Imagine the following three scenarios:
- You are leaving a meeting with one of your employees who just did a great job at presenting a new idea. As you exit the meeting, what should you do — tell them now, wait until later or just let it go?
- Or perhaps one of your employees is in the middle of a large project and is unable to get traction—the project seems to be spinning without much forward movement. While waiting on a conference call with her, do you ask for more information about the project’s obstacles, wait until a project team meeting to discuss, or do you let it work out naturally?
- Lastly, suppose you were just told some helpful information about one of your employee’s career goals and you know you could help him develop his skills to meet those goals. As you pass him in the hall, do you share a personal career experience, ask an insightful question, or give him a fist bump and wish him a good day?
Each day, managers have dozens of moments where potential coaching opportunities are laid in front of them. The question is what to do with these coachable possibilities. How does a manager leverage these brief and fluid conversations to inform, inspire, and align?
The Misconceptions of Coaching
One-on-one coaching can be a highly effective method for managing and helping others grows. However, for the typical manager, the ability to coach may not be well understood or developed. As a result, a manager might shy away from an informal coaching situation, avoiding or not taking full advantage of a fantastic learning opportunity.
Further, all the talk about the importance of coaching can create a false perception that a coaching style is the only or preferred leadership approach. Managers might make the mistake and regard all situations as coachable moments. However, there are times when a more authoritative or consultative approach is the better response, especially for novice employees, in moments of crisis, or when accuracy is critical.
Also, a manager might feel that coaching must be scheduled or programmatic to be effective—for example, following a prescribed structure or agenda in formal one-on-one meetings. While coaching models and agendas can be very helpful for the professional coach and a seasoned coaching manager, the reality is coaching for managers more often happens on-the-fly, during spontaneous and often brief conversations that can generate powerful insights for others.
Six Factors for Great Impromptu Coaching
How can you cut through misconceptions about coaching and help grow your people, especially with impromptu opportunities? To help develop your ability to coach others, there are six factors that can lead to making the best of coachable opportunities.
1. Identify Coachable Moments
These moments can come in many forms and they are best identified when there is a deviation from what was expected or when a win occurs. A great coaching moment will likely happen when a desired action does not occur or when an employee is seeking your ideas to overcome an obstacle. When problems or issues arise, these are ideal potential opportunities to probe deeper and also to challenge them to reframe the issue. Also, celebrating wins, even small ones, is a great time to provide coaching to reinforce the behaviors that lead to the success.
2. Ask Questions Instead of Providing Answers
Too often managers feel they need to have the right answer or feel compelled to offer their own answers first. This tendency can prevent great questions from encouraging employee thinking and growth. It can also increase managerial workload in taking on employee problems instead of allowing employees to try and solve their own problems. Open-ended questions such as, What are you learning? or What are your suggested solutions?, can prompt a fantastic coaching conversation.
3. Build a Trusting Relationship
Coaching moments can be ineffective if the employee does not believe you have their best interest at heart. If they don’t trust your competence, character, or motives they will likely not value your coaching approach or comments. Show interest in your employees by learning about their strengths, preferences, and areas of growth. Invest in them and they will be more open to your guidance and questions in coaching moments.
4. Measure the Coachability of the Employee
Gauging the degree of coachability of an employee is very important in optimizing a coachable opportunity. Coachability is the openness that someone has in learning and improving and can differ by person and situation. Some employees are open to self-reflection anytime or are very verbally expressive. Others are more private in their reflection or are very guarded in what they say to their boss. Measuring your employees on a coachability scale from low to high can help you know how and when to have coaching moments with them.
5. Create the Right Setting
Finding the right environment is key for an impromptu coaching moment to be effective. Walking down the hallway might be ideal for a brief conversation. However, be aware of who else might be there and could possibly overhear if the nature of the conversation is more private. Quickly stepping into an empty conference room, sitting on the far end of the cafeteria, or having a brief phone call can often be a safer way for a productive coaching conversation.
6. Use Time Wisely
We all have busy schedules, but taking advantage of times, like the minutes before or after meetings, can be a very effective way of coaching someone. Try to match the amount of time with right sized question or comment. For example, sharing positive feedback in a quick hallway encounter works well. However, starting a career conversation in the hallway might not be. In the end, don’t let time prevent you from having coaching conversations. Sometimes it is better to start something and then set up a time to finish it, then ignore something that could really be beneficial for the employee.
Embrace Coachable Moments
The majority of managerial coaching often occurs on-the-fly in brief conversations. These are the pivotal conversations that shape results! Managers who identify and leverage these coachable moments can often increase employee engagement and performance alignment. Embrace coachable moments and see your team thrive!