Checking In Is Not Enough
It has been two years since I last raised the question in this blog about “what is a coach?” (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/what-is-a-coach-redux/). While I think (and talk) about this topic often, I haven’t been moved to write about it in this forum until now when my friend Jon Low published in his daily Low-Down a piece from Fast Company by Kris Duggan titled, “Why The Annual Performance Review is Going Extinct.” (http://goo.gl/sH7hVi)
There’s a lot going on in this article. I disagree with the notion that performance appraisals are going “extinct,” so I want to focus on this question of coaching. Most of the arguments for dismantling the appraisal call for more interaction between the employee and the manager/supervisor, sometimes as if it’s an “either/or” type of choice, like you can’t do both have an annual appraisal and regular feedback and coaching.
Kris does the same in this article, as in “turning managers into coaches,” which here literally means checking in more frequently on progress toward goals. Taken to its logical end and the capability to monitor some jobs continuously, the best “coaches” will be those managers who constantly monitor their subordinates.
Actually, goal setting and monitoring are often set outside the definitions of “coaching” and reserved more for “managing” performance. Coaching requires some sort of situational diagnosis, but only as a starting point.
My reflex reaction is to say that “checking in” in not “coaching,” any more than “showing up” is 80% of success (according to Woody Allen). But maybe “checking in” is an activity (behavior) that is the transition from managing into coaching, the opportunity to clarify goals, check for understanding and identify possible barriers (e.g., resources). That also assumes that “checking in” is more than just saying, “Hey, how ya doin’?”
Here I may be falling into my own trap of making assumptions about what “checking In” means and is intended to mean. Kris and BetterWorks coworkers may have some particular methodology around training managers on how to “check in” to determine progress against goals. Yet “checking in” has a very casual feel to it in our vernacular, and has the very real risk of being misused as some sort of type of “coaching.”
What IS important is that manager/leaders/supervisors aren’t somehow led to believe that “checking in” is synonymous with “coaching,” and that they are “coaching” when they check-in and that’s the total requirement for being a manager-coach.
Building on a simple model of coaching that I started in the “Redux” blog mentioned above, let me propose a taxonomy of basic manager-as-coach that can create shared expectations for the manager and his/her team members. When there is a clear understanding of what various types of “coaching” can be used to approach a given situational need, and the understanding is shared by both parties (coach and coachee), then the event is expedited.
In an effort to be open-minded, I propose four basic types of coaching style that includes the “check in”:
- Checker: Ensures understanding of goals and resources.
- Director: Identifies problems and provides a recommended solution(s). Tells what action to take.
- Activator: Guides coachee through identification of options and optimal approach, aligned with team/org goals.
- Developer: Engages coachee in regular, formal discussions regarding current, short term and long term (e.g., career) goals and development implications/steps.
Imagine that the organization requires that every team (defined as a group with a manager/supervisor) has training on these four types of manager/employee interactions, when and how often each type is optimally used, how the conversation is best accomplished, and some role modeling.
Using elements of the ALAMO model (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/alamo-a-new-performance-model-webinar/) (across the top), we can provide examples of how the various interactions might go when initiated by the manager/supervisor. This table is provided to show the hopefully stark differences in the coaching styles available to a manager, each of which is appropriate under certain circumstances, though typically overused (Director) or underused (Activator).
|Checker||“Are you clear on your assignment?”||“Is there anything you need to know?”||“Are you making progress?”||“Do you have what you need?”|
|Director||“I know what is best. Go do it.”||“Here’s how to do it. It has worked for me before.”||“Success or failure will affect your PA rating.”||“Here’s your time frame and budget. Make it work.”|
|Activator||“What do you think is the best way to achieve this goal?”||“Yes, that approach is a good match for your skills.”||“It seems like you are most excited by this approach.”||“Are there any barriers that might hinder your progress?”|
|Developer||What are your career goals? What does the organization need?||What abilities will you need to develop to get there?||Why do you want to go that direction?||Why haven’t you already started?|
This can create a “language” for the team and for the organization, for that matter. Whether initiated by the manager or the employee, any formal or informal conversation might begin by saying, “Here’s the situation, and let’s have a quick Directive discussion”, or “Let’s have an Activation discussion on how to approach this,” and then dive in. Each person knows they are having a “coaching” session, whether informal or formal, and the basic objective. Or “I’m just checking in. Everything going OK?”
Performance management systems can be set up to allow managers to keep track of the very basics of when these types of sessions occur. This can help them track their own progress on using different styles of coaching, and also see when it is time to do career coaching, for example, if that has slipped through the cracks.
I heard, via a webinar, of one organization that gives employees cards with different types of interactions printed on them, and they can “redeem” them with their manager to initiate informal or formal discussions at their discretion. The manager, on the other side of the equation, can be challenged to collect the cards from each employee over the course of a quarter and/or year. So the employee will have cards that say, using my model, Checker, Director, Activator, or Developer. There will be a lot of Checker cards, but only a few (2-4) Developer cards. Each card might have some verbiage with guidance on how and when to best use them.
Finally, let me loop back around to a question Jon Low raises, namely “who should be judging who?” There is no question that employees should have the opportunity to provide feedback regarding their manager’s performance as a coach. Instruments such as The ManagerCoach© help define the desired behaviors and outcomes (e.g., trust) that will only occur if managers are measured and held accountable to, and hopefully developed, trained and selected as well.
We can’t create effective manager-coaches if we aren’t clear as to what they look like, and then select, train and reward accordingly. “Checking in” isn’t enough to be a manager coach, any more than just showing up leads to success.