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Coaching at Work: Manager as coach column

Building on success

by Mark McKergow

Published in Coaching At Work, Vol 4 Issue 1 p 50 (2009)

The managers I work with often ask about how to coach poor performers, to enhance their motivation and performance. Of course you can do this. And...it's also worth considering another option. How about coaching as a way of building on success?

Any coach worth their salt (which probably includes you, or you wouldn't be reading Coaching At Work) knows that coaching is essentially developmental rather than remedial; a way to build good performance rather than a punishment for poor work. Here's a chance to really put this idea into practice and feel the benefits.

Of course it's easy, when faced with a rare example of good performance, to exclaim "Why can't you do that more often!". This, of course, would be a rather silly coaching question. If the performer starts to tell you why they can't do it, they are building the case for this being rather difficult. You, as manager, will be interested to see them doing it again, seeing results as possible and within reach.

Pick your success

One option is to choose a 'small success' from one of your team - one which is worth noting and yet is not part of a barrage of wondrous results. It's important to give the idea that this success is worth building on, rather than giving the performer the idea that they should have done better.

Make sure that the performer knows what you're talking about - which success. It pays to be specific here. Do delineate the events in question. Alternatively, ask the performer themselves for a project or time that they are particularly pleased with.

What did you contribute?

Having established the success we're talking about, it's time to look at the role of the performer - from their perspective.

Of all the things you/we did to contribute to this success, what were you most pleased with?

It's always interesting to hear what the performer was particularly pleased with. Listen carefully - you may be in for a surprise! Do give plenty of thinking time - they may be wondering if you are warming up for a crunchy 'feedback sandwich'. Go with whatever the performer says.

Get the details

Stay with the performer's first choice and help them to fill in the details.

Looking at (thing 1), what made you particularly pleased with this aspect? What else?

Again, give plenty of thinking time. The 'what else' questions are really helpful here - they gently ask the performer to think hard about the issues in question and look at it from every direction. I often find that the first couple of things are quite well-known, but the third, fourth, fifth aspects may be novel for all concerned.

When you've exhausted the first thing, go back for another thing they're particularly pleased with and get the details about that. Alternatively you could list lots of things they are pleased with, and then get all the details. There are many routes within this particular conversation. Go with whatever seems to fit best at the time.

What are you impressed with?

Now it's time to give your side of the story. What are you as manager particularly impressed with in terms of personal qualities of the person? Offer them this feedback, perhaps in terms like:

From all this, it seems to me that you are a [quality] person...

Watch for the reaction - you want to 'read between the lines' and offer the performer a truthful yet positive view of themselves. Hearing this come from someone else can be very compelling - and you want them to do showing more of this quality in the future. Talking about it in this context can help them understand how valuable this behaviour is.

Things to remember for next time

Wind up this piece of coaching with something like

So, what will you be remembering to do next time?

Note this is not 'what will you do differently'. This version includes not only things to do differently, and also things to keep doing and do more of. It also helps to focus on the most important aspects - whether they are 'do differently' or 'keep doing'.

Dr Mark McKergow is director of sfwork, the Centre for Solutions Focus at Work and co-author of several books on Solution Focused practice including The Solutions Focus (Nicholas Brealey Publishing 2007).

Email: mark@sfwork.com