In any organization, the role of a leader invokes multiple functions. You set goals and coordinate the actions required to achieve them. You manage time, motivate people, and put them in the best position to succeed and use their strengths to the benefit of the group.
None of those things can be accomplished without an effective coaching skill set.
Each individual may require a unique approach. Some might respond better to an authoritative style, with formal sessions, clear objectives, and strict accountability. Others want to be approached informally, almost conversationally, and given a degree of autonomy to operate.
It pays to have a wide variety of techniques in your coaching toolbox. That way, you can deploy them as appropriate to the employee’s personality.
And crucially, you can select which ones will have the most impact depending on available time.
Root cause analysis
Sometimes, untoward incidents happen involving your employees. You might have a hunch about what went wrong or why, but it’s best to verify if you’re correct, especially if the matter is serious.
Root cause analysis is a technique that helps you to investigate and dig down to the heart of the problem. Just as you’d want a doctor to treat the illness and not the symptom or an appliance repairer to either fix what’s broken or recommend a replacement, this is final. Finding and addressing the root cause ensures that the issue won’t happen again.
To execute a proper root cause analysis, however, your coaching must employ a lot of open-ended questions. You can and should direct the conversation, especially along the lines of your suspicions.
But like an actual root system, remember that you might be looking at multiple, interwoven causes. You need to map them all to maximize the results of this approach.
What this means is that root cause analysis can be very time-consuming. An employee might beat around the bush, or you might be dealing with multiple employees. Each session could uncover just one facet of a complex problem. Thus, use this technique when the concern is urgent and severe enough to warrant taking up so much time.
At the other end of the spectrum, when you and your employees have very little available bandwidth, the one tactic you can always use is some form of quick feedback.
Although every coaching session is a vital opportunity to create improvement, it must be balanced against the actual, day-to-day need for productive work. Not only does the balance tend to swing in favor of employees doing more of their actual jobs, but it also makes sense in terms of their cognitive workload.
You may have good intentions when attempting to guide and improve people, but their minds are already busy processing many other things. Keeping it short and simple is often more effective.
In fact, quick feedback should make up the bulk of your coaching sessions. This is based on the model of the OODA loop: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.
You should always be observing your people, but never become obsessed with obtaining perfect information. It’s better to exercise good judgment and get oriented in the face of uncertainty, decide on a course of action, and start testing.
Remember, the more rapidly you can cycle through these loops, the faster you close gaps. If you see something that can be corrected on the spot or positive behaviors to reinforce, why wait? Give brief feedback right away, and you’ll still progress towards the desired result.
Give a nudge
In between these extremes of having no time and needing to launch a full-blown investigation, you have another tactic to use when your employee has bandwidth but you don’t.
This is based on nudge theory: the idea that change can be managed by working with the design of choices, which influences people’s decisions.
Giving someone a nudge at work, then, involves structuring their choices to some extent. It shifts their behavior in the desired direction. The bulk of the effort comes from them. For your part, less time is consumed, though you do have to consider carefully how to design the nudge.
Nudges in coaching can take the form of simple reminders: direct messages or visuals that make a clear connection between behaviors and impacts. They might be subtle, like bringing a group of people together for a meeting when your real objective is to get them warmed up towards one another for better collaboration.
Another form of nudge involves a gamified approach to learning, which encourages people to spend their leisure time polishing their skills and improving self-efficacy.
While powerful, nudges don’t always achieve the precise effect that more direct, targeted methods can offer. So remember that these are still just one option in your toolbox. Time is a resource, and using the right coaching technique is another way to maximize it.