Coaching is any action that influences future performance. The goal is to get consistent excellent performance. Everyone can benefit from coaching whether it’s bringing below standard performance up to standard, making improvements on average performance or taking high performance up as high as it can go. Most every team member has areas where their performance falls into each of these three categories — they’re high performers in some areas of their job, average in some areas and can be below standard in some areas.
Most managers spend too much time working with team members in areas where their performance is below standard and not enough time working with them in areas where they excel. And yet it’s been proven time and again that the greatest performance gains come from “doing more of what you do best” not fixing weaknesses. Yes, managers get paid to ensure things are working as they should, and yes, it is their job to resolve problems and work to prevent them. And there definitely is the expectation to maintain a minimal level of performance. But the main focus of coaching should not be here. It should be equally on taking high performance as high as it can go.
ASK-ADD Coaching Process
Consistent excellent performance comes when team members clearly understand what’s expected of them, have the necessary knowledge and skills, have the necessary resources (tools, equipment, etc.) and receive positive, future-focused coaching as they do their work.
The coaching process I recommend using is a simple one based around two words: ask and add. The principle here is that you “ASK first” to get the team member’s thoughts, “then ADD” your own. Let me share the framework in which this approach is used.
What, How, Why
The “What” on the job is what you expect to be done and it’s non-negotiable. It’s the outcome you need, the results from the team member’s effort. It’s set out in their job description and through their goals and objectives (these are somewhat negotiable). Minimum standards of performance should be clearly understood along with what’s considered higher performance levels. Each should have clear consequences — negative for failing to meet minimums, positive rewards for higher performance. Coaching feedback is appropriate about each team member’s achievement of their “What.” Some coaching questions to ask about the “What”:
What is it that we expect you to do in the area of [specific job performance area]?
What are the outcomes from your efforts in that area? [how much? when?]
What are your performance goals and objectives in the area of [specific job performance area]?
What is your achievement level of those goals and objectives? What can you do to increase your output?
The “How” is how the individual team member achieves the “What.” Since each person has unique strengths and capabilities, the how is definitely negotiable. Each team member’s approach to achieving their “What” should be discussed and agreed-upon with their manager. And as performance takes place, this should be the focus of continual coaching — always focused on improving future performance. Some coaching questions to ask about the “How”:
How will you go about achieving the outcomes we expect of you? What specific actions will you take?
How can you adjust what you’re doing to increase your output in the area of [specific job performance area]?
The “Why” is why it’s important to achieve the “What” — the benefits to the customer, the organization and to each individual team member. When people know why they should act as they do, they’re much more committed to taking those actions on a consistent basis. In coaching the “Why” it’s important to have the team member tell you why. You ask them why, then add to what they say as necessary to complete the case for taking the action as agreed. Some coaching questions to ask about the “Why”:
Why is it important [to our customers] [to our organization] [to you] to take those actions?
What will be the benefits [to our customers] [to our organization] [to you] of taking those actions?
In each case, to achieve the best performance improvement results from your coaching ASK first, then ADD your own thoughts and suggestions. You’ll often have to ask a number of clarifying questions when your team member responds to fully “think through” their responses together. Some clarifiers to ask:
When you say [repeat their specific words], what do you mean?
Tell me more ...
For example ...?
What will be the upsides of taking that action? What are the potential downsides? (discuss and resolve any downsides)
And be sure to confirm the points they make that you agree with before adding your own. This demonstrates that you agree with them and want them to take those actions.
Two Important Reminders
Remember to ALWAYS BE FUTURE-FOCUSED! Take people into the future, review together what they’ll say/do and why that’s important, and you’re done. And when you see them say it or do it right in the future tell them about it!
ALWAYS GET SPECIFICS — specific things they’ll say, things they’ll do that will get the outcomes you both agreed upon.
The key is for them to understand what to do, how to do it and why it’s important — and for you to hear them say it.
Coaching in the manner I’ve outlined here will produce wonderful results. It puts both you and your team members on the right track — the track to greater effectiveness (things are done better) and greater efficiency (things are done quicker). A track of consistent positive performance that leads to greater productivity and greater profits!
John Strom is a SCORE Mentor and author of “Maximizing Your ROPI – Return on Your People Investment.” He has over 30 years experience in management training and development. Contact him through his website maximizingyourropi.com or through northernnevadascore.org.