By Michael Bungay Stanier
A company’s success lies in its employees, so it’s no surprise that good leaders are always looking for ways to help their employees learn and develop at work. The best practices have changed over the years, but arguably one of the best things you can do for your employees (and for yourself, in the end) is coach them.
We all need to coach for performance when issues arise, but I’m talking about coaching for development — the kind of coaching that benefits everyone involved, as it helps employees learn, it encourages managers to step back and it allows us all to do that great work we set out to do.
The best way to do this is to create a new habit and start coaching on a daily basis.
The Key to Coaching
You’ve probably already attempted to coach your employees in one way or another, but did you know that the key to coaching is asking questions? In my book The Coaching Habit, I explore how asking more questions is what really helps drive employees.
It’s simple, really: Stay quiet a little longer, offer less advice and ask more questions.
Perhaps you’ve already noticed this approach works and you’re trying to implement it as a new coaching habit. Good for you! You’re looking for ways to better your work environment and encourage those around you, while also eliminating your tendency to jump in and take over.
At some point, you will stumble. You might accidentally take over a project with the good intention of helping. Or offer advice before asking an employee for their thoughts. Or start fixing an issue that isn’t the actual challenge that needs to be addressed. It’s okay, you’re human. And hey, you’re likely just trying to help.
When that happens, all you’ll need is to have a plan for how to get back on track.
Make Your Habit a Resilient System
The secret to building a resilient system is to build in a fail-safe so that when something breaks, it’s easy to recover from it. You can do just that with your coaching habit: build in your own fail-safe. That’s the first step to creating a habit that’s hard to break.
Chances are, if you’re trying something new, you’ll encounter some resistance. If your employees usually come to you for advice and you start asking questions instead of offering answers, it might take them some time to adapt to your new coaching style. It might take you time to adapt also — asking questions instead of offering advice when we’re used to the latter can be difficult!
Make a Plan
To make your habit a resilient system, create a plan to get started, one which includes a way to circle back when the road gets bumpy. Here are some ideas for getting going:
Try out your new habit on someone who you think would make a good guinea pig, or on someone with whom you’ve run out of ideas, so you’ve got nothing to lose.
Start small. You don’t need to change everything all at once. Maybe you begin by asking a few questions here and there and then gradually incorporate more as you gain confidence in your system.
Get someone else involved. Tell a colleague what you’re trying to accomplish and ask them to do it too. You can encourage each other and hold one another accountable, and even practice together.
Deal with Setbacks
These strategies are all part of a great plan, but even together they won’t always do the trick.
You might feel awkward when you first try to implement a new habit at work; the resistance you encounter might make you feel incompetent or you might revert back to old habits without meaning to. These types of setbacks are bound to happen; you just need to know how to deal with them.
When you feel like surrendering, remember why you committed to making a change in the first place. This will remind you of the payoff and encourage you to not give up. Concentrate on what you’re really committed to doing, and then decide what you can let go of in order to refocus your energy.
Learn to adapt. Maybe you’ve fallen off track because you’re having a hard time rolling with the punches. You’re asking the questions, but they aren’t being well received. You’re talking less, but your employees aren’t jumping in more. That’s okay — everyone operates differently and there are many ways to approach people. Be ready to adapt and work with your team’s differences. Ask yourself what is working and what isn’t, and figure out what you should stop doing and what you can do more of. Build in time to reflect as part of your plan for getting back on track.
Connect with people. If you’re not immediately successful in creating your new habit, check in with those you’ve been trying it on. Check in with your accountability buddy and ask for feedback.
You’ve made the choice to build a new coaching habit. Be bold, don’t be afraid to keep trying — and don’t add more to your plate. Focus on what’s essential and keep practicing. Get back on the horse and keep on with your original plan.
The same goes for any habit you’re trying to build — this doesn’t apply just to my suggested coaching habit.
Regardless of the behavior you’re trying to change, remember that people make mistakes and that you just need to persevere. Eventually, if you’re committed, the new habit will stick and you’ll worry less about it and focus more on how that habit is positively affecting your workplace.
About the Author:
Author of The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay Stanier is Senior Partner of Box of Crayons, a company that helps organizations do less Good Work and more Great Work. It is best known for its coaching programs, which give busy managers practical tools to coach in 10 minutes or less.