Mark Horstman and Mike Auzenne, co-founders of “Manager Tools,” provide some good advice about coaching (as well as a wide variety of other management topics) and do this in the form of podcasts that you can download for “easy listening” while stuck in traffic or waiting in an airport. See www.manager-tools.com. One of their “tools” is coaching. This is the kind of coaching an effective manager does with direct reports to achieve high performance. This fairly directive approach to coaching involves encouraging the employee to change behavior to achieve important business goals.

In their March 10th podcast, Mark and Mike assert that in just five minutes per week (four hours per year), managers can have a profound impact on the performance of the people they supervise. This is an attempt to debunk the commonly held belief of managers that they don’t have time for coaching. It’s a clever argument, but what I’m sure Mark and Mike realize is that it’s not just five minutes. That might be the approximate time it takes to remind an employee of the performance goal, give some feedback on progress, and agree to one or two next steps, but a conscientious manager will spend much more time before and after each interaction, especially when this manager is not comfortable with difficult conversations (And who is?). She will spend time agonizing over the feedback she wants to give and how best to give the feedback and arranging the meeting and then thinking about what happened in the conversation and what she should do next. It’s not the five minutes that is the barrier to this kind of coaching; it’s all of this other thinking, planning, and worrying that cause managers to avoid these conversations. This observation doesn’t take away from the importance of managers coaching their direct reports. In fact, there is nothing more important as a manager.

Mark and Mike also say that managers resist coaching their direct reports because coaching by managers is widely thought to be a sign of failure. The myth is that coaching is either intended to save people who are in trouble or to achieve a “no liability termination” for people who are close to being fired. Effective coaching, Mark and Mike argue, is for everyone who wants to improve effectiveness. They say that weekly, five-minute coaching gives managers a competitive edge. In their words:

The manager who communicates regularly that he needs noticeably improved performance from his directs and then provides guidance on how to do so and then measures their progress is going to noticeably outperform the manager who does not.

Their point is that the regularity of these conversations and the focus on specific performance outcomes are what bring about change. When everyone makes coaching a “small, habitual routine,” it will become part of the culture of the organization. I believe that at that point it doesn’t have to be called “coaching” anymore; it’s just something that happens as part of brief, weekly conversations between managers and their direct reports for the purpose of improving performance and achieving the organization’s strategic goals.

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