My mission for today is to reinforce the importance of coaching your employees for improved performance and more specifically, to bust the myth that it takes too much time to coach in today’s busy work environments.  I hear this sentiment over and over again from participants in various leadership development programs that I teach – “That’s a great idea in theory but I don’t have the time.”

I see two problems with this notion.

  • First, effective coaching doesn’t need to take a lot of time – exactly why the concept of ‘micro-coaching’ is relevant. More about that in a minute.
  • Second, these managers seem to think that their first priority is to do the work rather than to effectively work through others. I realize that working managers and supervisors (aka: player coaches) are a way of life today, HOWEVER, that does not mean that the doing portion of the job takes precedence.  We need to help these leaders realize that when they switch it up – coaching and leading first, doing second – it will actually help them to be more productive in the long run.

So, what is micro-coaching?  A fancy term for the just in time, in the moment, on the spot, feedback that effective leaders give to their employees – when and where it happens.  When raising my kids, this was called a ‘teaching moment’ when I could impact some wisdom in a timely fashion.  The best part of this concept is that it usually catches them (either the child or the employee) in the moment and when they are ready to listen!

I believe that part of the challenge in traditional performance coaching is the timing.  It tends to happen at the manager’s convenience and usually in a situation when the employee is not necessarily feeling comfortable and ready to receive the feedback (like in a scheduled performance appraisal conversation or regularly scheduled update meetings).   In addition, when an inexperienced manager has to think about and prepare to coach an employee, performance anxiety may take over and limit his or her effectiveness.

Let’s not over complicate this.  Some of the most effective coaching (which leads to noticeable behavior changes) happens in micro-coaching moments.  It’s all about being present and aware in the moment and then acting on it.

Micro-coaching can look like this:

  1. A supervisor who sees a new employee struggling with a task walks over and asks good, powerful questions (not closed ended ones). “Tell me how it’s going”.  “Help me understand what you are struggling with?”  “How can I help make this easier for you?”  “What are your ideas for getting this accomplished?” “Is this getting any faster for you?  Why or why not?”    Use solid questions that require the employee to think about the response or solution.
  2. Really listen to understand. There is much data to show that most people are not great listeners – we often are just waiting for the other person to stop talking so that we can chime in.  The effective leader will stay in the moment and truly listen to what the employee says.  Ask clarifying questions and reflect their thoughts to ensure understanding.   Show empathy for her/his struggles.  The employee may express a problem or concern of which you were not aware.
  3. Give timely and honest feedback – right in the moment as it relates to the situation at hand. It can be as simple as “Here’s why I don’t think that is the best approach”.  Or, “Let’s try it this way.”
  4. Teach a new skill if needed. Help the employee try a new method or give them a tip that you have used successfully in the past.  Keep in mind his or her preferred learning style and both explain and demonstrate as appropriate.
  5. Give a nudge or confidence booster. Express your confidence that the employee can get this.  If it’s going well, praise her/his progress and encourage more of the same.  Recognize efforts but encourage a focus on results.
  6. Follow-up. Swing by later to see if things are going better.  Teach, encourage or recognize as appropriate.  Most important is the fact that you cared enough to check back.
  7. Be available as a resource for your employees – this usually means that you cannot spend every moment in meetings or in your office. That old school idea of ‘management by walking around’ still works. Be aware and look for those golden micro-coaching moments.

Micro-coaching is a very powerful practice that fits well with our Millennial dominated workforce and their expressed need for continuous feedback.  They are not talking about formal processes, they just want timely feedback on how things are going.  Employees want to be noticed and acknowledged on a regular basis.

Micro-coaching is not hard nor particularly innovative.  It is however, very effective.