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Com/Putting the “Management” back in Performance Management: Being a Great Coach!

If you think about the person who has helped you most in your career, it is very likely that you have in mind someone who provided you valuable feedback and coaching at critical moments. This person may have been your manager, whose job it was to do so. Or it may have been someone else ­– a colleague, co-worker, or team member – who cared enough about you and your success to be candid with you and point out things you were not aware of, but needed to know. The best leaders are those who routinely give helpful feedback and coaching to reinforce positive performance and to redirect negative performance.

Feedback and Coaching

It is easy to lose track of the distinction between feedback and coaching. Feedback is “holding up a mirror” so that individuals see how they come across to and are perceived by others. Effective feedback is descriptive and non-judgmental; it describes behavior and the subsequent impact or consequences. Feedback tells us what we are doing and how well (or poorly) we are performing. Receiving feedback is important because we all have blind spots and may not see ourselves as others see us (as management consultant Peter Block states, “We are all born on the wrong side of our eyes”). While our intent may be positive, our impact at times may not be.

By contrast, coaching is prescriptive and evaluative; it provides guidance and direction to “point the way” to improvement. Coaching lets us know what we should be doing to be more effective. Receiving and acting on coaching is important to ensure that we continuously improve as our responsibilities – and the expectations for our performance – increase throughout our careers.

Feedback opens the door to coaching. The best leaders use feedback to create opportunities for people to accept and act on coaching suggestions to improve performance.

Insufficient Feedback and Coaching

Unfortunately, most people do not receive regular, timely feedback and coaching. This is true at all levels in organizations. The most common reasons given for not providing feedback and coaching include lack of time, avoiding difficult conversations, and not wanting to hurt people’s feelings. However, merely “hoping” performance will improve rarely is effective. The consequence of insufficient feedback and coaching is performance that worsens rather than strengthens. Also, managers who fail to give feedback and coaching are not trusted as much as those who do so.

Raising the Bar

To be effective at giving feedback and coaching requires both a willingness and the skills to do so. Willingness comes from caring about others and their success. Willingness is enhanced when there is a shared expectation of mutual openness and candor, an agreement that issues will be dealt with openly and honestly. Also, when feedback is viewed as a “gift” it is more likely to be offered and accepted.

The skills for giving feedback and coaching are incorporated in a five-step model:

  • Step One: State what you have observed
    A formula for providing feedback includes three elements: “Situation – Behavior – Impact.” First, clearly describe the specific situation or context. Next, identify the behavior (words and actions) you observed. End with sharing the consequences of the behavior, the impact it had on you and others. This is how you “hold up the mirror” for that person’s positive or negative performance.
  • Step Two: Wait for a response
    Before jumping into coaching, listen to the response for any missing information and to get a complete picture of what is happening. Be sure to understand the situation from the perspective of the other person. For negative performance, determine what the underlying reasons are for failing to meet expectations.
  • Step Three: Remind them of the goal, clarify expectations
    This helps to ensure that you establish “common ground” and are both working toward the same outcome.
  • Step Four: Ask for (or provide) a specific solution
    Help the person be accountable to identify ways to improve. Offer your solutions only when he or she is unable to come up with viable ideas. (People will be more committed to ideas they help develop.)
  • Step Five: Agree together on commitment, action, and follow up
    Identify what actions each of you will take. Establish how you will follow up to track progress and ensure accountability.

The best leaders set the stage for providing feedback and coaching, and care enough to do so. They demonstrate the skills to recognize and reinforce positive performance (so that it will continue and expand) and to call out and deal with negative performance (so that it will improve).

Dee Oviatt is a Senior Training Associate with ATW Training Solutions. He can be reached at ATW can be reached through it’s website at

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