How to Coach Your Team to Peak Performance.

Did you watch the Summer Olympics this year?  What was your favorite moment?  We can’t help but reflect on those emotional moments after each victory when the athlete and coach celebrate together.

In this year of the Summer Olympics, we watched athletes turn to their coaches again and again. Olympic coaches provided encouragement, and they provided consolation. Coaches celebrated with the victorious and cried with the defeated.  These coaches brought years of experience to a focused relationship with the athlete in order to help that athlete achieve the very best. Our Olympic lesson? We can’t just sit back and expect employees to get better. Improvement, whether it’s mastering a sport or gaining proficiency in a job, takes effort. And often it takes effective coaching.

New employees can become frustrated by the lack of feedback and the lack of assistance mastering the learning curve. Organizational leaders, in turn, are frustrated by the lack of skills in their workforce. In a recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) poll, HR professionals ranked “developing the next generation of organizational leaders” as the second most important challenge, right after “maintaining high levels of employee engagement.” Key skills that are lacking include professionalism/work ethic and relationship building/soft skills.

So if employees, deep down, want to improve, and leaders want to develop their workforce, what is the solution? This is where professional development in the form of coaching comes in.  For entry-level employees, a typical coaching relationship would most often occur between the employee and his or her immediate supervisor. Mid-career employees, on the other hand, may be formally assigned a coach by the organization.

Coaching can be uniquely effective in improving soft skills. Unlike skills such as data entry or keyboarding, you can’t simply take a class to learn how to be more professional or to improve on relationship building. The coaching relationship, which involves ongoing communication between the coach and the employee, is well-suited to tackle the nuances involved in building soft skills.  The most effective coaching relationships involve these key elements:

  1. Defined goals. Simply saying someone needs to “be a better manager” is not enough. Decide what areas will be targeted for coaching.  What is most important to achieve?  Goals should involve those more easily attained, as well as “stretch” goals that may be harder to achieve.
  2. Defined time period. Specify how often meetings will occur and over what period of time.  Coaching engagements can vary widely, from 3 months for a short-term issue to longer than 12 months for complex issues involving higher-level executives. Set aside time for coaching sessions to occur and add them to the schedule.
  1. Measureable progress. Progress can be assessed in a number of ways, but is best done by getting 360 degree feedback from above, below, and at the same level as the employee. Feedback can be obtained in person, or via survey.  And don’t forget the perceptions of the person being coached – are goals being achieved?

“Positive feedback strengthens performance,” states executive coaching consultant Katherine Graham-Leviss in a recent article in Entrepreneur Magazine. “People will naturally go the extra mile when they feel recognized and appreciated.”

When an athlete begins to get serious about competing at an Olympic level, they seek the best possible coach to help them reach the next level in their career.  For the sake of your team and its future success, consider a commitment to coaching as a strategy for professional and leadership development in your organization.

Stay tuned because in my next post, we will delve into best practices for conducting coaching conversations.