Feature Q&A: Using Coaching in Performance Management

November 7, 2016 - 25 minute read - Posted by

7Geese and Blankslate Partners produced a feature webinar last week on How Coaching Affects Performance Management and we receive an overwhelming number of questions. Download the webinar slides here.

You asked, we answered!

To follow-up on our conversation with Isabella Egan, CEO of Blankslate Partners (BSP) on coaching advice—we’ve had her answer your burning questions on coaching as well:

What are the benefits of hiring internal coaches in addition to having Human Resources? Have you seen organizations that do it well? Are there any discernible trends?

Wendy Pat Fong, Director of Talent & Operations – 7Geese:

Although many HR leaders are certified coaches, it’s not uncommon for them to be too swamped with other responsibilities within the organization to set aside time for 1-on-1 coaching. Hiring a consultant whose expertise is coaching or adding an in-house coach to the team can be highly beneficial.

If you are looking at implementing a coaching culture, coaching needs to become a main area of responsibility for the individual spearheading the process. It also depends on the size of your organization; if you’re smaller in size but still want the full benefits of coaching, it’s a good time to hire an external consultant. As you grow bigger and have more resources, you can look into adding an in-house coach to your team.

Isabella Egan, CEO – BSP:

There are a number of companies that are investing heavily in the coaching culture. One that springs instantly to mind is Shopify; you can read more on it here:

“When Cody Fauser was promoted to Shopify’s CTO, the company hired executive coach Cam Gregg to prepare him for the leadership position. The company found so much benefit from the coaching experience, that they brought Gregg in as part-time coach when the company had about 60 employees, and as a full-time coach when they hit 160 employees. Gregg now leads Shopify’s Talent Acceleration group, which offers one-on-one coaching for executives, and mentor coaching for 1st and 2nd level managers.”

There definitely is a significant move towards having a ‘coaching culture’, especially as companies look at how they can retain and grow talent. The concept of having a coaching environment is something that is now key to being perceived as an ‘Employer of Choice’.

Is there a difference between conducting 1-on-1s in-person and via video calls?

Wendy:

Everybody has different comfort levels when it comes to face-to-face conversations or video calls specifically. There are many that find video calls uncomfortable as makes them more self-aware; whether enough eye contact is being made, if the other party is being receptive of their communication etc.

That being said, there are also many people that use video calling with complete ease on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps the next best thing to having an in-person 1-on-1 would be to have it via video calls. The key is to ensure that both parties are comfortable enough to hold a genuine conversation.

Isabella:

The baseline to remember is nothing really compares to in-person interactions when possible. So if you have a team working locally in the same office building, sit in the same pod; making time to connect 1-on-1, whether it’s going for a walk or a coffee break, is essential to building a strong foundational relationship.

However, more and more companies are thriving with distributed teams, and as such, there’s a new movement to train managers on how to foster those relationships with their remote co workers. A company that does it well is Buffer.

What do you do when there is no coaching culture? How about when employees don’t want a coaching culture?

Wendy:

It’s important to dig deep into the root causes of why people don’t want to change their culture and why the company needs implement a coaching culture. For any new processes you put in place, there will always be some resistance initially. It’s crucial to understand the perspectives of those that aren’t convinced and make sure they are fully educated about the culture shift. The worst thing to do would be to implement a new process without any preparation; employees will not be motivated to embrace change that didn’t take the needs into consideration.

If you want to start implementing a coaching culture, start by assessing your current state—

do you already have something in place for coaching? Does our company have the resources to do so? Is it part of our own values to focus on coaching? By outlining the end goal of implementing a coaching culture, it not only identifies why you need this change, but also how it will benefit other stakeholders of the organization.

From there, you can start working backwards. Don’t forget to communicate—the more open you are about the process, the WHY’s and the HOW’s, the more likely everyone will gain a deeper understanding and support the implementation of a new process. Open communication also allows more free flowing feedback on roadblocks.

Isabella:

Agreed! If you are learning about implementing a coaching culture or you want some support—there are a multitude of resources out there. Two we like to read at BSP are:

Delivering Happiness – A path to profits, passion and purpose. —Tony Hsieh

The gifts of imperfection – Let go of who you think you ought to be and embrace who you are. —Brene Brown

Can you tell us a little more on how employees can be responsible for the 1-on-1s, scheduling and owning it. Naturally, most would assume it’s the manager’s responsibility.

Wendy:

In an ideal situation, both parties would take ownership of the 1-on-1s; managers will block off time to have these conversations and employees will prepare in advance so that both parties focus on the issues or topics that matter. However, we all know that this is not always the case.

