives and goals, not on competencies. Describe the type of activity that will meet the objective, not the traits of the person. For example, the statement “You’re not assertive” is not useful feedback. “It would be helpful to hear your views in weekly meetings,” is a concrete step, especially if you explain how the behaviour relates to an overall team strategy.
- Where there is a problem, identify the specific behaviour that needs improvement. Show confidence in the employee’s willingness to address it, asking them to join you in resolving the problem.
- Be future-oriented whenever possible. The traditional approach to feedback has been to focus exclusively on what an employee has done wrong in the past, which is punitive and judgmental. Instead, focus on desired results.
- Address barriers, successes, and progress in concrete terms, but where possible, try to think in terms of patterns, not the most recent example, so as to avoid recency bias.
- Ask yourself what you can do to help. Remove barriers to the employee accomplishing their objectives. The four common barriers are training, tools, temperament and time.
- People can only focus on a few developmental issues or behaviors at a time – decide which two or three are the most important and address them first.
- Write it down. Make sure that you and the employee agree to a written action plan, especially when there is a situation that requires improvement or correction. Set a date for follow-up. Doing so will drive accountability on both sides.
Coaching doesn’t come naturally to many; HR departments can assist by providing training, tools and guides, or performance management software, to facilitate coaching conversations. It takes effort and time to create the kind of feedback that is truly useful, but it will pay off in results as well as in the development of our teams and employees.