With each new year comes the opportunity to reflect, re-evaluate, and reset our personal and professional development goals. For organizational leaders, it presents a chance to measure business metrics and establish a new direction for their team’s performance. More importantly, it is the perfect time for leaders to develop themselves in the areas most needed to protect their most valuable personal asset: their influence.
Having the capacity to affect someone’s character, development or behavior differentiates some of the most successful leaders. Although characteristics like integrity, commitment and humility play a role in the ability to lead effectively, the most influential leaders tend to make ongoing coaching and feedback part of their daily strategy to manage people’s performance and accomplish organizational goals.
Coaching and feedback are no strangers to the world of management and leadership. In fact, some professionals cringe at the words, because they are often associated with criticism, corrective action, performance improvement plans or the final step before termination. When done properly, however, coaching and feedback should function as an ongoing conversation that allows leaders to not only redirect behavior but also reinforce best practices.
While watching football, it’s interesting to observe the coach’s engagement throughout the game. The role of an athletic coach is similar to that of an influential leader. Their jobs are to provide ongoing coaching and feedback throughout their individual team members’ careers that will help them accomplish personal and professional victories. Unfortunately, this is not the general practice of many leaders because of their inability to prioritize their time or script appropriate coaching conversations with their teams.
The Center for Creative Leadership’s SBI model uses a script to help the coach address the situation, behavior and impact he or she observes when managing performance. What tends to make this model effective for the influential leader is the ability to address specific behaviors succinctly rather than focusing on the employee’s personality or character. Since adopting this model at Guitar Center, we have found that it works no matter what coaching direction a leader might encounter, including coaching down (to direct reports), coaching across (to peers) and coaching up (to senior leadership).
Here are two examples for structuring coaching and feedback conversations.
Reinforcement Scenario (Coaching a Manager Who Is Performing Well)
Michelle Jones is a manager who has been with the company for three years. Her workload has recently grown in scope, but the number of team members to accomplish the work has not. Michelle’s department resources are limited, but she still manages to remain within budget. Her team continues to exceed performance expectations under her leadership, and she seems to be handling everything well despite the increased workload and limited resources.
Here’s a sample coaching and feedback script for this situation:
“Michelle, thanks for taking on the XYZ account. I know it’s been a challenge to manage the additional workload, and I’ve noticed you’ve been working late to close deals with all of your other accounts (Situation).
“It’s been difficult with the recent decline in sales and budget cuts. We’ve had to take away quite a few of your resources, but you’ve still managed to own your workload, creating experiences that are going to help us achieve the desired results, all while maintaining an optimistic attitude (Behavior).
“Because you’ve been modeling a positive attitude and connecting with both your internal and external customers, the team has been able to stay afloat and managed to exceed performance expectations. I just wanted to let you know that your efforts are noticed by other senior-level managers and me. Good job (Impact).”
The influential leader understands that Michelle can use some encouragement before she feels overwhelmed, unsupported or even disgruntled about her job. The leader might also consider how she can get Michelle some help or provide alternative incentives to keep her performing in this capacity.
Redirecting Scenario (Coaching a Leader Who Is Not Performing as Usual)
Jeff is a director who has been with the company for seven years. He recently participated in a meeting with his boss to discuss his annual performance. Jeff’s overall rating on his annual review was “average,” and he is upset. He has been working extended hours to help achieve sales goals, which have actually increased by 10 percent over the past three months. He has been seen lashing out at his direct reports, because he doesn’t feel appreciated.
Here’s a sample coaching and feedback script:
“Jeff, thank you for agreeing to meet with me, and congratulations on achieving a 10-percent increase in sales over the last few months. Your efforts are helping the organization achieve desired business results, and I’ve noticed your team is following in your footsteps to adopt your best practices to increase their personal sales goals as well (Situation).
“I know you were not pleased with the rating that you received on your annual review. We’ve been discussing your collective leadership goals and checking in regularly, so the rating is actually a reflection of our year-long coaching conversations. Your attitude is noticeably different, especially toward your team. Some of your colleagues are also noticing this change (Behavior).
“You are one of our top performers, and many of our junior associates look up to you as model for great leadership and integrity. I’m afraid your lack of engagement and your attitude toward your team might impact your personal leadership brand and possibly damage the awesome reputation you’ve worked so hard to build over the last seven years. Is there anything I can do to shift your perspective (Impact)?”
Notice that both examples used the model to structure the coaching conversation, not to dissect the issues further or make assumptions. There is a time and a place for thinking on a deeper or broader level, but for the purposes of these situations, the influential leader might find the most success structuring a coaching and feedback conversation that is clear and to the point.
As we approach performance review season for most companies, it is important to understand the function of coaching and feedback apart from potential merit increases. When we make coaching and feedback a part of our organizational cultures, it makes it easier to manage performance on a daily, monthly, quarterly and annual basis.