What we found surprising with 7Geese customers is that many employees were very excited to have their 1-on-1s, managers were the ones falling behind with properly following up. During the webinar, we did mention that employees should be responsible for the 1-on-1s, but of course, your managers need to be on board as well. One thing that managers is skeptical about when you ask them to do 1-on-1s is “What are we going to talk about?” By allowing employees to prepare in advance, managers feel less of a burden to lead the conversations.

Isabella:

With great power comes great responsibility! For a manager to give their time and allow this time to be directed by the employee is fantastic for building a coaching culture. Not only does it show the employee you value them and their contributions, but it also shows you trust them. BSP wrote a blog about great 1-on-1s and what we know is true, you’re still a manager.  Yes, the employee owns the time and the agenda but they still need your guidance to make it successful.

How can you help micromanagers make the transition to having less frequent 1-on-1s?

Wendy:

First off, nothing wrong with being a ‘micromanagers’—it really depends on the team’s dynamic and the team members. Some employees, especially new hires, appreciate a manager who is more hands-on with the day-to-day tasks, while others are more comfortable with having monthly 1-on-1s to start. 1-on-1s for these managers can be more of a recap or overview of the month. It’s the perfect time to provide feedback on things that need to be worked on.

For instance, at 7Geese, we provide 2 updates every week: one on Monday to talk about our priorities, roadblocks and one on Friday to talk about our wins and learnings. We ended up using Slack to post our updates for our managers and the rest of the organization to see. Our monthly 1-on-1s is where we actually sit down face-to-face to discuss our goals on a higher level, our progress and our engagement with the organization.

It’s a good practice to ask micromanagers what benefits they get out of having 1-on-1s so often. For example, these might be managers who want to ensure they know what their team members are working on. So having 1-on-1s very regularly provides them with a clear understanding of all the moving pieces. However, there are ways to counter this concern—by having a transparent goal setting methodology like OKRs where updates are weekly and focused on specific objectives managers to still keep track of activities without frequent 1-on-1s.

Isabella:

Managers themselves have managers and 360 degree feedback helps them get better at what they do. It’s important to empower your team to manage up and manage down. That goes for everyone in the company. It should be okay for a team member to ask their manager for what they need in order to build a trusting relationship. Everyone has different pressure leavers, triggers and management styles. An environment open for conversation allows for managers to seek help they need too.

How do you incentivize senior supervisors who don’t have the time to give important feedback?

Wendy:

Giving feedback in real-time should be part of any successful manager’s day-to-day. You don’t want to incentivize managers for giving feedback because this makes the motivation extrinsic rather than intrinsic. You always want managers to give feedback because it motivates them to be a better manager and help their teams perform better.

Often times, we’re so busy that we don’t carve out time to provide feedback. Having a monthly 1-on-1 is a really good opportunity set time aside and take a look back at what has improved and can be improved. Of course, once a month might not be ideal but it’s a good start. Managers can ask “Do you have any feedback to provide me as your manager?” or “As a manager, what are the things I can help you improve on?”. These are questions that spark conversations around gaps and potential improvement.

Isabella:

100% agree with the above. Not having time is not an excuse. 1-on-1s should be an absolute priority of every manager. 30 minutes, once a month is manageable even for the busiest executive. In our experience, the strongest managers and the most successful leaders, are the ones that put their team first.

How much time should a manager set aside for a 1-on-1 coaching session?

Wendy:

Usually, we recommend around 30 minutes. It also depends on the nature of your 1-on-1. For example, many 7Geese customers will schedule 30 minutes for their monthly 1-on-1s and 1 hour for their quarterly 1-on-1s. Monthly conversations tend to be lighter in nature. For many managers, it’s a good time to get a quick summary of what their team member has done during the month.

If you are thinking about discussing something more sensitive, such as unsatisfactory performance, you might want to give yourself more time. There’s nothing worse than rushing through constructive feedback. In that scenario, you might want to extend the session to 1 hour.

For quarterly 1-on-1s, many companies include questions around their team members’ engagement, alignment to the company, company and team feedback team—therefore extending the 1-on-1 longer. Keep in mind these are simply suggested guidelines. For companies adopting a coaching culture, at any point in time, team members can ask for a quick 1-on-1 with their managers. Real-time feedback is always the most effective.

Any tips for getting managers started on performance processes?

Wendy:

Hold your managers accountable and give them decision making power. It’s frustrating to identify gaps, propose a solution but have no resources to back you up. Managers are usually not supporters of performance processes because they see them as administrative tasks. Sit with your team members, write up a report and let HR take the next steps.

