Learning How to Be a Great Coach

You may have the greatest showroom in town, represent top product lines, have competitive pricing and use the latest technology and equipment, but if you don't have the best people, you'll never realize the full benefits of all the rest. Without a doubt, people are your most important asset.

Kitchen and bath dealers are generally small businesses employing 10 or fewer people. The owner is the top sales producer, and wears every possible management hat. This often keeps him or her too busy to be a good trainer, which creates a huge problem. If the boss could learn to be a first-class coach, the business would be better for everyone.

Coaching is critical to managing work because it requires managers to direct employees by influencing them not by controlling them. Effective coaching can boost morale and productivity tremendously by making employees feel empowered, and by creating the feeling of "ownership" of their work.

Coaching is the continuing evolution of one-on-one management communication skills designed to effectively achieve both company success and employee professional development objectives. It is the process of using questions, active listening and support to assist the employee being coached in developing fundamental self-assessment skills that result in an increase in productivity, skill levels and overall job satisfaction.'

Coaching pluses
Coaching and managing are part of the same family of management communication tools, but essentially represent very different approaches for obtaining a desired result. A traditional approach, or "management by directive," is based on the supposition that upper management possesses the knowledge, information and decision-making rights, and employees exist to carry out management's orders and directives. Unfortunately, too many managers and companies still operate under this restrictive form of management.

In addition to proactive communication, coaching is based on influence and leadership, and represents a management communication style that accepts employees as valuable and contributing individuals. An employee who has had successful coaching is capable of solving most problems on his or her own if involved in the process and encouraged to contribute and take intelligent risks. Your employees must be heard and supplied with the appropriate information, tools and support. The true effectiveness of coaching is derived from the value placed on the input of the employees. This requires a level of trust and confidence in their abilities.

A company that uses coaching techniques with its employees will see several direct and measurable benefits, including a more confident and motivated work force with high quality output. Coaching develops employees who are capable of doing a broader and more flexible range of work, thus enriching employees' professional development while freeing up managers to concentrate on strategic direction and planning for the company.

An important thing to remember is that management does not have all of the answers. The power to create and implement solutions and generate new ideas and approaches is vested in those who are closest to the customer, problem or process most often the employee.

Power is generated through the acceptance of responsibility and accountability and encouragement of self-discovery. The right answers are those that create superb performance results, high quality and productivity, and outstanding long-term customer satisfaction, regardless of the source.

Actions and decisions are reached through consideration of all information, which is openly shared by everyone involved. Knowledge, creativity and innovation reside in all members of the team and can be encouraged and developed.'

Successful coaching requires active listening skills, and a willingness to hear what the employee is saying and feeling. Understanding goal-setting methods and learning how to set reasonable goals for employees with different sets of skills and abilities are also key.

Strong questioning skills help managers coach by allowing them to find out solid information about the individual being coached. Good coaches are also skilled with the use of feedback techniques. Finally, good coaches need the ability to empathize with employees' feelings and concerns.

Coaching session
To prepare for the coaching session, the manager should:

  • Clear his or her mind of everything else going on.
  • Define specifically what the coaching session will cover and the time involved.
  • Choose the most productive location for the session.
  • Be relaxed and cordial, and try to alleviate any perceived anxiety.

Directions for the employee include:

  • Relax and perform to the best of his or her ability.
  • Trust personal ideas and judgement.
  • Use creativity to find ways to improve performance.
  • Be honest and open, and avoid defensiveness.

Since each coaching session is a separate event, the process generally follows these guidelines:

  • Set a specific time period and length for the session.
  • Define and agree on the coaching topics and the specific goals for the session.
  • Begin with an opening question that defines the employee's understanding of the task at hand and the boundaries within which he or she has the authority to act.
  • Offer support and/or acknowledge understanding of the response.
  • Probe again in the direction that you want the self-discovery process to head.
  • Repeat the process until the employee reaches the desired conclusion (or leads you to an acceptable alternate approach).
  • Acknowledge learning gains, creative ideas and progress toward improvement.
  • Agree on a "next step" plan noting what has been agreed to. The next step plan will form the basis for the next follow-up coaching session.

Most kitchen and bath firm owners/managers are so busy wearing so many hats that they don't take time to train (coach) their employees. By not doing this, they do a disservice to their business, the employee, other employees and themselves. Make that all-important decision to do better.