August 19, 2021
Nicola Forbes-Taylor

How coaching brings the best out of your people

Oh no, not this again 

The ideal manager of the 2020s is a miracle. They’re always available to their team; they understand what makes each individual tick, and they co-create objectives and targets which bolster each employee’s confidence and enable them to excel. They have empathy and emotional intelligence by the bucketload. They’re as happy discussing high-level organisational goals with the board as they are sharing a soya latte and a chat with the intern. They combine deep subject expertise with a real passion for performance, and they’re always thinking about ways to get the most from themselves and their people. Imagine if every single people manager at your organisation was like this. How great would that be?

The thing is, real people aren’t like this. Yes, exceptional hybrids of think-do-nurture-create do exist, but only in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And even they occasionally wake up with a headache and a short temper. What modern performance tools try to do - what we all work to develop - is put a coaching framework in place that helps people to act like that person. And really, that comes down to talking.  

The “always-on” manager is a great example of the challenge. On the face of it, this archetype ticks many of the boxes that HR is looking for in a good people manager. They’re available. They’re present. They offer coaching and feedback - an awful lot of coaching and feedback. They know that modern business can change rapidly, and those changes require us to pivot rapidly. In a world where we decry subject matter experts as having too little time to actually manage, the always-on manager makes it their business to embed themselves into the day-to-day work of their people. Ironically, they may be doing more harm than good. Their assumption is that their helicopter parenting will grow and develop the employee. In reality, they’re simply an evolution of the directive, command-and-control manager of the twentieth century. Managers don’t need to be there all the time. But when they are, they need to listen and ask the right questions. They need to be aware. 

Trust: the most important aspect of a manager-employee relationship

If you train them, they will come

So how do we create these superhuman listening machines? It’s at this point that the HR director starts looking nervously at their annual training budget, working out whether they need to take line managers out of their routine for several days a year and how they’ll prove success if they do. 

We’re not dismissing training, of course: training is both an excellent tool and a smart facet of your employer brand. But it’s also time and resource intensive, and often receives pushback from both leadership and the people it’s trying to help. 

What we’re actually trying to achieve is an empathic relationship between manager and employee - a level of understanding and trust - with a clear set of goals and objectives to aim for. If the manager is prompted with the right coaching questions and gives equal weight to the employee’s point of view by listening and responding to concerns and aspirations, that offers the right platform to set achievable but challenging objectives. Those objectives might require skills the manager can’t teach, of course, but what they can do is connect the employee to subject experts who can.  

The key ingredient here is trust. The employee needs to trust that the manager wants them to achieve and grow, just as the manager needs to trust that the employee will strive to hit their goals. This is where the right performance tool becomes essential. The employee shares their unique blend of motivators, passions and aspirations (both work and personal), and the tool prompts the manager to ask the right questions, helps them to understand what motivates their team members, and supports them in providing feedback and creating solutions and suggestions that boost performance. If we can achieve this candour, and both parties see the results that come from it, that forms the basis for a trusting relationship. 

The point is this: you can invest time, money and effort into training a subset of your managers to think like coaches. But it’s much, much simpler to give all your managers a framework or platform that prompts them to coach. Over time, coaching behaviour may become more natural or it may not, but with the right structure that doesn’t matter. The structure - the performance management platform - does the heavy lifting. 

The GROW coaching model: what is it and how does it work

How to GROW

The GROW model of coaching has been around for some years now, but its principles are still used by some of the world’s most prominent businesses - Google is one example, but there are many others. 

 GROW boils the coaching process down to four distinct stages: 

  • GOAL - where we want to be
  • REALITY - where we are right now
  • OPTIONS - what can we do?
  • WILL - what are we going to do?

Typically, GROW is applied to work situations. At OpenBlend though, our approach is more holistic: we feel that an employee is not only a resource but an individual with their own motivations, needs and passions both within and outside the context of work. By understanding an employee’s unique Blend of work/life drivers, a manager can support, develop and enable them to perform in a far more comprehensive and rewarding way. 

Perhaps as importantly, GROW provides a shortcut to that all-important trust we keep mentioning. It helps to get everyone on the same page. For this to work, everyone needs to be honest about the situation they’re in and the goal they’re aiming for. At the same time, the manager has a great opportunity to give their people context and sense of purpose as their goal/objective/priority is linked to the broader picture: where the business wants to go. The employees understand where they fit in the grand scheme of things, and this gives them clarity on how they’re contributing to organisational success. 

Practical tips to help people managers

Let’s get practical 

For some HR leaders or people managers, this may not seem like such a hard culture to create. After all, the literature on coaching and performance management (or development) is almost ubiquitous. Hybrid working models, forced on us by the pandemic, have encouraged many managers to have virtual check-ins more regularly (if for no other reason than to keep a closer eye on remote workers). Your business may be ready for this right now. They may even be using versions of continuous performance management already. 

But we also know that - for some - this can seem like pie in the sky. Decades of annual performance reviews can be a hard habit to kick. Your entire structure of reward, succession and ranking may be based around an old-school approach. And some senior leaders may be indifferent to the idea of change (it’s worth remembering that people who have achieved success under a legacy system will be less inclined to admit there’s anything wrong with it). 

There are some practical ways to introduce change, though. One simple route is to take a lesson from IT: test and learn. If you’re interested in a new way of doing things, run a three-month trial with a team or division (ideally one with managers who is are on board with the idea). Stay close to it, try to speak regularly to the participants, harvest results and create a case for change that you can share with leadership. 

Of course, if you have leadership on board already and are rolling out a new system, it’s vital to remember the very lessons that the system is teaching your people. Above all, listen. People will often resist change, and will have perfectly valid concerns about doing things differently. Some will embrace it more quickly than others: work with them, and use them as your cheerleaders and supporters. A manager is, perhaps, more likely to be persuaded by a peer than they are by a directive from HR. 

Coaching managers are a wonderful resource to have. They encourage better performance. They bring teams together. They help people to understand their place and purpose in an organisation, they show them how they’re contributing to success, and they help them to connect with people who can upskill and develop them. Seeing the whole person - the blend we keep talking about - allows for an even more effective connection, with all the benefits of motivation, wellbeing, and engagement that come with it. It’s not easy to change people. Managers - and some employees - may resist. But the truth is this: with the right performance management system with built-in coaching frameworks, people don’t need to change. The tool will guide managers through a people-centric process ensuring they ask the right coaching questions. This will get people talking. And if people are talking more often, more frankly and with a clear set of goals in mind, the rest will come. 

The OpenBlend platform enables effective performance conversations by supporting managers with a unique coaching framework for regular, productive one-to-ones that recognise the individual. To find out how it can embed a coaching culture in one-to-ones across your business, and improve productivity across the board, book a demo or get in touch.

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