How Managers Can Still Coach When Short on Time

Aug 11, 2014
6 Min Read

Coaching is supposed to be part of any manager’s job. But who has time? If done correctly, however, coaching can not only be efficient, but beneficial to you and your team. 

"If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?" – John Wooden

Many managers lament the fact that they’re supposed to mentor their workers, perhaps resenting this additional burden when they often don’t even have time to take lunch.

But research has shown a direct correlation between employee engagement and coaching from managers, revealing that that the more time the boss spends providing guidance to a worker, the better the chances are that workers won’t want to leave and will improve their performance.

So how can managers trim the time necessary to provide coaching to their team while still staying on track with their own work load?

Some ideas include:

  • Doing it daily. Pick a different worker each day to meet with for 15 minutes before the craziness begins. Talk about what the team member is working on, and encourage him or her to think of solutions for areas that may be troublesome. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman write in Harvard Business Review that employees often ask managers about how to handle specific questions and managers answer them because, well, they’re good at solving problems. But it’s important, they write, that bosses “learn to be selective about giving direction.” They advise that instead of jumping in with solutions, managers need to “take a step back, and try to draw out the views” of the staff member.
  • Customizing the approach. One employee may respond best to a low-key coaching approach, while another may need a rousing “go get ‘em!” speech.  Be ready to change the tone of your voice or body language, depending on how the employee reacts to your interactions. This will ensure that the time you spend with the worker is the most effective.
  • Asking questions. Dianna Booher, author of “Communicate With Confidence,” suggests you can get others to trust their instincts more by asking “provocative” questions such as “How is what you’re doing working for you?” or “What options do you see for the situation?” This can help you quickly get to the heart of what the employee needs and encourage them to start thinking for themselves in more situations.
  • Offering immediate feedback. Once you learn the specific areas where an employee needs coaching, provide tips as you think of them instead of taking the risk you will forget them later or lose a “teachable” moment. For example, if an introverted employee wants to move into leadership, let him or her take the lead in a meeting. Then, spend a few minutes after the meeting privately discussing what the worker thought went well, and what did not.  "Avoid making the feedback seem as if it is a judgment.  "Begin with ‘I have observed…’ or ‘I have seen...’ and then refer to the behavior. Focus on behavior and not the person," writes Katherine Graham-Leviss in “The Perfect Hire.” Describe what you heard and saw and how those behaviors impact the team, client, etc., she suggests.

Not being patronizing. Zenger and Folkman point out managers need to remember that just because they hold such a title it doesn’t necessarily make them 10 times wiser than the person being coached.  “[T]the well-meaning manager may treat the person being coached as a novice, or even a child,” they write, which just serves to undermine a trusting relationship.

Finally, remember that in coaching your team, you also force yourself to grow and learn, and that can always be worth the investment of your time. As Wooden said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

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