Boss coaching his subordinate

Anita had recently been promoted to lead a new team. The challenge excited her. As she surveyed her new team, Anita saw potential but she couldn’t get past some of the glaring inconsistencies of the team. She vowed to work out the performance issues and build a word-class team within six months. Over the first few weeks, her subordinates appreciated her passion and engagement. Their last manager seemed to be less-than-engaged, so Anita’s hands-on approach seemed like a breath of fresh air. But soon, Anita’s involvement began to wear on her team. Each day ended the same way. Anita would review each of her direct report’s work and offer a barrage of critical feedback. At the end of six months, Anita’s team was no closer to world class than where they had started. Soon, turnover began to follow. What went wrong?

There is a misconception about effective coaching that Anita’s story highlights. Too many managers believe that effective coaching is about delivering critical feedback. And while part of coaching is about critical feedback, much of it is about reinforcing what is working and providing positive feedback. This balance is essential to being an effective coach, manager and leader. Consider the following techniques to help you improve your coaching:

Provide three pieces of positive feedback for every one piece of negative feedback

Research illustrates that in high performing teams, leaders and managers give as high as five pieces of positive feedback for every one piece of negative feedback [5:1]. While that is a high bar to hit, another research studying the “weight” of negative feedback has shown that negative feedback is three times heavier than positive feedback. In other words, if you want to have your feedback bank account at baseline, you need to give at least three pieces of positive feedback for every piece of negative feedback. Otherwise you’ll be working on credit. Eventually, your direct reports will close their emotional bank account.

Give at least three pieces of positive feedback for every piece of negative feedback

Provide feedback using a “Stop, Start, Continue” framework

Most of the executive coaching action plans follow this simple format. What are you going to stop doing? What are you going to start doing? And what are you going to continue doing? This simple coaching format not only helps to organise the type of feedback you might want to provide, but it also serves as an effective forcing mechanism to ensure that positive feedback isn’t getting lost in the shuffle. It helps us to know what not to lose as we make adjustments along the way.

Get curious

Curiosity is the key not only to effective coaching, but also to healthy workplace relationships. Several years ago, I was working with the president of a financial services company. Concerned about his culture, he brought me in to assess the situation. After interviewing a large group of employees, I went back to the president to share my findings.

I started the conversation with the following, “I’m going to go over the findings item by item, but the bottom line is this: your people love you. To the person, they said how empathetic you are.” Upon hearing this, the president ruffled his brow and said something I didn’t expect, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I don’t think I’m empathetic at all. Work is work and personal is personal. I don’t want to talk about people’s personal lives at work. In addition, this is not my family. When the workday is done, I don’t want to spend any more time with my co-workers. I want to go home to my family.”

I didn’t know what to say. This did not seem like the traits of someone as consistently described as empathetic. The two of us sat in silence for what felt like an eternity. Then the president broke the silence and said the following to me, “But there is one thing I do that I think makes all the difference. I think the greatest compliment you can give anyone is to ask him or her about the work they do. So, I’m regularly walking around the office asking employees, ‘What are you working on? How can I help you? And where do you want to go in your career and how can I help you get there?’” It hit me! Curiosity and empathy are the same thing. If we want others to view us as empathetic, find something about him or her to get curious about. It is through genuine curiosity about others that we offer the highest compliment to someone—you matter.

What can you start, stop or continue doing to give your employees more positive feedback today?

This was first published in the December 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.


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