Coaching for Improving Employee Performance–Imitation, Overcoming Failure, Intuition

August 27, 2008

Supervisors are generally required develop their employees’ skills. Most supervisors don’t put much creative effort their subordinate’s growth. There are good reasons for this—supervisors are evaluated on more major visible projects and have their own careers and ambitions to consider. Challenging an employee takes effort and time, with few immediate rewards. In addition, many employees are not particularly interested in being challenged to develop skills. Finally, the development component has become so ritualized with required courses and checklists that training requirements can be satisfied with little real effort.

On occasion, by chance or design (for example: Looking for a Teacher, Asking for a Boss ), there is a match between a supervisor who has the interest and ability to challenge for growth and an employee ready to respond to it. It can be an exhilarating period for both.

The three areas outlined below are not emphasized in the standard texts. However, developing these skills can increase the employees’ performance for their entire career. You, the supervisor, can coach these skills as situations arise during the work process.

1. Imitating My Success is Failure–Work to Meet the Goals, not the Style.

If you are a great boss, others will try to match success by imitating you.

There is some basis for imitation. Children are taught to imitate role models, often their teachers and others in authority. This tendency to imitate often extends into adulthood. Also, imitation is a good strategy to follow in the first job, for a short time, to get one’s bearings and understand the work environment. But this also is a temporary situation. Further, some bosses like to be imitated and it is well known that such people reward their clones. But in the long run, a tendency to imitate will hold people back and dull performance. Imitation is black and white; originality is technicolor

Employees should be challenged to meet the goals by their own methods. You, the supervisor, have your own unique blend of intelligence (i.e. analytical or interpretive skills, style of learning), personal style (i.e. speaking and interpersonal skills, political awareness, introvert/extrovert etc), and response styles to the immediate conditions (impulsive, more considered). This blend has worked for you.

The employees each have their own mix of skills. Rather than allow them follow your example, challenge them to meet the same goal by maximizing their mix of skills. People should be pushed to understand their strengths and to maximize their effectiveness in specific work situations. They should be encouraged to shore up their weaknesses to the point that they are not a liability.

Your real contribution is to challenge and coach them to use their blend of skills, not yours, to achieve the same goals.

2. Nine Times Down, Ten Times Up

Mistakes are a part of life. People have learned to fear the consequences of making an error of commission. This approach leads to tepid responses and eventually an erosion of initiative. Also, regardless of best efforts, outcomes of events often turn on conditions well out of reasonable control. These failures can be devastating.

The employees have to expect to be knocked down by events on occasion. It is important to learn not be crushed by them, but to stand back up, and move on.

Coaching not to be attached to the defeat and the inevitable blame can be emphasized. This attitude means that no setback is ever in vain. The event changes the situation and by taking the learning from that, the future events can move in a more favorable direction.

There is always the nagging concern that a setback is a “career-ender”. A single event rarely is; time moves on and memory fades. New situations and opportunities will always arise.

3. Go Beyond Thinking–Use Intuitive Skill

People generally prefer known approaches to solve problems. A rote approach leads to a rote solution. Using intuitive skills has a mystical overtone that is not always welcomed by quantitative business. However, breakthrough results often rely to some extent on acting from an intuitive sense of the situation.

The fact is that intuition is a sense like the more familiar ones (touch, feel, thinking) and can be developed to be more effectively used. Intuitive skill provides another tool, like a turbocharger, to more effectively get the job done. Intuitive skills allow you to go beyond your rational imagination.

Intuition can be developed and strengthened over time. You can start by reminding the employee to be quiet and still immediately before making a decision. Then, encourage them to find their own way to encourage this skill. (Note that Intuitive Skill is different from the overused “Thinking Outside the Box”; intuition goes beyond thinking.)

The most effective coaching for growth comes when a real situation demands a response. As a supervisor, have Imitation, Failure, and Intuition ready for the appropriate time.