How ongoing coaching in the workplace is the key to lasting employee performance gains

Reports of the death of the annual performance review” have been greatly exaggerated. Nevertheless, we can’t ignore the clear drawbacks of this once-a-year event. Annual reviews are time-consuming, unpopular with both employees and managers, and rarely result in meaningful performance improvement.  But even if organizations choose to retain the annual “talk,” a good manager shouldn’t rely on this once-a-year conversation to convey performance expectations and give feedback.

Just like in Olympic competition, a coach doesn’t wait until the next Olympics to give performance feedback to the athlete.  Rather, coaching is an ongoing process, with adjustment to form, correcting inefficiencies, and giving encouragement.  Over time, this process steadily improves the athlete’s performance.

Similarly, a successful manager can’t rely on an annual event to empower change. Whether formal or informal, coaching must be strategic and ongoing to make a significant impact on performance.

The purpose of coaching is to foster an open dialogue about the employee’s current level of performance, not to focus exclusively on weaknesses.  It’s important to make sure that the employee understands these key points:

  •  The first step toward self-improvement is to identify one’s current level of performance.
  • Regardless of the performance level, there is always room for improvement.
  • It is normal to be less effective in some areas and more effective in others.

Any successful coaching process will include an identification of the employee’s strengths and developmental needs.  To help identify and prioritize development, begin by getting the employee’s personal thoughts and ideas.  After getting the employee’s opinions, a good way to obtain objective information is by administering a skills-based assessment that provides detailed results on the employee’s key strengths and weaknesses.

These results should also be combined with supervisor observations and performance metrics. For instance, if a contact center employee consistently misses the target for average call time, it may be due to an inability to efficiently navigate the system, or perhaps data entry and typing speed are slow.  Similarly, a bank teller who can’t seem to meet referral goals may be uncomfortable recommending products to customers, or may lack detailed product knowledge. Whatever the situation, a successful manager will work to identify the root cause and come up with a plan to address it.

If you like a plan with a good checklist, Katherine Graham-Leviss, writing for Entrepreneur Magazine, helps us identify seven steps for a successful coaching relationship.

Step 1:  Begin by building a relationship of mutual trust.

Step 2:  Be clear about the goals of the coaching relationship.

Step 3:  Agree between coach and employee what the process will look like.

Step 4:  Get the employee’s input on various success scenarios.

Step 5:  Both parties should commit to the process.

Step 6:  Handle possible hurdles in advance, anticipating and discussing what might prevent the follow through.

Step 7:  Provide feedback in a way that is prompt, specific and sincere.

Make the coaching process a collaborative effort in which both parties have a stake in the process and share the responsibility for a successful outcome.  A strong coaching relationship will survive the inevitable bumps, and both parties will experience professional growth and success.

After all, Olympic athletes don’t reach the podium at the medal ceremony without coaching along the way.

Stay tuned for my upcoming blog for tips on determining when external coaching might meet your needs more effectively than in-house coaching.