For managers to be excited about new performance processes, you’ll want to have them play and active role in the development and growth of their team members. Resources such as providing a discretionary budget for training purposes or encouraging managers to organize educational seminars for their team are great ways to encourage managers to be proactive.

Isabella:

Lead by example. You can show your managers the value of the performance process by executing it yourself and dedicating the same time and energy to managing your managers as you would expect from them. In an ideal world, they will learn from your example and be inspired to do the same with their own direct reports.

Would you suggest having another review process if you already invest time on having 1-on-1s? If so, what would that be?

Wendy:

Absolutely! 1-on-1s are generally beneficial for managers to create a stronger bond with their team members, improve transparency and facilitate real-time feedback. A review process is an excellent way to wrap up the whole year. You might want managers to discuss more aspects around performance. This can be discussions on skills, competencies or alignment to core values. For some companies, 1-on-1s are less formal and might not need documentation, while an annual review process is more standardized.

BSP:

We recommend that performance conversations happen in real-time with real examples and directly to the individual that needs help. We believe that working together, in real-time to deliver feedback, is more conducive in a collaborative environment. The 1-on-1 can be used as a time to check-in on a performance improvement plan.

We also recommend a twice year performance review of the team and individual performance. Who is on track, off track, struggling or winning? By doing this twice a year, nothing should ever be a surprise for the manager or employee. If someone is off track at the 6 month mark, there is no reason, why with the right coaching, performance improvement plan and guidance, they can’t be knocking their role out the park by year end.

Can you suggest communication tips for making sure your manager, who works in a different office 3,000 miles away, knows your commitment and dedication to the team you lead?

Wendy:

It’s important to start with identifying the expectations. Often, managers don’t properly set expectations on performance and end up with miscommunication of what both parties want. People do leave their managers, not companies. The ROI of being a great manager is not always obvious and cannot always being directly correlated with specific metrics. However, great managers who invest in their team members, support them and provide them with real-time feedback end up with highly performing and creative teams.

Isabella:

Design the team commitment and document expectations. Have you asked “What does success look like in this role/project/for this team?” or “Are we all working towards the same goals?”. Verbal communication is key—but let’s also write down some of the criteria of what a successful relationship looks like and stick to it!

The webinar mentioned it’s important to give employee the opportunity to direct 1-on-1s. What about when they don’t do that? How can I influence them to do take more ownership of the 1-on-1?

Wendy:

With any changes you want to implement in your team or organization, it needs to be done in small chunks. Your example is a great one. Not all employees are comfortable or even know how to take ownership of their 1-on-1s. This is where education and training comes in. Team members might need some guidance on how to setup their own agenda without stepping on their managers’ toes.

How can you use humor during 1-on-1 coaching?

Isabella:

The most important thing to note here is ‘you can’t force it’.  Be yourself, be real and if you’re funny be funny. If you’re not comfortable with trying to lighten things up, just be yourself! As Oscar Wilde said “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” The Huffington Post had a good article about this.

What could happen in the case of poor preparation for a 1-on-1?

Wendy:

In the case of poor preparation, both parties will end up leaving the session with no concrete and actionable items. Poor preparation can also create a weak impression regarding 1-on-1s in general. It can eventually snowball into team members not wanting to have 1-on-1s because they do not trust their managers or don’t think that the conversations will benefit them.

Being a great coach can be a trial-and-error process. Not everyone reacts to your personality the same way. Therefore, be open to asking for feedback. If you did not properly prepare, ask your team members “What else can I do to make this conversation better and more productive?”

What is the biggest mistakes made with 1-on-1 coaching?

Isabella:

Talking more than you listen!  Remember as a coach you want to be listening about 80% of the time!

How personal can you get during a 1-on-1?

Wendy:

As mentioned during our webinar, conversations around personal matters can help create stronger trusting relationships between a manager and employees. However, not all relationships are the same. Some employees are very open to sharing their personal life such as family and hobbies, while others rather keep work separate. The best policy is always to start small. By asking “How was your weekend?”, you’re getting a small glimpse into someone’s private life. For a genuine conversation, you as a manager, also should be willing to open up about your personal life. It’s also not a bad thing to simply ask your team members if they are comfortable with sharing this information.

How important is conducting 1-on-1s in-person where you are able to an employee’s read body language?

Wendy:

Body language plays a big part in communication, it’s something that’s more difficult to do via video or phone calls. However, face-to-face is not always an option when your team member is working remotely, or if you are frequently travelling for business. This is where trust becomes crucial. For example, if an employee is having a tough time understanding the feedback from their manager over the phone, they should be comfortable enough to ask “Would you be able to provide me with more examples? I’m having a hard time identifying specific situations”. As mentioned, in- person is always ideal.


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