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Coaching and performance management

Elissa Dennis
27th July 2021
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Coaching and performance management

Over the past few years, coaching has attracted more attention as a method for improving performance. It is now seen as a vital ingredient to engage employees with their own development, focusing on how to make the most of their strengths and identifying what they can improve. As management styles have changed to be more inclusive and less autocratic, coaching has become a more important tool for managers to deploy. It encourages employees to take control of their own progress, rather than waiting to be told what to do.

As organisations look for effective ways to engage and motivate their employees, coaching and performance management have become much more closely aligned.

What is coaching?

Coaching in a business environment is about developing employees through one-to-one conversations, designed to enhance skills, knowledge and performance. There are many different elements that can be considered part of coaching, but the following are generally agreed on:

  • It is designed to produce optimal performance and improvement at work
  • It focuses on specific skills and goals
  • It may have an impact on personal attributes, but that is not the main aim
  • It is non-directive – employees are encouraged to find solutions for themselves
  • It is a skilled activity – managers need training to be able to deliver it effectively

How can coaching and performance management work together?

When performance management was first developed it was about getting the best out of employees for the benefit of the business. Employees were seen as cogs in a machine, not as individuals. Today, it has been acknowledged that to get the best out of employees, they need to feel their efforts are worthwhile, and they are valued and appreciated. They want to be involved in the setting of their goals, not have objectives thrust upon them.

An annual assessment of an employee’s performance, measuring, often subjectively, just one moment in a time, is no longer fit for purpose. Regular reviews and discussions are needed to keep employees focused, especially with so many now working remotely. These regular reviews are ideal settings for coaching opportunities.

Integrating coaching and performance management

Many of the skills needed to conduct an effective performance check-in or one-to-one are related to coaching. These discussions are most useful if both parties are involved, with the line manager providing support but not dictating the end result. It is far more powerful if an employee has an issue that they need to overcome if they find a solution to the problem themselves, rather being told what to do. This approach lends itself to employees becoming much more engaged in their own development. It builds skills based on personal experience, confidence to take control and resilience to deal with whatever problems may occur.

Coaching and performance management – what skills are required?

Management is a skill. It is something that needs to be worked at and focused on. Learning how to be an effective coach is a management skill that needs attention and training. If employers want their managers to become successful coaches, they need to invest in training, which specifically focuses on how coaching and performance management are interconnected.

Successful coaches need to do the following:

  • Listen – it’s vital that line managers take the time to listen to their employees, understand what they want to achieve and what obstacles might be in their way. Successful coaches do far more listening than talking, asking open-ended questions to get discussions started.
  • Encourage creativity – finding the solution to a problem often requires thinking about things in a different way. Getting employees to come up with fresh ideas and consider other approaches fosters innovation.
  • Believe in the process – it is no good going through the motions. Line managers need to commit to coaching and believe it will get results. They need to be present in the discussions and willing to offer their time and support whenever it is required.
  • Be adaptable – every employee is an individual. It is crucial that line managers recognise this and change their approach to suit the learning styles and characteristics of their employees. Failing to do this, could mean employees become disheartened and disengaged with the process.
  • Create a sense of trust – for employees to honestly evaluate their performance and be open about what they need to improve, they need to feel safe to do so. An effective coach needs to create an environment where employees feel comfortable to share their issues and vulnerabilities.
  • Recognise success – coaching conversations need to focus on what is working well, just as much as what could be improved. Recognising when an employee does well is hugely important, reinforcing positive behaviour and boosting confidence.
  • Set actions and follow them up - coaching conversations are meant to facilitate change and improve results. To ensure this happens, both the line manager and the employee need to be sure about what should happen next. Clear action points need to be set and mutually agreed.

Supporting future working practices

As many employers embrace hybrid working with employees trusted to work independently, removed from their line managers and colleagues, coaching becomes increasingly important. Employees need to learn to motivate themselves and build the confidence to trust their own judgement. Combining coaching and performance management provides a way for employers to ensure that their employees are developing the expertise they need to thrive in a post-pandemic work environment.