Coaching Continuum: Part One
*Today’s post is a continuation of the themes we began discussing last week. Our company’s leadership frequently refers to a coaching continuum, so over the next two weeks we will unpack what each part of that continuum looks like.*
Instead of annual performance reviews, we believe in coaching and continuous feedback as a lifestyle. Our goal is to “live in the green” which is normal, every-day coaching, and includes training, teaching, encouraging and correcting. But that doesn’t mean we won’t ever find ourselves in the yellow or red.
In any corrective conversation, our goal is to represent God’s heart to reconcile and restore. The purpose is not to cover ourselves legally as we show someone out to door. We’re doing it to help them stay!
We took a poll recently and every person on our senior leadership team could recall a time they’d personally been “in the red” while at our company. Not only did they survive it; they grew from it. Corrective conversations are too often viewed as adversarial, fraught with nervous negotiation or an inappropriate focus on legal documentation rather than clear communication delivered in love. Most people genuinely want to succeed, and the best way to allow them to do that is to give them clear direction, regular information about how they’re doing, and access to the coaching they need.
Part of our relational leadership style is being closely engaged with our people in their work. We want to understand what they’re dealing with, and identify gaps we can help them with. As their leader, our job is to help them be successful. We are constantly in “teaching mode” as we walk alongside them. We believe in progressive development through conversation as we go, not occasionally passing them a list of things they did wrong.
If your people are your mission, you should be engaged daily with them. We shouldn’t just send them, we should go with them! Great leaders don’t tell you what to do, they show you how it’s done. But, “being engaged” isn’t a license to micromanage. We should ensure they have everything they need to do the job, and then let them do it.
“Most of life is on-the-job training. Some of the most important things can only be learned in the process of doing them. You do something, and you get feedback – about what works and what doesn’t.” – Jack Canfield
Our charge as leaders is to see people for what they could be, and raise them up to their God-given potential. We must intentionally think about the growth of each individual on our team. Here are some good questions:
- What does “going to the next level” look like for that person?
- How can you expand their territory?
- When are they ready for that next challenge?
Growth can mean a lot of things; it doesn’t always mean promotion or leadership. More often it’s about finding ways to expand their current role. What do they love about their job? What part makes their eyes light up? Can they take on more responsibility or pioneer a new effort in that area?
And remember, people need to be reminded more than instructed. “Great leaders see themselves as Chief Reminding Officers as much as anything else,” explains Patrick Lencioni. Many leaders don’t enjoy the reminding role because it seems inefficient. But when we remind people of something, it helps them understand we’re committed to it and view it as important. Many leaders fail to remind people because they get bored saying the same thing over and over again. This is understandable, but the point of leadership is not to keep the leader entertained, but mobilize people around what is most important. When that calls for repetition and reinforcement, which it almost always does, a good leader welcomes that responsibility. (The Advantage, p.143).
And remember, we’re trying to grow them for their benefit. Someone might ask, “But when you grow them, don’t you benefit too?” Perhaps, but it depends. In some cases, we’ve helped people grow to a point where they left and started their own company or pursued a dream in a different industry. That could be what success looks like in growing someone. In the Kingdom, it isn’t about us! These are God’s people, not our people. They aren’t just Human Resources we leverage for profit! We should be stewarding them for Him, for His purpose.
Two friends are going on a long hike together. They start off heading in the same direction, but eventually one of them begins to drift off by just 1°. It’s such a slight difference that it’s hard to even notice at first, but if they continue like that, they’ll eventually end up so far apart they can’t even see each other. If they’d caught it back when they were only a foot apart, they could have easily come back together. But the longer it goes unaddressed, the more dramatic the correction will need to be to reunite.
When we say 1° corrections, we’re talking about tiny adjustments we notice and want to close the gap on. Our desire is to go on long journeys with everyone here, so we’re committed to saying something about issues before they have a chance to grow into something significant.
We see 1° corrections as “in the green,” and a natural part of every-day coaching. They’re a quick, 30-60 second coaching moment delivered in an as-we-go fashion. Great leaders know their audience, and skillfully apply the lightest amount of force necessary to grab that person’s attention and close the gap. If we have close relationships with our people, 1° corrections may feel more like advice than correction. They’re about coaching, not punishing.
For example, we might pull someone aside after a meeting and say, “Hey, I noticed in the past two team meetings you haven’t shared in the discussion. You may not realize this, but you have a lot of influence, and when you don’t verbalize what you’re thinking it makes others less likely to share. As the veteran on the team, I need your help. What do you think you could do differently next time?”
These should be clear and concise. The SBIM tool can help with that. We try to hit on these elements when give a 1°:
- Situation: Describe the specific situation.
- Behavior: Describe the person’s behavior (i.e. physical, observable action).
- Impact: Share the impact their behavior had on them, you, or others.
- Next Time Opportunity: Invite them to identify what they’ll do differently next time they’re in a similar situation. This makes them part of the change and gains active commitment.
Before you make a correction, always think about how you’d feel if someone told you the same thing. How can you say it in a way that helps them receive it?
The key to 1° corrections are that they’re timely, meaning they happen the same day. We prefer for these to be in private (just the two of you) and face-to-face. There may be times that can’t happen, but they should always be live and interactive. Never correct someone via email or text message.
A tenured pilot for a major airline told me pilots are constantly doing course corrections during a flight, even hundreds of them. Having to correct course doesn’t mean the pilot is bad – it actually means they’re doing their job. The pilot’s role is to continuously bring the plane back on course, so it arrives at its destination. It’s the same for leadership. We must have our eyes open and aware, and make course corrections. If we see a correction that needs to be made and don’t help someone by pointing it out, we aren’t loving that person well and we become a silent accomplice in the continuance of that issue.
When is it more than a 1° correction?
- If you have bullet points to address with the employee (i.e. addressing multiple issues).
- If you’re carefully crafting the message and worried they may not react in a healthy way.
- If you’re wondering whether you should document it, or not.
- When it’s not a blind-spot (i.e. the employee knows what they’re doing isn’t right).
Oftentimes when we find ourselves in the yellow or red, we can look back and see times we should’ve done 1° corrections. The better you become at recognizing and make 1° corrections, the less you will find yourself in the yellow or red. A common management dilemma is “there were a lot of employee problems, but I never addressed them when I should have, and now I’m in a pickle.”
When corrective feedback isn’t provided in a timely fashion, and instead is unexpectedly piled on at a later date, people feel blindsided – and upset. “No surprises” is a cornerstone of good leadership, and the key is continuous, timely feedback.
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