Leaders in people management—GE, Deloitte, Adobe, Microsoft, Accenture, The Gap and others—have tossed out annual performance reviews. They’re finding that more frequent and informal coaching checkpoints accomplish more than the old traditional review.
Documenting the past is out, and coaching for the future is in.
Everybody is happier with the new approach, and the manager-as-coach role makes great sense. The challenge I’m hearing from managers is how to make their coaching “stick.” Positive conversations are comfortable and certainly valuable with one caveat—Is performance improving?
Research shows that people remember what they hear when they also see it in print. That’s why the truly cream-of-the-crop companies follow performance-related discussions with something in writing—not necessarily a formal review—but something people can revisit after a conversation. Short comments in an app are one avenue, but a simple coaching email works just as well.
A manager’s new coaching-in-writing responsibility, no matter what form the message takes, requires far more than being clear and concise. Tone and motivating language are at the top of the list of priorities. Being specific, not vague, is absolutely essential. These characteristics aren’t always intuitive for managers, and having the WILL to be a good coach in writing is meaningless without the SKILL. Just like other essential business skills, coaching-in-writing is a skill that managers can learn and master.
Coaching emails cement agreement, and they provide a great workaround to a very common glitch in face-to-face coaching—minds wander! If we could see inside the brain of the person being coached, we might “see” negative thoughts like these: “Oh, no, he’s not happy with me. He’s being unfair. I can never meet his standards. I tried so hard and I still didn’t get it right.”
Minds wander even when we know we should be focused. How much meaningful analysis and advice is going right out the window? All those great principles about effective coaching may be lost without capturing the words for someone to review and digest later on.
A strong coaching email doesn’t have to take more than 10 minutes to write. Here’s an email that Leonia, the manager, wrote to Armand, her direct report:
To reach the objectives you and I agreed on this morning for Project XYZ, you’re going to:
I understand your concern about obstacles you’ve experienced in the past and will be here as a support whenever you want my advice. Since you don’t like the feeling of my watching over your shoulder all the time, however, I’ll expect you to come to me.
Please keep me in the loop on your efforts with ABC. You have a practical plan in mind, and I’m sure you can make it work.
Writing a coaching email is a simple alternative to a formal performance review, especially if the coaching happens frequently. This is what I call POWERformance™ at work. It’s a way to emPOWER the person being coached, inFORM both parties of what will happen and enHANCE the relationship.
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