Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm

"Seven Steps to Stop Whining and Start Coaching"


Ever caught yourself complaining about underperforming members of your team? By the way, hopefully you were whining to yourself, silently, and not broadcasting it around the workplace. The latter is guaranteed to send the team engagement scores plummeting, so let’s not go there.

Normally, we are expecting certain outcomes, usually attached to some form of measurement. We do our gap analysis and find our non-performers are slowly killing the business or at least, inflicting severe flesh wounds. What do we do?

Usually we complain a lot and think about removing them. In Japan, it is almost impossible to fire someone for underperformance, and as few volunteer to leave in this employment environment, what is your Plan B?

A radical thought, but maybe part of the problem is you and not them!

The possession of a perfect team, under our command, is a mirage that we may seek out but never actually enjoy. The reality is, in any team, there are different levels of performance and they vary depending on the nature of the task, the changing state of the business, and the requirements from the very top. The latter, annoyingly, change quite often and what got your team to where it is today, won’t necessarily get it to where it needs to be tomorrow.

All very good, but so what?

We need to reconsider our starting point. Switch mental gears for a moment and imagine that you are the problem and that you are not providing enough coaching and direction to the team.

Why would I think that?

Question: How busy are you every day?

Chances are you are too busy to be able to do some of the basics. Take a quick reality check - analyse your daily routine. Take a look at your schedule, and circle the periods of interaction where you were recently coaching one of the team.
Probably you came up with a big fat zero on this test.

I know you will say you don’t have time to coach all of your under-performing people, and isn’t that why you have managers anyway? What about coaching the managers, so that they fix the team performance problem for you – that magic idea of "leverage".

We are now down to coaching a finite number of key people – is that more doable?

Here are some ideas on how to add value to your coaching efforts.

Step One: Identify Opportunities Leading To Improved Outcomes

It might be very clear to you what needs to be done. Perhaps you can help that key person you are going to coach, to self-discover the opportunity? Sometimes it may be the other way around. The people working for us may know better than we do where the gaps are, because they are closer to the customer. Maybe there are some important skills missing in the team? A change in the business itself or business conditions may suggest where to start.

Having selected the key opportunities, then prioritise so that you don’t overburden people who already feel they are working at full capacity. Your shiny new idea or project attracts scant interest in these circumstances. Having worked out where to start, now align who you need to work on this for you. That was "align" based on experience, skills, energy and capability, by the way, not dump!

Step Two: Picture the Desired Outcome

Pinpoint what success would look like. If you can’t see it clearly in your mind, good luck expecting someone else to clue into what should be achieved. Effective coaching revolves around having a clear outcome in mind. This step in the process speeds the whole operation up and is a magnet for attracting the focus you want.

By the way, this goal has to be sold to the person being coached. That’s right "sold"! If they don’t get sold, no buy in. Leaders (hello engineers, accountants, lawyers and scientists!) who don’t understand they are in sales are going to be doing it tough forever!

Step Three: Establish the Right Attitude

I like chocolate. In fact I like dark chocolate. Geeing me up with a box of mixed chocolates or even worse, all white chocolate, won’t work for me. How well do you know your people and what personally motivates them? Are you talking in terms of their interests? Are you arousing in them an eager want to achieve the goals pictured in Step Two? Are you making them feel important in the process of achieving the goal and are you doing it in a sincere way? We all own the world we create. Make sure they are part of the creation process and the attitude required to succeed will soon be established.

Step Four: Provide the Resources

Equipment, funding, training, materials, staff – these resources are a given. Patience on your part is a more critical resource. This translates into practical business execution such as taking the time to explain the detail, to give honest sincere appreciation on the way through, and to remember to smile.

Smile? You mean I have to smile as well?

Actually, yes, even if your face muscles hurt from the shock of the new!
Motivation is key and working for an angry, mean, critical, fault finding, whining, humourless, overly serious, sour looking boss motivates very few if any. Does this type of boss motivate you?

Time to succeed is another critical resource. We are asking people to step out of their comfort zone, to do new things and at first to not do them well. We need to give people time to adjust to the new, so they can master the required skills to operate at the next level up.

Step Five: Practice and Skill Development

Once the required skill set has been isolated, explained, demonstrated and launched we provide some time for practice and application. This is where close coaching is needed. During the practice stage, strengths and opportunities become apparent. Let’s get the maximum out of both.

Here is a hint on how to do that – feedback! There are two types of highly effective feedback – tell them what they are doing that is good, and tell them what they could do to make it even better. Get them to keep repeating what is working, thus encouraging them not to lapse back to old habits. Focus on how to advance to the next level of achievement by stressing what would be even better.
Forget the "tough love" school of criticizing, condemning and complaining – it just isn’t very effective.

Step Six: Reinforce Progress

Habits formed over time will soon supplant new habits not fully formed. We backslide so easily. Ever tried to lose a few kilos or give up smoking? Losing a few kilos over a week or stopping smoking for a day is easy actually, but keeping the kilos off or stopping smoking completely is the battleground of the new and old habits. Managers who assume people know what to do are rarely rewarded with the outcomes they anticipate. Follow up, follow up, follow up.

Here are seven simple principles to follow to keep people on board and motivated for the entire course of the project:

  • Begin with praise and honest appreciation (also try smiling!)
  • Call attention to their mistakes indirectly
  • Talk about your own mistakes before bringing up theirs
  • Make the fault or failure seem easy to correct
  • Ask questions instead of giving corrective orders
  • Praise the slightest improvement
  • Be specific about what they did well. "Good job" doesn’t mean anything. Justwhich particular part was good? Spell it out clearly

Step Seven: Reward

What we reward gets repeated, reinforced, and becomes the new default habit.

Habit is stronger than knowledge, so don’t rely on logic and common sense. Stack the outcome in your favour by celebrating stages in the project progress, rather than saving it all up and waiting until completion. Recognise new habits, new strengths before there is full accomplishment. If you know what motivates your people, you will know what to reward them with.

Don’t miss the insight that what we say is important, but how we say it is more important. "Kokorogamae" (心構え) or "putting our heart into it" is a concept from the Japanese martial arts that focuses on our "sincere intention". Getting our heart behind what we do, means what we say and do will be credible.

We are all expert "boss watchers" and can quickly spot fake or incongruent behaviour, especially between the body language and the words. If you don’t believe it, don’t say it! Find something you can say which you believe and there will be positive impact.

Keep doing the same things you have always been doing and expect to get the same results you have always been getting. If you want to see an improvement in outcomes, then get back to basics. Make the time in your schedule to coach your people, using these seven steps, and you will shortly see the improved results you need. Concentrate on using leverage, prioritisation, patience and advanced human relations skills to be successful.

Start with yourself – stop whining and start winning!

Dr. Greg Story is the President of Dale Carnegie Training Japan. Specialising in Corporate Training since 1912, Dale Carnegie Training instructs in 30 languages across 86 countries, and has a 50 year history in Japan. Email to Greg.Story@dalecarnegie.com


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