In my POWERformance™ training sessions, I hear lots of personal experiences about being coached. Last week, a very successful young woman — we’ll call her Elaine — shared this perspective with her colleagues: “I learned the most from managers who told me the really tough things that I didn’t want to hear.” Hmm … “really tough things”?
Based on reactions from the group, it was clear Elaine was not alone in her perspective. With a little bit of probing, I used their experiences to uncover this kernel of truth not often recognized by even experienced managers: How managers deliver coaching on “really tough things” separates outstanding managers from mediocre managers.
The most highly-regarded managers coach for “next time” instead of focusing on what someone didn’t do well. They know how critical it is to motivate, not deflate. To turn a “not-up-to-par” situation into helpful direction that encourages a change in behavior. To treat every experience as a learning opportunity.
You’ve probably heard this astute adage: “I don’t remember the words you used, but I do remember how you made me feel.” Think about an experience when one of your managers made you feel great or made you feel less valued. Do you remember the words your manager used? Probably not. But you remember the feeling.
A common managerial approach in performance conversations is the sandwich model: Tell the person something good, then give criticism, and end on a positive note. If you delve deeper into reactions team members have to that sandwich, you’ll find it’s not very appetizing. What sticks with the person is the criticism in the middle.
Forget the sandwich. Instead, coach for “next time.” Like sports coaches on the sidelines of a game, outstanding managers always address mistakes and gaps in performance. The best managers, however, are masters at turning what isn’t right into advice for the future.
This “next time” coaching approach fits in every work area in every business. Here’s an example dealing with late reports, contrasting typical criticism with a “next time” approach:
Your monthly reports have been late three months in a row. Reports must always be on time.
“Next Time” Coaching
Since your monthly reports have been late three months in a row, what can you do differently to ensure they’re always on time?
In that example, the team member already knows the reports were late; what’s the point of making that fact an accusatory announcement? What’s the point of scolding with a “must” rule? Note how the manager thinking about “next time,” didn’t ignore the late reports. The tone isn’t negative, however, because the unacceptable behavior is a sub-point to planning ahead.
Instead of focusing on what did happen, outstanding managers talk about what can happen.
Studies consistently show that people want managers who truly care about their success. They want managers who help them reach their goals.
Learning from cream-of-the-crop managers who develop and keep good people, we know that “next time” coaching strengthens relationships, builds trust and improves performance. That’s exactly what happened after Elaine heard some “really tough things” delivered by an outstanding manager.