Today organizations are encouraging more frequent conversations between bosses and their subordinates, which are perceived as being far more effective than the traditional annual performance review. However, many have found that such conversations can become awkward when the subordinate is a seasoned professional; that person is extremely experienced, highly competent, possesses high self-esteem, and nearly always wants to be treated as an equal. Applying the research of Daniel Pink from his book Drive, this individual invariably has high mastery of their work, wants to have greater autonomy, and is longing for greater purpose and meaning from their job.
The business world has adopted the term “coaching” to describe these periodic, frequent discussions between a boss and subordinate. I submit that the first thing that must happen for the boss who is coaching a seasoned subordinate is to develop a totally new mindset regarding the nature and meaning of business coaching.
In the athletic world, coaches are more knowledgeable and experienced in the sport than the athletes. The coach is passing on information to a novice player and is often highly authoritarian. That information is intended to help the player perform at a higher level.
In a business setting, that sports conception of coaching must be dispelled – erased – dramatically reformed. Instead, the definition of business coaching is: “Interactions that help the person being coached to expand awareness, discover superior solutions, and make and implement better decisions.” Note that there is no hint of advice giving or instructing. It is about expanding someone’s conception of a practice or problem, discovery by the person being coached of better solutions, and finally, implementation of those better decisions.
Coaching conversations in business typically have two purposes. The first is to improve the subordinate’s future performance. Rather than this happening because of fresh new ideas and suggestions, it is often the outcome of the subordinate developing higher aspirations and leaving the conversation feeling inspired to put forth even higher effort. They also may have considered and selected better ways to accomplish their work, these decisions having come from within, not without.
The second prong of these discussions is about the person’s career. This purpose is to improve this employee’s retention and their career advancement. It includes the manager knowing the individual’s career aspirations and how they can assist in this person’s career advancement. It provides an opportunity for the manager to convey interest and concern for the person’s long-term career progress.
1. Focus on the future. Make the conversation forward-looking versus a look in the rearview mirror. The author Edward Everett Hale described his formula for a happy life as:
“Look up and not down;
Look forward and not back;
Look out and not in;
Lend a hand!”
This is a good perspective for a coaching conversation. Ensuring that the discussion is forward-looking, upward focused, externally oriented, and designed to be helpful will ensure its success.
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