LOGO for Workforce Enhancement Program  / Coaching, Evaluating and Delivering Constructive Feedback – Learning Series Commonwealth Managers and Supervisors,

We are pleased to bring you “Planning for Coaching”, the second topic in the Coaching, Evaluating and Delivering Constructive Feedback Learning Series.  The content presented here will provide an overview of what it means to plan for coaching, and tips on how to plan for coaching. This topic includes a Coaching Conversations Checklist to help you plan for your next coaching conversation and a Questioning Dos and Don’ts Job Aid to help you have more effective coaching conversations.

To reference the initial communication introducing the program or the first topic, please refer click on the following link to the Coaching, Evaluating and Delivering Constructive Feedback - Learning Series web page to view previous topics.

If you would like to provide feedback on this topic, please send your feedback to mailto:MassHRInfo@MassMail.State.Ma.US. Your feedback is welcomed, and will inform enhancements to future iterations of this program.

Thanks for all you do

Overview: Planning for Coaching

Coaching is a form of performance management that extends beyond the traditional performance review cycle.  It is an important part of building a high-performing team that benefits the employee, the manager, the supervisor and the Commonwealth.

It is important to understand that coaching isn’t necessarily about working with under-performers.  It’s about creating a collaborative working relationship used to create personal change regardless of your starting point.

When planning for coaching, it is important to ask yourself:

  • How often do I provide feedback to my staff?
  • Do I take time out from a busy day to help employees learn a new process or procedure?
  • Do I know what really motivates my staff?
  • How likely am I to take the time to teach an employee how to do something, rather than just handle it myself?
  • If I need to give an employee feedback, how much of the conversation is spent listening rather than telling?
  • When talking through a challenging situation, do I prescribe a solution or guide the employee toward taking ownership of the situation?
  • When setting goals with my staff, how many of them do I collaborate on, rather than dictate?

Here is an example demonstrating the benefits of creating a coaching plan.

Anders meets with Taylor weekly to provide updates on assignments, and to deliver new tasks and projects.  He likes to keep meetings short and since Taylor is a fast learner.  Taylor rarely asks questions.  Anders assumes she understands the information.  However, during the work day, Taylor often calls or e-mails questions to Anders.  It appears that Anders spends significant time responding to Taylor.  And Taylor appears to be unwilling to make simple decisions about her assignments.  It occurs to Anders that during their supervisory meetings, he never engages Taylor in developing an approach to a new assignment or asks her how she would handle a potential problem.  Anders realizes that he is simply giving Taylor the work to be completed without engaging Taylor in discussions that would alleviate the need for the constant follow up.  By coaching Taylor during their meetings, Anders will begin to provide her with the skills to take ownership of her projects, and spend less time searching for answers or reassurance.

Benefits of Planning for Coaching

The benefits of planning for coaching are outlined below:

  • Encourages a “big picture” of your team and your direct reports
  • Reduces the stress often felt while providing motivational or developmental feedback

Keys to Planning for Coaching

Timing is almost as important as the feedback provided.  Time the feedback as close as possible to the actual behavior that needs changing or encouraging.  Providing timely feedback prevents bad habits from forming (e.g., passive acceptance of behavior through silence) and supports repetition of positive actions.

Describe the opportunity to be addressed.  What is it that prompted the conversation?  Was it a staff person approaching you with a question about his/her career path?  Or is a team member repeatedly making the same comments on someone’s work?   These present opportunities for professional development.  Was it an accomplishment, or a behavior that you would like to recognize and encourage your employee to repeat?  This presents an opportunity for motivational feedback.

Identify the significance of the opportunity.  On the flipside of every opportunity is a consequence for not taking advantage of that opportunity.  Whatever the significance, a mutual understanding of the opportunity between you and your staff can ultimately lead to agreement and buy-in on how to leverage the opportunity.  Remember to be prepared to change your views on the opportunity as the situation unfolds.  Be flexible enough in your position to acknowledge the views that the employee brings to the table.

Determine your desired outcomes.  What is it you want to accomplish, both short-term and long-term?  Outcomes should be measurable in some way.  If your outcomes have clear actions associated with them, then your conversation plan should also incorporate ways of introducing those suggested actions or of building buy-in with your employee. 

Identify themes to organize feedback points.  Feedback can be overwhelming if presented point by point.  Instead, use a theme to connect one item to the next, presenting the situation as one point rather than many.  For example, an employee who isn’t managing details effectively can understand and improve on that theme better than he or she may respond to hearing that a meeting wasn’t rescheduled, edits weren’t thoroughly incorporated into a document, and a couple of action items went unattended.

Predict resistance and reactions.  How is the employee likely to react?  Is he or she going to be receptive or defensive to your input?  Is he or she expecting this kind of conversation?  Objectively put yourself in your employee’s shoes.  Think about how you would feel in that position, and then plan your approach accordingly.

Choose words and phrases that you will use in your conversation: Planning is not only about high-level objectives.  It is also about the specific content of your message.  Balance honesty with sensitivity.  Use words that acknowledge the employee’s position, words that will lead towards mutual understanding and respect.  Identify motivational (positive) feedback in advance to balance any developmental feedback you need to offer.  Be sensitive to your employee’s possible reactions.  Be direct and use clear language that doesn’t soft-peddle or hide your message.  Write down key phrases to use later as a reminder of what you intend to say.

Rehearse: In the actual coaching moment, everything you planned may not come out the way you intended, especially if emotions run high or if you get caught off-guard.  Practice your delivery – in front of a mirror or an objective third party (e.g., someone at your peer level or higher to protect employee confidentiality).  The more comfortable you are with your approach, the more likely you will be able to stay focused, both on your objectives, and on the needs of your staff.

Praise in public, criticize in private: When delivering developmental feedback, schedule time and find an appropriate place for the discussion to ensure privacy and no interruptions.

Know when to engage HR: In cases where disciplinary action may be required, consult HR or Labor Relations.  Most coaching conversations won’t require HR involvement, but consider the question before you get too far. If the situation involves alleged discrimination, or if there is a question that behavior might reach the threshold of a hostile work environment, it is imperative that you involve HR and/or the Diversity Officer.

Next Steps

Activities: For additional information on planning for coaching, please take a moment to review the checklist and job aid below:

Coming Next: Making Time for Coaching can be vital to the success of the coaching relationship and is the next topic in this series. It will provide you with simple time management strategies to include coaching in your regular communication process with your staff.